Microsoft issues beta of Communicator Web Access

Von Tom Sullivan

Microsoft next month will release a beta version of a forthcoming product dubbed Microsoft Office Communicator Web Access, an official said during an interview at the Collaborative Technologies Conference here in New York.

The new product will serve as a Web-based interface to Microsoft"s Live Communications Server, in a similar fashion to the role that Outlook Web Access plays with Exchange, said Ed Simnett, group product manager for real-time collaboration at Microsoft.

Simnett said Office Communicator Web Access is aimed at business users and focuses on three key areas: instant messaging, presence, and scheduling integration.

"This is important for people who don"t have the latest versions of Windows, use different operating systems, or people who are traveling and checking in at a kiosk," Simnett said.

He explained that Office Communicator Web Access is part of Microsoft"s strategy to broaden the reach of Communicator and Live Communications Server among enterprise users.

Also at the conference, Melanie Turek, senior vice president and founder of Nemertes Research, said during a panel discussion that last year IM was in use at 90 percent of companies, but this year the firm"s studies showed only 76 percent of companies have IM in place.

"A large number of companies recognized security as a threat and pulled back on IM because of it," Turek explained.

Further, Turek explained that 62 percent of companies say security is "critical" for IM, and 26 percent list it as "very important."

"What we see is a big disconnect between what companies say is important and what they do about it," she said, adding that Nemertes" research shows that 66 percent of companies neither restrict IM use now nor plan to in the near future.

Brian Curry, AOL"s vice president of premium subscription services for AIM, who sat on the panel that Turek moderated, disputed those statistics in an interview with InfoWorld after the panel discussion.

"All indications from our research and experience are that companies are only increasing their use and IM is growing," Curry said. "Saying that companies are now more likely to block it is counter to what we"re seeing."

Microsoft"s Simnett, however, said that Nemertes" numbers "make sense, but what we"ve found is that even if companies say they won"t allow IM, there"s always [someone] still using it."

AOL, for its part, does not yet have an enterprise-class IM product, but Curry said the company is currently considering its approach to the higher-end.

"We"ll start to experiment with services targeted at business users at the end of 2005 or beginning of 2006," he said.

In the meantime, AOL"s next consumer version of IM, code-named Triton, is currently in beta testing, Curry said. He declined to provide a timeframe for when the final version will be released.