At Microsoft UC launch, Bill Gates made it clear that communications is changing and Microsoft plans to be both a market maker and a market leader in unified communications. I was impressed by the presence of customers at the launch, from companies large and small–e.g., L’Occitane and Gibson–describing how they use OCS to integrate communications into business processes, and how they are saving money while improving productivity and customer satisfaction.

Microsoft has accomplished a lot since it announced that it was entering the UC market in June 2006. There are over 100 customers participating in Microsoft’s Technology Adoption Program (TAP), and while only a fraction of their 5 million employees are using Microsoft OCS, the potential is clear. Microsoft has over 50 go-to-market partners, including Nortel, Mitel and Polycom, with more lined up for certification over the next few months. And perhaps most important, Microsoft has recruited 800 channel partners for its unified communications portfolio, and they’ll all be hitting the streets with OCS, Exchange 2007 and SharePoint in the coming weeks and months. 

Part of the Microsoft message and promise is its strategy for enhancing its products and providing partners with APIs, software development kits (SDKs) and other tools to enable partners to innovate–and distinguish–their products as part of a Microsoft UC solution. This didn’t get much attention at the launch, but this area will be critical going forward. Microsoft hasn’t tried to hide the fact that it has not made much progress to date in providing current and potential partners with the information they need to innovate around Microsoft’s UC offerings, but it hasn’t made it very public either. For example, the phones that carry Polycom and LG Nortel’s logos are the same exact phone device–they are both based on the Microsoft reference design–the only difference is the logo. I expect to see some serious innovations from these and the other endpoint partners over the next year.

Microsoft’s primary job now is to get the OCS product out to the market; providing partners with interface specifications naturally comes later. The big questions are how much later, and how much control will Microsoft wield on its partners. Given Microsoft’s reputation for dictating to its partners, it will be interesting to see how much leeway will be allowed.

Also noticeably missing from the OCS launch event was a roadmap. Microsoft has delivered on what it promised over a year ago, but how well the company will perform over the next 3-5 years is a key concern. There was little discussion about future plans, and Microsoft stayed focused on the message of the day: The availability of Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, Office Live Meeting, Microsoft Roundtable and Exchange Server 2007 SP1. Hopefully Microsoft will address its future plans and roadmap over the next few weeks.

There will be a lot of news around the Microsoft UC launch in the coming days and weeks, which is one of the reasons is adding a UC News Service. On a weekly or daily basis (depending on individual preferences), we will be sending out links to the important news from all the major news sources in our industry, along with our team’s views on these news items. Stay tuned for news on Microsoft, as well as IBM, Cisco and the other UC players, as the market unfolds.

What do you think? Drop me a note at

Jim Burton

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