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 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.

The new

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.

telephony features require phone systems that can be used with the client. Not
every system includes these features. Other integration plans include a link
between MOC/LCS2005 and Microsoft Office Live Meeting to provide web
conferencing capabilities.

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.

Figure A

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.

Figure B

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.

Figure C

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.

That’s it!

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.