Learn how Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 works with Live Communication Server 2005
If Microsoft is successful in one of its upcoming ventures, Trillian's days as the preferred combined (AOL, Yahoo, MSN) IM client of choice may be numbered. Ok, not really, since Trillian has a well-established presence, but Microsoft is working on the successor to Windows Messenger—enter Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 (MOC)
MOC will be freely available from Microsoft. However, certain features will require a license to unlock and other features can only be enabled via additional software purchases. Where possible, I will indicate this information in this article.
Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 will go way beyond just text-based instant messaging, though. In fact, MOC2005 is slated to include such abilities as web conferencing, voice and video features, VoIP/enterprise telephony features as well as deep integration into Microsoft Office, allowing for better outreach to remote workers and potentially improved team communications capabilities.
Of course, these new features can't be used in a vacuum. MOC2005 will rely on a number of other software and hardware components in order to be able to make full use of the enhancements. First, Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS) plus LCS Service Pack 1 is a must. LCS SP1 is also required to enable MOC2005's federated IM service capability that allows simultaneous connections to public IM networks including AOL, Yahoo and MSN. It should be noted that LCS SP1 also allows Windows Messenger 5.1 clients to access public IM networks.
However, in typical Microsoft fashion, a "public IM connectivity license" will be required for each user making use of this enhancement; this is true for both MOC as well as Windows Messenger 5.1. In fact, as of this writing, Microsoft is planning on offering public IM network integration only on a "per user, per year" pricing schedule. At present, Microsoft is targeting this price in the $13 to $16 range (per user, per year) only for volume license customers. If you aren't a volume license customer, Microsoft has no present plans to make this service available to you. Of course, since the product has not yet been released, all of these details are subject to change.
The new client also integrates into Microsoft Office; in particular, MOC integrates very nicely into Outlook, providing a connection to Exchange that allows IM users to view free/busy information. Further, this integration provides MOC the ability to use the organizations Exchange Global Address List. Exchange users' Out of Office messages are also automatically displayed inside the new client. Finally, MOC also integrates into SharePoint Portal Server, delivering a collaboration product that includes real-time communications features.
A look at Microsoft Office Communicator 2005
Figure A below shows the Communicator main window, which, as you might expect, looks a lot like Windows Messenger.
|This is the first screen in Communicator|
Communicator includes a number of options that provide ways to integrate the product with other server systems, such as Exchange. In Figure B below, notice the calendar sharing option that would become available in an environment that includes an Exchange server. When available, an IM user can view your calendar details.
|The Personal options page in Communicator|
As I mentioned, when used with a compatible phone system, Communicator can be used to dial your phone to chat with contacts, as evidenced by the screen shown in Figure C. Figure C also shows conferencing information which can be used with Live Meeting.
|Other Accounts that can be integrated with Communicator|
Thoughts on Microsoft product integration
For the past couple of years, Microsoft has talked "integration" and "collaboration". While the Exchange and Outlook combination was one of their first efforts in this realm, Microsoft really picked up steam with their 2003 acquisition of Placeware—now Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Since then, Microsoft has continued to add new collaboration features to the Office line. In fact, the next version of Office will include server-based components designed to further enhance these efforts. Office already integrates very deeply into SharePoint Portal Server and, with the release of the new Communicator client, Office will be even more embedded into the world of "presence"—know where people are and being able to communicate with them quickly.
From a high-level view, these are all good goals. However, they certainly aren't inexpensive. Each product—Office, Live Meeting, Exchange, SharePoint Portal Server & Live Communication Server—is sold separately. Further, if you want clustering capability in some of them, you need a SQL Server Enterprise Edition back-end. This is definitely true for Live Communication Server 2005 Enterprise Edition. Add to that the cost for Windows Server 2003 licenses and appropriate CALs and you aren't looking at a small amount of money.
On the other hand, the right combination of products for an enterprise can reap huge benefits. I can definitely see, for example, Office Communicator 2005 replacing the individual AOL, Yahoo, and MSN clients, thus resulting in a simplified—and hopefully more secure—desktop computing environment. Further, organizations that roll out the complete product line will probably be able to save huge money on things like travel, telephone costs, and more.
In some articles, Microsoft spokespeople have likened the relationship between MOC and LCS2005 to the one between Outlook and Exchange. While Exchange can be used without Outlook, doing so negates many of the advanced, and truly useful, features of the product. In similar fashion, while other clients can be used with LCS 2005, MOC will be the client of choice and enable the most broad set of features. For organizations wishing to standardize on and being able to control a single IM client, Office Communicator 2005 will probably become the product of choice, notwithstanding additional licensing costs.
As a cornerstone to an improved instant messaging infrastructure, Office Communicator 2005 is also one product among many that will enable true, real-time presence and collaboration among companies.