The world's largest software maker is hoping to tap into growing demand by companies that want their employees to, rather than in face-to-face meetings that can involve costly business travel.
"Communications technology is changing the way people do information work," said Jeff Raikes, Microsoft's group vice president in charge of the division that makes Office and other business software. "But today, most of that communications is really very separate."
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is betting more people will be swapping text messages and holding presentations over the Internet in order to meet and collaborate on projects.
Microsoft's new instant messaging program for businesses, called Microsoft Office Communicator, will be able to track whether users are online or available for a meeting and will be able to reroute incoming messages to phones, instant messaging programs and other avenues of communication.
Office Communicator is an enhanced version of Windows Messenger, which is included in the Windows operating system. Until now, Microsoft's instant messaging software for companies has mostly been limited to messaging within corporate networks. The company said it would begin offering an update to its Live Communications Server that will let corporate users swap instant messages with users in public messaging networks, including those used by Microsoft's MSN Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger and America Online's AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, product.
The key, Raikes said, is "getting everyone on the same page across an organization and across boundaries."
Finally, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its Web conferencing program and service, called Office Live Meeting. That program is based on software Microsoft acquired along with PlaceWare in 2003.
"When we did the PlaceWare acquisition, our bet was that this was going to be a huge area," Raikes said.
Companies are turning to Web conferencing to save on costs, Raikes said, adding that Microsoft saved more than $40 million on business-travel-related costs by using Live Meeting internally.
Microsoft, which is seeing slower revenue growth as its top line approaches $40 billion per year, is hoping to, its most mature divisions.