today unveiled its new Web conferencing service, Office Live Meeting, while also outlining plans for combining the service with instant messaging.
Live Meeting, a service built on Microsoft's acquisition of PlaceWare, enables users to show presentations and share applications online.
Microsoft envisions the service being used in enterprises alongside instant messaging to make it easier for colleagues to collaborate using a variety of real-time channels -- rather than just text.
At present, that means that instant messaging conversations can be escalated to Web conferences. In the current version, Live Meeting offers integration with the consumer-grade MSN Messenger IM client, which enables users to launch Live Meetings from within drop-down menus.
Jennifer Callison, director of marketing for the software titan's Real-Time Collaboration business unit, said that the enterprise-focused Windows Messenger client should support similar integration within six months.
and in close concert with the software giant's Office suite of applications, industry observers say Microsoft is aiming to meet a range of enterprises' IP-centric collaboration needs.
In later releases, Microsoft sees a closer integration between Live Meeting and the "Greenwich" Live Communications Server -- the company's Session Initiation Protocol-based server for enterprise instant messaging. Specifically, Live Meeting's user interface will incorporate participants' presence information from Live Communications Server -- indicating users' states of availability for instant chat and presentation privileges.
"You'll see Live Communications Server icons instead of the presenter icon -- it will be a presence icon with all of its functionality," Callison said.
The launching of Live Meeting as an Office System service, alongside products like Live Communications Server, speaks to Microsoft's aims to address enterprise users' needs for a range of collaboration services, industry observers said.
"Microsoft's positioning of an upgraded conferencing service -- formerly known as PlaceWare Conference Center -- as an extension to its new Office System will encourage customers to create their own custom blends of in-sourced, outsourced, real-time and non-real-time collaboration," said Mark Levitt, vice president for Collaborative Computing at research firm IDC told InstantMessagingPlanet.com's sister publication, internetnews.com. "End users will be more likely to collaborate successfully when they have access to a palette of various collaborative tools that are flexible enough to meet diverse and changing business needs."
Microsoft's Callison also added that the Live Meeting service's new Windows client will be instrumental in further integrating IM and Web conferencing. However, she declined to go into specifics of future integration plans.
She did hint, however, that Live Meeting would be the first of additional add-on service to the Office suite.
"This signifies Microsoft's intent for further services for Office," she said.
IM and Web Conferencing: Everyone's Doing It
The plans echoes -- and competes with -- similar efforts underway at a number of major players in the instant messaging and the wider enterprise software fields.
IBM'sLotus unit for some time has offered both hosted Web and enterprise Web meeting products. Like Microsoft, Big Blue also is working to integrate instant messaging into several product lines -- including Web conferencing, with a setup based on WebSphere, Domino, Lotus IM and QuickPlace.
Other big names are undertaking similar initiatives to link IM and Web conferencing. Oracleplans to include IM in later iterations of its Oracle Collaboration Suite, an upgraded version of which launched in July. Like Microsoft and IBM, Oracle is aiming to extend IM and presence throughout its suite of communication services. For its part, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company will basing its solution around its centralized architecture -- centered, that is, on the Oracle database, which will provide the back-end for handling Web conferencing, e-mail, and IM communications. IM-enabled Release 3 of the Oracle Collaboration Suite is expected by mid-2004.
Yahoo! earlier this year signed a deal with WebExto integrate Web conferences into Yahoo!'s enterprise IM product. As a result of the agreement, users of the upcoming version of Yahoo! Business Messenger can quickly initiate a WebEx conference from their Yahoo! IM client.
Meanwhile, enterprise IM gateway player FaceTime Communications also recently inked an agreement with Web conferencing vendor Latitude to offer similar functionality. Unlike Yahoo!'s solution, and in keeping with FaceTime's multi-network compatibility, that functionality is extended to users of all the major IM networks.