LOS ANGELES--Microsoft is showing off more than a dozen new phones designed to work with its business telephony software, but the thing that caught my eye was the iPod-like scroll wheel on one of the models.
Microsoft isn't making the hardware itself, though the scroll wheel is on a reference design jointly developed by Microsoft, Polycom and LG-Nortel. The Microsoft representative I talked with couldn't comment on the legal issues around the similarity, but assumes it must have passed muster.
In any case, the scroll wheel appears to work as well for navigating a long list of contacts as it does finding the right song from a huge music library.
Microsoft is showcasing devices from nine companies at the Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference, which takes place here this week. The future Microsoft shows is a neat one, in which the "business phone" morphs into any number of forms from a portable speaker phone to a monitor with built-in array microphone, speaker and high-quality Web cam.
In my demo, there was an delay in hearing the other party, very noticeable since we were both in the same room. Microsoft says the delay is standard for IP telephony and amounts only to about 75 milliseconds and not long enough to be annoying in real world use.
Nearly all of the "phones," which include USB handsets, bluetooth headsets and even a specially equipped laptop, are set to go on sale within a month or two of this summer's release of Microsoft's Office Communications Server. The software, along with a voice-enabled version of the Office Communicator client program, are now in public beta testing.