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Microsoft to debut Web-based Communicator

Microsoft confirms it is building a 100 percent Web-based version of its next-generation enterprise messaging software.

Microsoft unveiled plans on Tuesday to introduce a Web-based version of its Communicator enterprise messaging software in order to offer customers increased flexibility in accessing the company's collaboration and communications tools.

Speaking at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in New York, Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Real-Time Collaboration Group, detailed the company's plans to introduce a beta version of the product in mid-July. Dubbed Microsoft Office Communicator Web Access, the software aims to help provide customers with an additional option for accessing the software giant's corporate IM system.

The company plans to introduce the latest desktop version of Communicator, labeled Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, sometime before the end of June, and has already begun manufacturing the product.

According to Microsoft, using Communicator Web Access together with the company's Live Communications Server software will allow workers to access its IM system from any device connected to the Internet. Gupta called the introduction the next step in Microsoft's plan to provide "ubiquitous access to rich presence and an integrated communications experience."

Ed Simnett, group product manager for real-time collaboration at Microsoft, said that one of the primary tenets of the company's real-time collaboration strategy focuses on maximizing the reach of its software. The executive said the approach is illustrated by efforts such as the company's recent deal with Research In Motion to develop messaging software for devices that link to servers using software from both RIM and Microsoft.

"Customers have told us that a Web client is an important extra piece of the arsenal," Simnett said. "It also plays to the overall strength of real-time collaboration and the platform strategy that we have. People should be able to communicate from anywhere at any time."

Communicator Web Access will parallel the firm's Outlook Web Access e-mail offering in terms of giving workers expanded opportunities for using the company's communications tools, particularly when they are out of the office, he said. In addition, companies that haven't upgraded their desktop software to the latest Windows operating system will still be able to access the tools.

Simnett said that technical details of the client software are still being worked out, but he indicated that the interface for Communicator Web Access will closely mimic the controls the company has built into the desktop version of the messaging tools.

Microsoft has previously highlighted Communicator as an indicator of the type of collaboration technology it is building into the next version of its Office business software. Due out sometime next year, Office 12 will arm workers with a variety of new options to communicate with co-workers when it is used alongside the Live Communications Server software, the company said.

For instance, out-of-office messages will pop up automatically in Communicator, as will a user's IM presence information. If companies integrate the software with their traditional or Internet telephony gear, workers can also start phone calls through their PC and redirect incoming calls when they are going to be away from their desk. reporter Ina Fried contributed to this article.