Microsoft targets telecom

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.

This story, "Microsoft targets telecom" was originally published by Computerworld.

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