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Microsoft rings up more telecom ties

The software giant announces further developments in its strategy to increase telecom services for its Windows operating system software.

Microsoft won't wait for the phone to ring.

The software giant today announced further developments in its strategy to sprinkle telecommunications services throughout its Windows operating system software.

Microsoft said it plans to work with Dialogic, a computer telephony hardware and software specialist, to integrate Dialogic's CT Media server software into Windows.

Dialogic already builds a set of communications server software that can run on top of Windows NT, and has ongoing ties with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant.

The plan marks a breakthrough endorsement for the so-called computer telephony industry, which has labored in obscurity for years while awaiting mainstream acceptance.

Microsoft said Dialogic will provide development services to Microsoft in return for $20 million and an equity investment of $24.2 million, giving Microsoft a 5 percent stake in Dialogic.

Microsoft announced its expanded telephony efforts at the CT Expo industry trade show in Los Angeles.

Microsoft has made no secret of its desire to make NT a software tool for a variety of markets, including telecommunications.

"Microsoft looks at Dialogic's telecom developer community and drools, and vice versa," said Hilary Mine, an analyst with Probe Research.

The new services previewed today include NetMeeting 3.0 and Web-based interactive voice response (IVR) technology. NetMeeting 3.0, which will enter beta testing soon, will include additional standards support and features aimed at Net-based conferencing. The IVR technology will allow users to access Web sites via a standard Web browser, or by telephone.

Microsoft executives said the Dialogic deal will result in a product marketed by the firm, likely be a piece of server-based communications software that could be sold as an add-on for the telecommunications market on top of the company's Windows NT operating system. Mark Lee, product manager for Windows communications, said it was premature to discuss specific plans.

"We're not getting into the product details just yet," he said.

Lee said the results of integrated Dialogic technology will appear later this year.

Thought Microsoft has made it clear that Windows NT can handle the needs of the telecom industry, continuing doubts about the operating systems' reliability in processing high-end tasks may hamper the company's strategy in the short-term.

But Lee said evidence proves momentum is in Microsoft's favor: over 450 third parties have registered telecom-oriented applications with the company and over 40 companies are displaying NT-based software technology at the CT Expo trade show, he said.

"There's been dramatic growth over the past few years in Windows NT Server in the telecommunications space," noted Lee.

In a related announcement today, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and Motorola joined forces to promote a new organization dedicated to a standard method for providing voice access to the Internet, via a phone and through voice-enabled software.

Microsoft also said it plans to include the Windows Telephony Application Programming Interface (TAPI) version 3.0 in Windows 98. The interface will also be included in the forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system. TAPI lets software written by one company work with hardware made by another, Microsoft said. The new version of TAPI extends capabilities to additional software, the company said.

Microsoft has also selected Genoa Technology to provide testing and verification of TAPI software providers as part of its "Designed for Windows" logo program.