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November 07, 2006

Microsoft Talks up Real-Time Communications

By Robert Liu, TMCnet Executive Editor

Vodafone reportedly plans to standardize all handsets operating on its network using three software platforms including the Microsoft (News - Alert) Windows mobile operating system. The deal comes at the same time that CEO Steve Ballmer announced its intentions to launch a full-scale assault on the VoIP market in the coming year.
While the first Windows-based handsets for Vodafone (manufactured by Samsung (News - Alert) Electronics) won’t be ready until the first half of 2007, Microsoft is talking to other operators aggressively to add their networks to the Windows ecosystem. Vodafone will also standardize on Linux and the industry leading Symbian Series 60 (S60) platform initially developed by Nokia (News - Alert).
Analysts believe the news isn’t earth-shattering for Nokia as other operators have had limited success with Microsoft’s platform previously but it is a “small incremental negative for Nokia especially as it confirms Samsung is moving away from the S60 platform.”
Despite its past high-profile missteps in the mobile market (e.g. Windows CE, Pocket PC, etc.), Microsoft is now well-positioned as the cellular industry begins opening its so-called “Walled Gardens” to the IP realm. Through network evolution like IMS, cell phone users will be able to easily access e-mail, IM and VoIP applications without tailoring those programs to different software languages to enable them to work on disparate networks.
To further reinforce its strategy, Ballmer reiterated Microsoft’s intentions to leverage its near-monopoly in the desktop market to target real-time, IP-based voice communications. Analysts and industry officials interpreted the CEO’s comments made in Tokyo to mean that VoIP will play a major role in the upcoming Windows Vista upgrade. But it certainly isn’t their first attempt.
“What most people don’t realize is that Microsoft is re-entering the VoIP space. They entered it in around 1996 with NetMeeting and then left it for a number of years. Yes, Microsoft is never first but was second in the mid-Nineties when they decided to copy the softphone from VocalTec,” wrote Rich Tehrani on his VoIP blog.
“A few years later when Microsoft realized they ‘missed the Internet,’ they pulled most telecom development and refocused it on killing off Netscape. As long as Microsoft keeps their focus this time, they could be a serious threat to many others in the industry.  It is a bit early to know who is at biggest risk as the software giant is partnering with so many companies in the PBX space who you would imagine would be afraid of Microsoft taking them out,” Tehrani wrote.
Back in July, Microsoft partnered up with Nortel (News - Alert) to form the Innovation Communications Alliance to collaborate on unified communications solutions.
Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.

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