It’s been a long time in coming but Microsoft has announced it is to launch its own Skype-like VOIP program designed especially to integrate with Office 2007. The company has confirmed that by the end of this month, beta testing will go ahead for its IP telephony software Office Communications Server 2007.
Until now, voice or conference calling within Office was limited to Microsoft’s NetMeeting but the new program promises to offer far better integration and quality in calling and video conferencing. The most recent version of Microsoft Office will automatically be able to incorporate the software so users won’t have to resort to third party applications such as Skype to make calls. Microsoft first announced plans for such a service last summer and has since spent the past year developing it alongside Nortel.
The add-on will mean that users can simply click on a name in Word, Excel or Outlook to call them directly. Calls to contacts will also be possible from Sharepoint and MSN Messenger. It will also allow one-to-one, multi-videoconferencing and webconferencing and will be launched in both desktop and Windows Mobile-based versions. The downside however is that it will only work with Office and not any other external programs.
The fact that Microsoft Office is the world’s most widely used business and domestic desktop package means that its certainly going to prove a challenge to VOIP heavywight Skype. However, how many home PC users will be willing to pay to upgrade to the new version of Office just to use something they can already do for free is debatable. The other problem for Microsoft is that many people will be loath to start their contact lists from scratch again. A tool or integrated wizard which would make this process as seamless as possible from Skype would be a wise investment for them if it is to really take-off – at least for home users.