Microsoft Adds Real-Time Communications to Office System

Editor’s Note, July 24, 2003:
The name of the product referred to on this page as Real-Time Communications Server 2003 has changed to Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, General Manager, Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group. Click image for high-res version.

REDMOND, Wash., May 27, 2003 Through the efforts of the Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group, Microsoft is ushering in a new era of real-time communications among information workers. The division is developing real-time communications technologies that allow information workers to obtain the information they need when they need it.

Today, Microsoft announced that Microsoft Real-Time Communications Server 2003 (RTC Server, previously code-named “Greenwich”) will add Office to its name, representing a major milestone for the group. The product’s full name will be Microsoft Office Real-Time Communications Server 2003. The RTC Server will be part of the Microsoft Office System of programs, servers and services to be released later this year, and is expected to function as the platform on which Microsoft will build future real-time communications capabilities designed to make it simpler, faster and more efficient for companies to conduct business.

The RTC Server is a manageable and extensible Instant Messaging (IM) solution and platform, designed to enable corporations to become more agile, and take advantage of industry-standard protocols when structuring real-time communications tools.

PressPass spoke with Gurdeep Singh Pall, general manager of the Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group, about how the RTC Server will make possible a new form of corporate communications, and about the divisions goals and the future of real-time communications technology.

PressPass: What is your role at Microsoft?

Singh Pall: As the general manager of the Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group, I’m responsible for business strategy, product development, marketing and all aspects of the RTC Server. Our customers have told us they need solutions to enhance communications in the enterprise space. As a result, our group has been focused on building the RTC Server, formerly code-named “Greenwich,” the platform on which we will build Microsoft’s future real-time communications solutions.

We think the RTC Server will provide customers with better, faster ways to do business. Customers wanted it to be simpler as well, and making RTC Server part of the Office System, and products such as Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 or Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003, will allow customers to take advantage of these new capabilities while using applications they’re already familiar with.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft enter the real-time communications space?

Singh Pall: Microsoft has offered products in the real-time communications space for a while, and again, in response to customer demand and need, we have continued to build upon our initial offerings. We began with NetMeeting, which showed the potential of audio, video and data collaboration. Exchange Server Instant Messaging shipped in 2000, and we also have a product called Exchange Conferencing Server. Corporations have been asking for real-time technologies in order to compete in today’s global economy. Today, with the RTC Server, we’re creating a single platform on which many different real-time solutions can be built, making it easier for corporations to take advantage of real-time business.

PressPass: Why is today’s announcement, incorporating the RTC Server into the Microsoft Office System, a milestone for your group?

Singh Pall: By making RTC Server part of the Office System, we are taking our customer requests to heart, and helping to make information workers and their enterprise more productive and better connected through real-time communications, using applications with which they are extremely comfortable.

RTC Server is not only an IM solution; it is also an extensible platform that allows developers to build real-time communications capabilities into their own applications. Prior to this product, we had many different pieces, and that is why the RTC Server is so significant. It builds on a standards-based protocol called Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a signaling protocol for Internet conferencing, telephony, presence, events notification and instant messaging, which is widely adopted within the real-time communications space. We think that by adopting a standard like SIP, we are making a very big statement to the industry that this is the language we are going to speak, and this is how we will interoperate with each other — much like how the Internet works around Internet Protocols.

PressPass: Why are real-time communications features offered in RTC Server– such as extendable, manageable IM and “presence” –becoming such an important part of today’s business environment?

Singh Pall: With over 250 million users, IM has quickly become a favorite means of communication at work or at home because it provides a faster, more productive interaction. By using “presence” capabilities, people are able to see when someone is available for interaction. This allows communication to be completed quickly, even if the people are located in two different geographic areas.

When you look at the emerging communications landscape, IM and presence capabilities can enhance productivity while reducing communications costs. When you receive an e-mail in Outlook, you will be able to see whether the sender is online and available, and initiate an IM conversation with them within the e-mail. Information workers visiting a SharePoint Portal will be able to see the presence of their teammates and initiate instant collaboration sessions from within the portal.

PressPass: Expand on the notion of presence and why it was made such a priority for the Office RTC Server.

Singh Pall: Presence is knowing when another person is available. Today, there is no efficient way to manage this information. When you use the telephone, you don’t know if the other person is there when you call them, and e-mail is the same way. With presence technology, you increase the chance of a successful communication because you know what the other person is doing, and can appropriately plan the type of communication that you want to have with that person. If they’re at their desk at work, you can have a phone conversation or send then an IM. If they’re away, you can send them an e-mail.

PressPass: Why is the RTC Server being released as its own product and not as part of Windows Server 2003?

Singh Pall: From discussions with customers, we determined that the best way to deliver on their needs was to create and package the RTC Server technologies into a stand-alone product. Our customers have identified IM and real-time communications as business-critical components; as its own product, the RTC Server will enable them to more efficiently plan, roll out and identify benefits unique to their business needs.

PressPass: What’s next for the RTMP group at Microsoft?

Singh Pall: We have several focuses. The first is “enhanced” or “contextual” presence technology, which combines the concepts of presence and buddy lists as we know them today and makes them more useful for the information worker. For instance, I speak with several sets of buddies throughout the day, depending on the project I am working on. This technology would automatically associate a buddy list with various project documents, and make it easier to organize information and collaborate with my peers.

Second, our customers have told us they are interested in video and data collaboration, and the coordination of information that works inside and outside the enterprise. For instance, if I see a name in a list of Web conference attendees, I should be able to right-click on that name and call up a variety of information related to them. I should be able to call that person without having to look up their telephone number. I also want to be able to view all of the documents and e-mail I’ve received from that person, and access all the notes I’ve taken and all the mail I’ve sent to that person.

Lastly, our customers have asked for richer PC-to-PC communications, improving video communications capability, so that when I’m talking to you, we can see clear images of each other in real time and our lips are synchronized with our voice. We’re talking CD-quality audio with our PC. The potential of RTC is tremendous, and our customers tell us they believe it will truly benefit the information worker.

PressPass: How do you see real-time-communications evolving?

Singh Pall: Real-time communications is a capability that Microsoft and the industry are going to focus on for at least the next 10 years. If you look at the focus of productivity in enterprise applications to date, the work has been mostly about bringing data together, and it is about having people individually create, access, modify and archive data. As we move forward, there is an increasing need for people to work together on the different aspects of data and documents. By this, I mean several people authoring, editing and reviewing a document at the same time. All of these activities require a framework in which multiple people, sitting in different locations, can communicate and collaborate together in a seamless way. Real-time communications is the technology that makes that possible.

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