Microsoft to update Web conferencing service

Microsoft Corp. offered a few more details at its annual TechEd conference on the upcoming version of its hosted Web conferencing offering, Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007.

The updated software will have a new user interface and allow users to share media files. In addition, users will be able to participate in conferences over either VoIP (voice over IP Internet Protocol) or regular telephones. In Live Meeting 2005, the meeting presenter could choose to either let participants call in using landline phones or listen only via Internet audio.

Live Meeting 2007 users conducting training events will also have access to expanded testing and grading functions.

The updated service will hit the market in the third quarter, around the same time that the Office Communications Server 2007, with its Web conferencing capabilities, will also become widely available. That’s a bit behind schedule. Last year, Microsoft said it was hoping to ship these products in the second quarter of 2007.

When the products are both out, users of Live Meeting and the Office Communications Server can participate in the same conference. Both types of users will see the same Web interface and have the same experience, said Roger Muff, director of marketing for Microsoft’s unified communications group.

“The fact that we’re making Web conferencing available…through a server as well as Live Meeting is a good example of software plus services in action,” he said.

Customers choose the service or the server-based offerings for different reasons, he said. An IT manager might decide to use Live Meeting because it’s a service that includes support. “IT pros are spread ever more thin,” he noted. Because Live Meeting is hosted and includes support, it’s one less service an IT professional has to manage.

Other companies may choose the Communications Server because they’d prefer to keep sensitive company documents internal within the corporate firewall, rather than out on the Internet. Enterprises may instead choose Live Meeting for the opposite reason — because keeping documents on an Internet-based service may satisfy certain regulations about publicly sharing documents, he said.

In addition, meeting size may determine which product a company wants. Live Meeting can support thousands of participants while Communications Server supports hundreds

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