says the product is on schedule -- and in the meantime, is concentrating on making its sales pitch for the technology as competitors ready their own offerings.
The "Microsoft Real-Time Communications Server 2003 Standard Edition," as the product formerly codenamed "Greenwich" is to be known from now on, remains slated to ship in "early Q3," said Ed Simnett, lead product manager for the Redmond, Wash. software colossus' recently created Real-Time Communications unit.
The RTC Server's shipping date has been a subject of much controversy, after having been pushed back from the middle of last year. In recent weeks, industry insiders have speculated that the company would once more delay the launch -- this time, until October.
Getting the RTC Server into the marketplace is critical for Microsoft: Greenwich represents one of the company's heaviest commitments to developing communications technologies aimed at addressing what Microsoft says are the unmet collaborative needs of modern workers.
When it ships, the RTC Server will provide for secure, enterprise instant messaging and presence -- that is, the ability to detect whether a user is online and available, such as in IM buddy lists. However, it also will serve as a platform for emerging communications technologies: Internet telephony, application sharing, and video conferencing. Greenwich's ability to power these sorts of applications hinges heavily on its support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a technology designed to foster communication streams in a variety of different modes, ranging from IM to VoIP.
Microsoft also confirmed that RTC Server will ship as a product separate from Windows Server 2003. However, Microsoft will offer APIs for syndicating presence information as a free add-on to the upcoming edition of Windows Server, which is expected to launch later this month. The APIs will become available in third quarter, the company said.
Adding presence APIs to Windows Server 2003 is aimed at boosting use of RTC Server technologies by ISVs and enterprises, by enabling them to embed Greenwich-based presence in Web pages and to create new applications based on the technology. This month's debut of Windows Server is expected to be Microsoft's biggest product launch of the year.
Microsoft also plans to promote Greenwich technologies via an SDK made available through its Microsoft Developers Network channel. The SDK also will include a redistributable SIP proxy -- enabling developers to create applications using the same protocols supported in Greenwich.
"Our business partners in the communications industry have told us how important this core SIP routing capability is," said Gurdeep Pall, general manager of the Real-Time Messaging and Platform Group. "We are committed to continuing to provide standards-based technologies that the industry ecosystem can build upon."
Microsoft said it has not yet finalized its pricing and licensing arrangements for RTC Server.
Keeping Greenwich on track and ensuring that developers and ISVs support the product are important for Microsoft's relatively new focus on communications and collaborative technology. In January, Microsoft acquired Web conferencing player PlaceWare and established its Real-Time Collaboration unit.
Last week, the company took the wraps off a VoIP solution for Windows CE .NET-based, which is scheduled for release sometime during second quarter. The advances to Windows CE .NET are designed to work as a client for Greenwich's VoIP services. Windows CE .NET's VoIP solution also will support Microsoft's embedded telecommunications server software, Windows 2000 Server for Telecommunications Systems with the Server Appliance Software 2.0.
Making the pitch
In support of such efforts, the company also hasn't shied away from opportunities to ensure there's suitable demand for its upcoming collaborative products.
Pall, speaking as a keynote presenter the AIIM 2003 Exposition and Conference in New York City yesterday, stayed away from discussing specifics about Greenwich's progress and capabilities; instead, he spent most of his time making the case for the hotly anticipated and long-delayed software.
"Real-time collaboration itself is not a new area, but so far, it's been only a small effort," he said. "Areas that have been particularly under-addressed are areas of technological advantage when you're on the phone or in meetings, either with another person in the same place, or in another place. We do pretty well allowing individual information workers to decide on and author [documents]. The next big thing is to work on it with other people. That's where the real problems begin -- or the opportunities exist."
Pall outlined a future where individual users' productivity software -- like Microsoft Office, for instance -- will integrate seamlessly with others', to make multimedia communications and document-sharing second nature for office workers. A failure to ensure a seamless communications interface, he said, was one of the reasons that past initiatives, like computer-telephone integration (CTI) software, failed to catch on.
Microsoft has "spent the last decade enabling productivity for the individual worker," he said. "We now need to start thinking about [collaboration], and moving from asynchronous communications to synchronous communications. We haven't even started to scratch the surface ... There has been nothing that's taken collaboration to a new level -- where it needs to be. Information workers need something big, something that other applications can build on -- a platform sort of aspect."
Microsoft's positioning -- as an old pro in office worker productivity apps, now working to link those applications -- is emerging as rivals like IBMLotus are pushing ahead with their own collaborative offerings. In recent months, Big Blue has been busily positioning Sametime as a platform for syndicating presence and messaging throughout enterprise applications.
Sun Microsystemsthis week also unveiled its new portal solution, featuring an enhanced version of its enterprise IM. Later this quarter, Oracleis expected to deliver Release 2 of its Collaboration Suite, providing instant messaging, shared Web browsing, application sharing, Web conferences and enterprise-wide presence syndication.
Christopher Saunders is managing editor for InstantMessagingPlanet.com.