Virtual Twist Added to Worldwide Launch of New Microsoft Office System

NEW YORK, Oct. 22, 2003 — At the worldwide launch Tuesday of the new Microsoft Office System, Microsoft seized the opportunity to showcase a pair of collaboration tools that are part of the new system of productivity programs, servers, services and solutions.

In addition to in-person events in New York City, Microsoft hosted a virtual launch using Microsoft Office Live Meeting – the company’s new, low-cost solution to the Web conferencing and collaboration needs of businesses large and small. It also used Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 as an instant-messaging platform within the keynote address itself.

A screenshot showing one of Bill Gates’ PowerPoint slides in the Live Meeting broadcast of the Microsoft Office System Launch, Oct. 21, 2003 in New York. Click image for high-res version.

As a result, in addition to the hundreds of customers, partners and media who attended the event in person at New York’s Millennium Broadway Hotel, hundreds of others simultaneously attended the launch from the comfort of homes and offices around the world. All the virtual attendees needed to participate was a phone and a computer with an Internet connection.

The Office System virtual launch showcased a range of methods of displaying and sharing information via Live Meeting, from streaming video of Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates to Microsoft PowerPoint presentations of survey results and demos of new Office features – even a sneak preview of upcoming television advertisements for the new Office System.

“You don’t just have the phone now,” Gates said in reference to virtual meetings in his keynote address. “You have the screen where you can both browse and navigate together.”

Gates illustrated the findings of a survey of information workers’ favorite workplace technologies and “Great Moments at Work,” commissioned by Microsoft to promote the new Office System.

Jeff Raikes, Microsoft’s group vice president of productivity and business services, shared findings from another survey which found, among other things, that information workers using the new Office System gained an average of two hours of productivity per week. Customers, including Siemens and LandAmerica Financial Group, Inc., shared insights about benefits they have experienced using the new Office System.

It’s not the first time Microsoft has used Live Meeting – previously named PlaceWare Conference Center until Microsoft’s acquisition of PlaceWare Inc. this year – to reach a wider audience for a launch. It used the technology for the launch of the Windows XP operating system in 2001. But employing it in conjunction with Live Communications Server for this particular launch celebration was especially fitting, since the two products together form Microsoft’s Real-Time Collaboration Business Unit, under the new Office System of productivity programs, servers and services.

Microsoft officials say Live Meeting is a natural fit with the Office System because Office documents are the most frequently shared content in online meetings. Live Meeting also adds live, synchronous communication and collaboration to the Office System of largely asynchronous products and servers.

“Live Meeting is the perfect solution for the Office System launch, as it is a cost-effective and powerful solution to allow companies to reach thousands of people to meet, collaborate, train or present,” said Amit Mital, Microsoft’s general manager of Live Meeting.

At one point during the launch, Gates demonstrated the instant messaging (IM) and “presence” features of Live Communications Server. Responding to a message from a colleague at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Gates checked the colleague’s availability, then typed and sent an IM thank-you note, without leaving the Microsoft Outlook application he was using at the time. Then he showed the audience his colleague’s almost instant two-word reply: “No prob,” scrawled in digital ink on a Tablet PC.

Bill Gates takes “virtual” questions via Live Meeting during the Microsoft Office System launch. Click image for high-res version.

In addition to “presence” – the ability to tell whether someone is online and available – Live Communications Server provides organizations instant messaging (IM) with up to 32 people simultaneously. Since Live Communications Server supports ad hoc communication and collaboration for the most part, it complements the more structured form of communication and collaboration offered by Live Meeting.

Live Meeting allows presenters to control the degree and type of interactivity. Participants can pose written or spoken questions and comments with presenters and each other, make notations or highlight information on materials on their computer screens, and create PDF files of presentation materials for instant printing. Visuals, including Web pages, can be viewed in a pane or full screen, all using a familiar, intuitive Windows user interface.

Because Live Meeting is a fully hosted service, there’s no need to install servers in order to share content and applications. Users say it’s far easier and more efficient than setting up teleconferences, and it dramatically cuts business travel time and expense. For example, officials at aerospace and engineering giant Honeywell International Inc. say the use of Live Meeting for trainings on a company Intranet site accessed by more than 66,000 employees in 25 different countries saved the company US$9 million in six months in airline tickets alone.

Raikes said Microsoft expects to see even greater savings. “By using the new Office Live Meeting service, we expect that we could potentially save up to one trip in five during the year, and that would be savings within our company of nearly $45 million,” he said.

Less time on the road makes for happier employees. More than two-thirds of business travelers consider business travel less desirable than visits to the dentist, according to an Insight Express survey released last month, which queried more than 600 U.S. business professionals on their current attitudes toward business travel.

It’s not just businesses that are benefiting from Live Meeting. The technology has been used to rapidly deliver information about AIDS, West Nile virus and anthrax, often to hundreds of geographically dispersed medical professionals at a time, said Stephanie Teasley, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.

“There’s no reason why this technology cannot be used for this type of training,” Teasley said. “Most hospitals have teleconference rooms, but there’s an incredible amount of bureaucracy and overhead associated with those.”

Live Meeting also offers a kind of permanence not found in face-to-face events. If they want, users can store content, notes and annotations from a presentation for as long as they need. That way, the virtual conference center is just the way they left it when they return to give the same presentation again or collaborate with colleagues.

You can archive this as a digital document, go back through, search through, review it, and watch the parts of the meeting that you might have missed,” Gates said

In addition to price and ease of use, what really sets Live Meeting apart from the competition is its security, reliability and scalability, Mital said.

Live Meeting offers 128-bit encryption and nine layers of security to all customers. It also offers 99.99 percent reliability. And because of its scalability – the system’s ability to grow with the needs of the user’s environment – it allows organizations to host thousands of meetings of up to 2,500 people at a time.

At the Office System launch, the Live Meeting service ran simultaneously with shared audio conferencing to accommodate the large number of virtual attendees.

If current trends continue, Web conferencing looks likely to grow in popularity in the future, and Live Meeting will be one of the industry’s leaders. According to predictions by International Data Corporation, a recognized leader in cost analysis methodologies, 250 million people will be using Web conferencing applications by 2007.

The approximately 4,000 businesses using Live Meeting logged more than 5 million combined hours of product usage in 2002, and usage is expected to far exceed that this year, Mital said. “We’re still growing by leaps and bounds. Our business is basically doubling every year.”

Among Fortune 100 enterprises, Live Meeting customers include eight of the top 10 financial services companies, six of the top 10 high-tech companies, and seven each of the top 10 professional services and pharmaceutical companies, Mital said.

“It’s amazing how the top folks that are using us just keep using us more and more,” Mital said. “They’re the ones that see the biggest return on investment.”

Because of the enhanced powers of collaboration they bring to the desktop, Live Meeting and Live Communications Server form an integral part of what Gates called “the next frontier,” which he defined as “the idea of people working together more effectively. That’s the theme of the release we have today.”

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