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Microsoft's telecom moves

The software giant plans to further detail the role its software can play in the telecommunications industry next week.

Microsoft is no shrinking violet when it comes to new markets.

The software giant plans to further detail the role its software can play in the telecommunications industry next week, underscoring the company's aim to leave no stone unturned when it comes to expanding the use of its Windows operating systems and related software applications.

Microsoft's president Steve Ballmer will give a speech at the telecom-focused Supercomm industry trade show highlighting the company's latest moves. Ballmer is expected to showcase the company's role in telecommunications and detail further partnerships with industry players, according to the company.

Among the plans will be a deal with long distance carrier Sprint to provide Microsoft's BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 suite of server-side applications for database, messaging, and Web serving as part of a new "Business Flex" service being offered by Sprint.

As a result, small businesses will have access to the Internet, Web-site hosting, unified messaging, and voice communications over a tethered or wireless network, according to Sprint.

Microsoft has already detailed plans to implement software as part of its wireless joint venture with Qualcomm called Wireless Knowledge.

Microsoft has made several splashes in telecommunications, throwing its considerable financial weight around with investments in wireless player Nextel, emerging carrier Qwest Communications International, and long distance behemoth AT&T--only three among many plays to come out of Redmond in recent months.

Executives have said the moves are clearly aimed at positioning various components in its software portfolio for use in a rapidly converging world. Microsoft, like others, has noted an emerging trend in which computer and voice communications are being sent across a single pipe and being received by an increasingly diverse array of devices, opening up new opportunities for both software developers and communications carriers.

Microsoft may feel it is a competitive necessity to keep pace in the emerging unified messaging space. Rival Sun Microsystems launched an effort in August of last year to deliver software and hardware systems that can handle voice, email, and fax communications using a single interface.

Microsoft was involved in a messaging-oriented bundling agreement between Compaq Computer and Lucent Technologies, announced in April.

It also has announced partnerships with the Octel messaging division of Lucent as well as Active Voice, according to Microsoft executives.

Microsoft intends to focus on more third-party universal messaging development for its Exchange server, according to Russell Stockdale, director of server application marketing at Microsoft. The linchpin of this effort will be a revised data storage engine called "Web Store" that will debut in the forthcoming "Platinum" version of Exchange.

The effort, according to Stockdale, is directly related to the company's aims to make computing simpler for so-called "knowledge workers"--those employees who use technology to complete their daily tasks. That theme was expressed last month at chief executive Bill Gates's annual CEO summit on Microsoft's campus.

The company is also dabbling with new licensing methods for its software in the developing market for outsourced applications, as previously reported. The Sprint deal will likely feed into this emerging strategy.

Competitors such as Oracle, along with hardware providers including Hewlett-Packard, believe such software delivery methods are the wave of the future.