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David Becker

Staff Writer, CNET

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is expected to take the wraps off Istanbul, the company’s new instant messaging and real-time communications client, in a few weeks.

The software giant sent invitations to journalists and other insiders this week for a March 8 event in San Francisco, during which Gates will “unveil Microsoft’s new and revolutionary real-time collaboration offerings.”

A Microsoft spokesman said he couldn’t specify that Istanbul would be the subject of the event, but the software has been widely touted as Microsoft’s next major move in real-time communications. Istanbul is an internal code name. Microsoft has not said what the program might be called when it’s ready for formal release.

Istanbul, which has been in the beta testing phase for several months, is a new client for Live Communications Server, Microsoft’s corporate instant messaging software.

Istanbul goes beyond IM, though, handling a variety of functions based on “presence,” the notion advocated by Microsoft and others of software being able to intelligently route communications among various applications and devices. Istanbul reads calendar information from Outlook, for example, to decide whether an incoming call should go to someone’s desktop or mobile phone.

Microsoft executives have said Istanbul would be ready for final release the first half of this year.

Gates will be joined at the San Francisco event by Jeff Raikes, head of the division responsible for Office and Office-branded products such as Live Communications Server; and Anoop Gupta, head of the real-time collaboration unit and the company’s chief evangelist for presence.