Microsoft moves into unified messaging

By Dominique Deckmyn, Computerworld |  Development

Microsoft Corp. today said it will promote Windows 2000 and its next-generation
messaging server Platinum as a platform for unified messaging but leave it to partners
such as Lucent Technologies Inc., Nortel Networks and Active Voice Corp. to deliver
products in that field. With those partners, Microsoft said it would provide anytime,
anywhere access via phone or other devices to a single inbox containing e-mail, voice
mail, fax and pager messages.

Microsoft President Steve Ballmer discussed those plans in his keynote at Supercomm
in Atlanta today. In a conference call after the keynote, Microsoft's general manager
of Exchange, Eric Lockard, said Platinum, the code name for the next version of
Microsoft Exchange, will offer "significant improvements" toward unified messaging.

The Web Store, a key component of the Exchange upgrade, will store e-mail and voice
messages, Lockard said. And the Web Store's support for streaming media will mean that
users can navigate long voice-mail messages -- for instance, by fast-forwarding through
certain parts. Platinum, currently in a limited beta release, is expected to ship
shortly after Windows 2000, which is due late this year or early next year.

But some analysts were skeptical about the announcement. "Right now, I don't see
anything earth shattering," said Tracy Corbo, an analyst at Dataquest. She pointed out
that Microsoft isn't promising any major technology innovations. "I guess my overall
feeling especially after today is that we will see integrated messaging, but that true
unified messaging may never really happen."

Also today, a start-up called OfficeDomain, founded by several former Compaq
executives including Gary Stimac, launched a free unified messaging service called
MessageASAP.

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