REDMOND, Wash. — June 1, 2005 — Information workers have more ways to communicate and collaborate than ever before. There’s e-mail, instant messaging (IM), Web and video conferencing and the plain old telephone. There are also several modes of communication for the mobile worker, such as the cellular phone, the desktop PC and mobile Pocket PC, just to name a few.
The real challenge for most information workers is being able to locate someone in real time and communicate with them via the most appropriate communications channel. Microsoft has taken a significant step toward addressing this dilemma with Microsoft Office Communicator 2005. Communicator is an integrated communications client that provides rich communication capabilities that allow information workers to communicate more effectively. As follow up to Microsoft’s global Real-Time Collaboration Launch Event on March 8, Communicator recently released to manufacturing (RTM).
Gurdeep Singh Pall, Corporate Vice President, Live Communications Team, Microsoft Real-Time Collaboration Group
PressPass met up with Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Live Communications Team in the Real-Time Collaboration Group at Microsoft, to discuss how Communicator will increase productivity within the workplace, the hurdles Microsoft overcame to produce Communicator, and the future of real-time collaboration for the business community.
PressPass: What is Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 and what is significant about it?
Pall: Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 is unlike anything else in today’s workplace. It offers the client software that integrates numerous communications tools and capabilities – everything from IM, PC-based voice and video, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and enterprise-scale telephony – with existing productivity applications and communications tools.
Communicator also provides enhanced “presence” — information on what someone is doing and whether he or she is available, or even whether they are out of the office — and routes incoming communications based on a person’s presence and personal preferences. These and other Communicator features are extended across Microsoft Office System applications, including Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. This allows people to quickly initiate communication and collaborate directly from familiar Microsoft Office applications. These integrated communications tools are also available to developers of third party applications.
PressPass: How so? How does this product represent a step forward in the integration of business communications?
Pall: “Integrated communications” is the vision that guides our product development efforts for RTC. It takes the guesswork out of communicating because you’re provided information about a person’s availability and preferences before you attempt to contact them.
Communicator is the first business communications tool that demonstrates Microsoft’s vision for integrated communications, building presence awareness into all its software applications, integrating various modes of communication to allow seamless transition from one mode to another. There have been tremendous advances in e-mail, video conferencing and other forms of communication in recent years. But there are still gaps in these technologies that make it difficult for information workers to easily and effectively communicate with colleagues, customers and partners in real time. Communicator closes these gaps. We believe this technology will transform the way we conduct business.
PressPass: How does Communicator enhance productivity in the workplace?
Pall: So much time in the workplace is wasted in unsuccessful attempts to reach colleagues, customers and partners. How many times has each of us played “phone tag” repeatedly with one or more of our colleagues, seeking important information, or struggled to schedule a “live” discussion quickly with colleagues or clients dispersed around the nation – or the world?
Regrettably, this increases the time it takes to communicate, make decisions and do business remotely. Communicator brings people together in real time, regardless of geography, and enables each individual to use his or her preferred mode of communication.
PressPass: You’ve used the term “rich presence” to describe the functionality of Communicator. What does that phrase mean to you?
Pall: I think of “rich presence” in terms of an individual’s personal status. With Communicator, I can tell you whether I am online or offline. If I am online but not available, I can express that to people who may want to communicate with me. Let’s face it: When I place a phone call, I don’t know if the person I want to reach is there or not; “rich presence” makes communicating a “sure shot.”
Rich presence also means more than just expressing status. For example, you need to be able to look at my calendar and get more information about my future availability, as well as my preferred methods of communication. Moreover, you need to know – before composing an e-mail – that I’m out of office so you should direct that e-mail to another colleague.
We believe Communicator addresses these and other sources of inefficiency in the workplace.
PressPass: How did security factor into the development of Communicator?
Pall: Every person who logs onto the Communicator IM network is strongly authenticated so that every identity is assertable, meaning it can be verified and tracked. Nobody is anonymous or can masquerade as another person. If I receive an IM from you, I can be sure it is from you. This provides end-to-end authentication.
With Communicator, we have created a system that allows different domains to authenticate and we are able to do this in a secure way. Customers are able to securely federate with partners and colleagues outside of their corporate network.
PressPass: What does the future hold for Communicator? Are you already considering refinements, or expanding its capacity or capabilities?
Pall: We think Communicator is going to revolutionize enterprise communications, but it won’t happen overnight. We will continue to improve and bring additional intelligence to this product. In areas such as call routing, for example, there is no reason why Communicator can’t serve the function of an administrative assistant.
Why can’t software route communications and provide information about who is trying to reach you or communicate to others when you don’t want to be disturbed? We call this virtual assistant an “info agent,” and it’s an active area of research within Microsoft Research.
PressPass: What hurdles did Microsoft need to overcome in the conception, development and now delivery to market of Communicator?
Pall: Probably the greatest hurdle was ensuring the user experience was right. That is, we wanted to be 100-percent certain that Communicator could not only meet or exceed the needs of our clients, but that their comfort level with the product – the ease of access, if you will – was high.
In addition, there was no existing application we could model this around. So we had to do lots of additional tests, especially with telephone systems, and integrating these with other protocols for other communications systems, such as videoconferencing and others. We conducted countless tests and “how-to” experiments with the product and with a wide range of customers. We listened a lot and learned a lot from our clients. It was time well spent.
As a result, we’ve built an ecosystem of partners so that Communicator can connect with different PBX systems worldwide. We’ve had the vision for creating this application for several years, but it was only about 18 months ago that we built a team to make this dream a reality.
PressPass: How does Communicator work with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server?
Pall: Communicator works alongside Microsoft Office Live Communications Server much like Outlook works with Exchange. Communicator is the preferred client for Live Communications Server and will enhance the business-user experience by improving usability, interoperating fully with Microsoft Office System and enhancing presence and real-time collaboration. Live Communications Server is the server platform that enables a lot of Communicator’s features. We recently updated Live Communications Server to include support for Communicator, enhanced controls for “spim” (spam over IM), and enterprise-grade connectivity to the major public networks, including MSN, AOL and Yahoo!. Live Communications Server also infuses presence information and real-time collaboration capabilities across Microsoft Office System applications, including Outlook, SharePoint Portal Server and Live Meeting.
PressPass: How is Communicator made available and licensed?
Pall: Communicator today RTMed, following up to the solutions launch earlier this year during Microsoft’s Real-Time Collaboration Launch Event. Communicator IM, presence and 1:1 audio and video capability are provided to customers who have Live Communications Server 2005 Client Access Licenses (CALs) at no additional cost. For these customers, to use the telephony functionality (PBX integration for remote call control and PSTN audio conferencing) requires the purchase of the appropriate number of Live Communications Server 2005 Telephony CALs. Evaluation copies of Communicator can be found on microsoft.com.