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Unified Communications Magazine November 2008
Volume 1 / Number 3
Unified Communications Magazine
Erik K. Linask

Microsoft: Friend or Foe?

By Erik K. Linask, Sounding Off


When Microsoft officially launched its Unified Communications, Rich Tehrani called it the biggest product roll-out in the space. That's probably true. However, what's interesting is that it took a company with the reach and brand recognition as Microsoft to get people to realize the power of Unified Communications.

It's not as though Bill Gates has introduces a brand new concept in communications - people have been talking about UC for some time now. In fact, a number of vendors have had products on the market for many years. That notwithstanding, when Microsoft speaks, people listen. Look, for instance at the number of integration announcements that flooded the wires on the heels of Gate's address (you can find all the news surrounding the Microsoft launch at www.tmcnet.com/1311.1.

As Communicado founder Kerry Shih noted, now that the platform has been launched, the entertaining thing will be seeing how much work hardware vendors are going to have to do in order to "play nice" with Micrsosoft. And they will have to.

Micrsosoft already has a mammoth presence in the business world, and by integrating its UC solutions with its already popular desktop and communications applications, it is simply adding to a solution that is already in the corporate infrastructure.

As Shih sai, Microsoft isn't going to have to sell UC like everyone else does - Microsoft can simply embed it its existing market presence. And because it will be added to many business solutions by virtue of updating their MS software, the UC solution, or at least parts of it, will just appear, and then people will just start using them.

"What's going to be interesting is that it's just going to be there. There's no one else with the kind of footprint to be able assert this complex thing."

That's not to say that the solution is going to be an immediate success, however. It will, in the sense that the branding and market penetration are already in place. But, many of the solutions out there today are so hardened that the expectation that customers will be able to take the complete Microsoft solution and overlay in on the existing infrastructure, and all aspects of it will work seamlessly, is unrealistic - especially from a management perspective.

There is going to be a disconnect, which will make the full promise not come to its fruition - at least not in this version. "But that's OK," said Shih, eluding to the common theory that, with Microsoft software, conventional wisdom is that the full power of the solution will not become a reality until the third iteration.

Still, it's not as though Microsoft is worried about a competitor coming in and stealing its market share. Zeacom president Ernie Wallerstein suggested that, at some point, Microsoft will make the decision to go after the PBX vendors full force, asking businesses why they would ever consider a traditional PBX solution again.

Because of that threat, someone with the name and the resources - and the capability to sing on a willing partner - will come from the hardware space to try to give Gates a run for him money. It could be Avaya� or Siemens� or even Mitel� but most likely, thinks Wallerstein, it will be Cisco.

"Someone has got to make a decision whether they want to compete or go away," he said. "Cisco makes so much money in other places, it can afford the fight."

But, getting back to the work PBX vendors are going to have to undertake, that battle won't happen for at least a few years. That's partly because the IP PBX business is still going strong, but also because Microsoft's UC features are going to become part of the enterprise environment, hardware vendors will be focused on integrating with them - because if they don't, their customers will find someone who does.

It would be a different story if it was Microsoft versus someone else, but, for the next few years, Gates will likely build its market share through a play friendly with everyone attitude. At least until it develops a Web-based switching software, which according to Wallerstein, has been the undertone of conversations with Gates and company for some time.

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