Microsoft targets telecom

By Bob Wallace, Computerworld |  Networking

ATLANTA -- Although Microsoft has long been considered an office applications
vendor, President Steve Ballmer today made it crystal clear that his company plans to
be a major supplier to the burgeoning telecommunications industry.

"The future of our business and telecommunications are increasingly linked, and our
interest in the telecom field is broad," Ballmer said in his keynote at the
Supercomm '99 show here today, which attracted 700 telecommunications service providers
and equipment makers from around the world.

Ballmer emphasized that Microsoft wasn't going into the telecommunications business
itself. Instead, the key to Microsoft's strategy is to partner with other hardware and
software vendors, whose products -- when combined with Windows NT -- can provide a
platform to deliver new services. Those services initially will be broadband offerings
such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable modem, for both businesses and
consumers.

The software giant is also continuing to work at warp speed to adapt its
applications so they can be hosted in service provider networks. This gives corporate
users the option of outsourcing applications such as Microsoft's Exchange e-mail
package.

As tangible evidence of its work with partners to deliver products to service
providers, Microsoft this morning unveiled a robust all-in-one communications system
that Sprint Corp. will package with its communications services. The NT-server-based
system supports voice, data, Internet access and unified (voice-mail and e-mail)
messaging. It's available now, Ballmer said, with third-party-developed vertical-market
applications in areas such as real estate and medical offices. Pricing wasn't
announced.

The system, built around servers from Dell Computer Corp., can be accessed remotely
through wireline and wireless connections using a standard browser. It's targeted at
companies with 5 to 200 employees, he said. Small business is "the richest segment of
the market and is underserved with communications technologies."

Microsoft also is working hard to prepare its core products for the heightened
performance demands of service providers. To that end, Microsoft set up a special group
three months ago to prepare NT for this new role, Ballmer said, "but we're far from
done and have a lot of work to do in increasing the reliability, fault tolerance and
high availability of NT."

On the high-speed access front, Ballmer claimed Microsoft has no bias when it comes
to DSL vs. cable modems. "We want both businesses to grow more quickly." The new Office
2000 package announced yesterday has been optimized for use with DSL services, he said.
Windows 98 and Windows 2000 clients have also been optimized for DSL connections.

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