This is huge - in case you haven't heard the news yet - Office Communications Server 2007 has been Released To Manufacturing (RTM)!!!!
I have been using Communicator 2007 as my primary phone for several months now, along with Exchange 2007 for voicemail, and I'm personally excited that the product is now finished.
So what can you expect with OCS, and what is included in this release?
- Software powered VoIP: by using a smart end-point (aka a PC), OCS and Communicator 2007 allow a much richer experience than traditional VoIP systems.
- Software economics: OCS works with a broad range of devices, phones, applications from a wide range of partners.
- Voice quality: The listening and call quality offered by a pre-release version of Office Communications Server 2007 was “considerably better than that provided by [a leading provider’s] IP phones,” according to an independent benchmark study conducted by Psytechnics, a firm specialising in voice-quality research.
- Easy transition: Companies can get more value from their existing PBX systems, networks and desk phones by using Office Communications Server to add VoIP and unified communications capabilities without ripping and replacing existing investments.
- Streamlined communications: click-to-call from Outlook, Word, Sharepoint and other apps - including the ability to simply add presence and telephony/video to LOB or custom applications/websites.
- Tools that travel: It doesn't matter if you're in the office sitting at your desk, working from home, or sitting at a coffee shop - you still have all of your communications tools available. In fact right now I am writing this from a hotel in Seattle. My girlfriend in Sydney can dial my local 02 phone number and I take the call over here on my PC. All of this without a VPN!! As long as I have web access, then I can make and receive calls - and due to our adaptive codecs (more info below) it doesn't matter that I am running across an unreliable unmanaged network (aka the Internet).
So how about the voice quality?
One of the huge improvements we're making in Office Communications Server 2007 is in the area of speech quality and Quality of Experience in VoIP phonecalls.
We have a document available for download with an overview of our RTAudio advanced VoIP codec, which has the ability to dynamically adjust to network conditions such as latency, packet loss, jitter, etc; and because it is a variable-bitrate codec, calls will not drop out if the network is not "perfect". This is a huge change from traditional Enterprise VoIP technologies, which require end-to-end management of the network. Rather than adjusting the network to fit the call, we can adjust the call to fit the network.
So what does this mean? Think better voice quality with less bandwidth, and the ability for remote/mobile users to connect to OCS and make voice/video calls across the Internet and from mobile networks, wireless hotspots, etc.
Download the whitepaper from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=05625af1-3444-4e67-9557-3fd5af9ae8d1&displaylang=en
So what else is being launched with OCS?
Office Communicator 2007 - rich presence, web conferencing, multi-party IP audio, multi-party IP audio, call management, integration with Office and other apps.
My real-life experience with Communicator telephony: when somebody rings me during office hours my PC will ring (including my Catalina phone - more on that below), as will my mobile - I can answer whatever is more convenient. After hours (based on what I publish in Outlook), when I don't answer, or when my presence is set to Do Not Disturb, then calls will be redirected to Exchange Unified Messaging for voicemail.
Some screenshots of Communicator's incoming call options below (these are real shots - my numbers hidden for privacy):
Setting my phone to simultaneously ring my mobile.
That little envelope icon in the top-right is MWI (Message Waiting Indicator) for my Exchange voicemail - my Catalina phone (below) also has a MWI light for Exchange.
On a call. Note the Subject line of the phonecall - that is based on the Subject of the Outlook email I called from, so people know why I'm calling before they answer!!! Also if I'm talking on my PC and need to leave the office for whatever reason, I can transfer the call to my mobile.
Office RoundTable - 360 degree panoramic IP video camera. As part of OCS's on-premise conferencing features, you have the ability to use a RoundTable camera.
This allows you to see everybody in the room, as well as a stream of the active speaker, while you present PPT, whiteboards, application sharing, polls, etc.
A recent post on RoundTable can be found at http://blogs.technet.com/itproaustralia/archive/2007/07/11/microsoft-office-roundtable.aspx, and more information can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/oct06/10-20officeroundtable.mspx
UC and Communicator phones - don't want to talk into your PC? Our partners are releasing phones that will integrate with Communicator. There are USB phones that require your PC as a softphone, but also the Communicator Phone Experience which is a standalone handset that has an Ethernet port to run as a pure IP endpoint.
Here are some the devices from partners that are now available:
The ASUS S7F notebook series has a sleek, lightweight design that lets users travel light and in style.
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We have recently deployed the "Catalina" phone internally at Microsoft Australia - http://blogs.technet.com/itproaustralia/archive/2007/07/13/office-communicator-beta-3-and-the-catalina-device.aspx
Note the red Presence indicator (meaning presence in Communicator is currently Busy) and the Exchange 2007 UM MWI (Message Waiting Indicator) light.
So check out the announcement from Jeff Raikes at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/jeff/06-26-06UnifiedCommunications.mspx, and check out the launch site at http://www.microsoft.com/uc/default.mspx
This week I am finishing the build of a full UC experience demo for the Showcase at TechEd Australia. The Showcase is running on HP C-class blades (very nice servers!) and includes OCS, Communicator, RoundTable, LG-Nortel handsets, Exchange 2007 (w/UM), all integrated with a Nortel CS1000 IP-PBX.
I'll be posting detail on how I built the Showcase on this blog towards the end of the week, so stay tuned. And of course if you're at TechEd Oz - drop by, say Hi, and prepare to be blown away by our technologies.