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Microsoft's Expanding Collaboration Strategy
Microsoft creates a multifaceted strategy for addressing communication channels and collaborative workspaces.
by Peter O'Kelly

December 14, 2004

The enterprise markets for communication and collaboration products and services are in the midst of a major transition. "The Future of Microsoft Collaboration" [November 2003] provided an overview of Microsoft's collaboration and communication strategies and products at the end of 2003 (see Resources). This column updates you on the market dynamics and Microsoft's progress since then.

Communication and collaboration were pretty simple a few years ago. Communication generally meant e-mail, and collaboration was whatever vendors claimed it was. There was no market consensus on the meaning of collaboration, so the word was used inconsistently in contexts including content management, groupware, teamware, and workflow. (Communication products were much more pervasive than collaboration.)

Over the last few years, however, most vendors have converged on a new and simpler model, with channels for communication, workspaces for collaboration, a shift toward contextual communication/collaboration (so that users and developers may work in their preferred tools and focus on their tasks at hand), and broad support for related industry standards. The market convergence is far from complete, but there is increasing overlap among communication, collaboration, and content tools and services (see Figure 1).

The shift toward contextual collaboration means you no longer need to distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous tools, or between intra- and inter-enterprise scenarios; they're all part of the same communication/collaboration continuum.

Microsoft and IBM have dominated the market for asynchronous enterprise communication tools, with Outlook/Exchange and Notes/Domino, for several years. Until 2003, however, Microsoft was not a leader in enterprise collaboration, and its realtime communication tools were limited. But Microsoft has made significant communication/collaboration progress during the last two years.

The foundation of Microsoft's collaboration platform starts with services included with Windows Server 2003. Windows SharePoint Services, building on the .NET Framework and SQL Server, is a platform for collaborative workspaces (personal and team sites). Windows Right Management Services, while not yet widely deployed, provides important services for sharing sensitive content securely. Windows Media Services, including services for realtime media streaming, is also part of Microsoft's collaboration platform.

In asynchronous collaboration, SharePoint Portal Server extends Windows SharePoint Services with enterprise-scalable frameworks and services. SharePoint Portal Server has been quite successful, with Microsoft claiming more than 30 million client licenses sold by late 2004. Exchange Server remains the center of Microsoft's asynchronous communication strategy for enterprise messaging, calendaring/scheduling, and personal information management (contacts, to-do items, and so on). And while not strictly collaboration-focused, Exchange includes many services that are helpful in collaborative contexts (such as supplying calendar data to supplement presence indicators).

Microsoft Extends Live Meeting
Microsoft's realtime collaboration and communication products and services have expanded greatly during the last two years. Live Meeting, a hosted service for Internet conferencing based on Microsoft's PlaceWare acquisition, was extended in 2004 with a native Windows client. Microsoft also entered strategic Live Meeting partnerships with vendors including BT, InterCall, and MCI, making Live Meeting a significant global competitor to vendors such as WebEx.

Live Communications Server (LCS), introduced in 2003, is a SIP/SIMPLE-based enterprise instant messaging and presence awareness server for enterprise instant messaging. LCS 2005, which Microsoft released to manufacturing during October 2004, adds important extensions, including the ability to connect with consumer instant messaging services from AOL, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's own MSN. In these days of increasingly stringent regulatory compliance requirements for all forms of communication, the federated, SQL Server-backed model in LCS 2005 is well-positioned.

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