Cisco ruffles feathers with new collaboration tools

The networking giant turns up the heat on partner Microsoft as it expands and enhances its suite of collaboration tools.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Cisco Systems is once again stepping on its partners' toes and taking on new rivals as it adds new capabilities to its suite of unified communications products and services.

On Monday, the company will announce several new and enhanced software tools for instant messaging, e-mail, social networking, videoconferencing, document and video sharing. Some of these new products will compete directly with similar products offered by Cisco partners, Microsoft and IBM.

Cisco is taking direct aim at Microsoft with a new corporate e-mail service called Webex Email. Cisco has combined technology from its acquisition of Postpath with its Webex conferencing service. The combined offering gives corporate users access to their Outlook e-mail from any browser. The new service puts email in the "cloud" and eliminates the need for Microsoft Exchange servers.

Cisco already competes with Microsoft in the unified communications market. In fact, the two companies are strong rivals here. But Microsoft has had an advantage over Cisco with its strong presence on the desktop.

Competition between Cisco and Microsoft started to heat up earlier this year, when Cisco took its WebEx Web conferencing service into the cloud. At that time, Cisco executives said there was a possibility that Cisco would compete directly with Microsoft's e-mail Exchange platform.

As for the online collaboration market, Cisco and Microsoft aren't the only ones developing solutions. Google also offers document creation and sharing online. But so far those services haven't gotten much appeal outside of the individual consumer market. And it has yet to take shape in the enterprise market. And of course, Google already offers Internet-based e-mail through Gmail. IBM, another major Cisco partner, is also trying to get into Web-based e-mail market with its product iNotes.

As part of its blitz of collaboration announcements, Cisco also announced several other products and enhancements to its unified communications line-up, including some new social-networking tools and enhancements to its video conferencing and high-end telepresence solutions.

On the social-networking side, Cisco has developed a YouTube-like service called Cisco Show and Share that allows users to create, edit, and share video content. It is also introducing the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, which creates a sort of Facebook for corporate users. The tool includes the ability offer blogging, wikis, team pages, and instant messaging on an internal social networking site.

Other new products include the Cisco Intercompany Media Engine. This product allows users from different companies to communicate and collaborate with each other over a secure network connection.

On the video side, Cisco is introducing the Intercompany Cisco Telepresence Directory, which allows users to see who is available for video chats. The company also added the ability to allow Webex users to click to make video calls to users in a Cisco Teleprresence room. These video conferencing rooms are high-definition video conferencing purpose-built rooms that often cost about $300,000. Cisco also said it has tweaked its telepresence product to allow it to work with equipment from competitors, such as Polycom and Tandberg.

Cisco is currently trying to acquire Tandberg for $3 billion. But Tandberg's shareholders recently said they would reject the offer if Cisco didn't increase its bid.