long-awaited, hotly anticipated, and frequently renamed enterprise instant messaging platform/solution, Office Live Communications Server 2003.
Known as "Greenwich" during development, the product officially became Real-Time Communications Server 2003 in May. But Microsoft switched gears shortly thereafter, tweaking the product's name -- which became Office Real-Time Communications Server 2003 -- to emphasize its close ties into the Office suite of applications and the larger Office System of apps and related servers and services.
Later, however, Microsoft opted to tie it into its recently acquired Web conferencing service, PlaceWare -- giving Greenwich its current moniker and rebranding PlaceWare as Office Live Meeting 2003.
But Redmond's erratic branding strategy belies the shrewdness underlying Greenwich's ubiquitous role in the newest version of the Office suite, also launching today. In the ideal scenario, Office users will be seeing instant messaging capabilities and presence information (that is, icons indicating contacts' availability to chat or collaborate) appear throughout the suite -- in Office' core Word, Excel, and PowerPoint "information worker" applications, as well as the Outlook e-mail client and SharePoint Web collaboration tools. Presence and IM from Live Communications Server (LCS) also will be tied into Live Meeting.
"Our ability [is] to provide rich instant messaging within a corporation with the kind of security and logging people expect there -- and of course, it connects out to the consumer messaging systems, like the systems provided by MSN," said Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, speaking in New York during the formal unveiling of the Office System.
Roadblocks and Roadmaps
While instant messaging in the workplace is a major topic, Greenwich isn't a shoo-in, however. After all, IBM'sLotus Instant Messaging (nee Sametime) already has high penetration in the marketplace -- greater than 75 percent, according to most estimates. Additionally, a host of smaller enterprise IM specialists are making inroads or already have entrenched user bases in industries such as financial services -- firms like Parlano, WiredRed, Omnipod, and others.
And benefiting from Greenwich's real-time communications capabilities isn't cheap. Getting these capabilities all require enterprises to purchase not just the applications, but Live Communications Server, as well as Windows Server 2003, on which to run the system.
In August, Microsoft outlined a base price for Live Communications Server 2003 Server starting at $929, with user licenses coming in at $34.95. As a result, retail pricing for Live Communications Server 2003 starts at $1,059 and includes five licenses.
On a volume basis, pricing for LCS starts at $733 per server license, and $25 per device or per user. Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition, starts at a retail price of $999 with 5 user licenses.
Additionally, to achieve the sorts of logging Gates discussed requires that businesses also pay for technology from Microsoft IM compliance partners like IMlogic, FaceTime Communications and Akonix Systems. And to connect to "consumer messaging systems" (which at present is only the .NET Messenger network, barring a sea change in Microsoft's position on network interoperability) companies must also pony up for the MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises proxy.
Those factors are compounded by the fact that businesses might feel a bit of reluctance in buying into a Microsoft enterprise IM solution because it doesn't have the greatest success rate in the space. For instance, Exchange Server is one of the most popular e-mail servers in business today, but Exchange Instant Messaging failed to become a major force in IM.
But while Microsoft might be retreading some old ground in its enterprise IM server, few can deny the company's proven ability to dominate in areas of the software industry thanks to another well-traveled (and highly controversial) path: bundling. It's a roadmap followed in segments like Web browsers, where an OS-bundled Microsoft Internet Explorer has been the dominant browser for years (and a strategy that's been at the crux of a number of Microsoft's high-profile legal entanglements).
For the past several years, Microsoft has pursued a similar plan with regard to instant messaging. In 2001, the company began seeding Windows Messenger onto desktops as part of the new Windows XP operating system. While Windows Messenger connects to the same .NET Messenger network used by Microsoft's MSN Messenger consumer IM client, it's important to the company's enterprise instant messaging strategy because it's also the standalone client for LCS.
That's combined with Microsoft's efforts to heavily promote all manner of new features in Office, many of which -- like enhanced user interfaces, Web services support, and new apps like OneNote and InfoPath -- are selling points in their own rights, and designed to encourage enterprises to trade up to Office 2003.
During today's presentation Gates and Jeff Raikes, Microsoft's group vice president of productivity and business services, outlined some of the difficulties faced by office workers using current software -- such as the inability to securely collaborate and share documents in real-time, especially across company lines.
"Many in our industry might wonder, 'Isn't what we have out there good enough?'" Raikes said. "The challenges that Bill described that people have in collaboration and getting the information they need emphasizes that our software is not yet good enough. What we see here today is an incredible new opportunity to support great moments at work."
Added Gates, "People working together more effectively -- that's the theme of the release today."
Christopher Saunders is managing editor at InstantMessagingPlanet.com.