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Microsoft acquires Net-calling start-up

Purchase of Swiss firm should bolster Microsoft's corporate instant messaging push.

Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it has acquired a small company that specializes in voice communication over the Web, the second acquisition it's made in that market in recent months.

The purchase of Media-streams.com, a 23-employee firm based in Zurich, Switzerland, gives Microsoft a set of business applications that tap voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. VoIP services let people place phone calls over the Internet, usually at a discount to traditional phone services.

The deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, follows Microsoft's acquisition of Internet calling start-up Teleo in August. While Teleo's technology is aimed at consumers and has been incorporated into MSN, Media-streams' applications are designed for businesses. Microsoft plans to link the software to its corporate instant message system and Office productivity applications.

Ed Wadbrook, director of VoIP strategies for the Real-Time Collaboration Group at Microsoft described some ways customers can use the combined products. For instance, a call center agent could open an e-mail about a problem in Microsoft Outlook and simply highlight and right-click on the sender's name to initiate a Web call with the person. With a few more clicks, the agent could conference in another party or start troubleshooting the problem remotely, he said.

In a separate announcement, Microsoft showed off the ability to make VoIP calls from within its Windows Live Messenger on Tuesday. That software is slated to be in beta by December.

As for Media-streams' technology, the company plans to fold it into Microsoft Office Live Communications Server, a corporate instant messaging system, next year. It also plans to tie the technology into Microsoft Office 12, due in the second half of next year, Wadbrook said.

Live Communications Server already enables PC-to-PC VoIP capabilities. Technology from Media-streams will help Microsoft add PC-to-phone, phone-to-PC as well as phone-to-phone capabilities, Wadbrook said.