Can Microsoft speak reliably in the unified communications space?

Would you buy a unified communications solution from Microsoft Corp.?
If the product is anything like the operating system software the company sells, then most definitely not. Unified communications (UC) isn’t something to invest in without some rock-solid guarantees of performance and reliability. There’s no, “we’ll work out the kinks as we go,” with this sort of application. It’s not Windows. It has to work – all the time. There’s nothing more important to a business than its ability to communicate.
I’m definitely watching to see how Microsoft fares in this market, with its recently announced Office Communications Server 2007 that provides VoIP, video, instant messaging, conference and presence under a unified communications banner. On one hand, Microsoft’s entry gives a strong shot of legitimacy to a still emerging IT concept. Dare I say that UC becomes an almost mainstream application?
But Microsoft has its work cut out to become a leader in this space. Most of the big network equipment makers, like Cisco, Nortel and Avaya, have had UC products available for at least five years or more. These are mature and proven offerings. Microsoft brings to the market some pretty basic UC capabilities by comparison, which in truth can’t really compete with the functionality of the others on the market. But Microsoft also brings mass market penetration and a focus on consumers and smaller business, which has the potential to drive UC boldly into places where none have gone before.
And, if you believe customers like CNIB, Office Communications Server 2007 is a breeze to install and manage. They rave about it and that alone makes it compelling and worth further investigation.
But there are a number of key questions: Can Microsoft build an UC solution that’s reliable enough? How functionally rich can Office Communications Server 2007 become? Can it ever achieve enterprise scale? Can Microsoft gain credibility in this key application space?
Would you buy a UC solution from them?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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