In San Francisco this morning Microsoft has announced the release of their Unified Communications family of software and hardware. I'm about halfway through watching the keynote now, enjoying the usual uncomfortable wrestling that occurs whenever anyone tries to demo voice recognition technology, but on the whole it looks pretty good.
Unified communications (in general, not necessarily the specific Microsoft branding) have been ballyhooed for a few years now-phone systems that know where you are, wherever you are, when you are there, that e-mail your voice mails, or can voice-mail your e-mails, that allow a high degree of integration and collaboration between remotely connected workers in a variety of venues. And to some degree, we've been able to effect this reality with a variety of systems, some good, some bad.
But the stuff is starting to come out of the realm offiction and klunky mash-up systems and enter into the mainstream, and this release is another step in that direction. Once Microsoft starts pumping out solutions, then you know that corporate America is starting to get comfortable with it.
For the most part, however, this is an iterative step in collaboration and integration and unlikely to raise too many eyebrows. You've already been to do remote whiteboards, video conferencing, and collaborative document sharing. As with many Microsoft initiatives, this simply improves on and integrates those existing capabilities.
The only really interesting new feature is Roundtable, a 360 degree camera for video conferencing, which may seem like an obvious advance, but is a tremendously useful one in simplifying video conferencing (as anyone who has had to jockey for camera position in a group conference can tell you). This has been on the agenda for a while, but for around $3000, it will be one of the more affordable full-room video conferencing systems available.
Keynote is on the main UC website and for more info you can read the reviews linked in-line above. We'll have to wait and see what the real-world deployments look like; there will probably be some interesting deployment stories by second quarter of '08.