In three years 100 million workers will junk their old telephones and communicate with anyone from their desktop at half of what VoIP services cost today, Jeff Raikes, the president of Microsoft’s business division said on Wednesday.


The only encumbrance is that workers will be tethered to two Microsoft products, which the company has been privately testing for three months.


But Microsoft is in a race against time. Scores of companies, including VoIP stalwarts such as Skype and Vonage, are targeting the same market.


Hosted services such as M5 Networks and Google Apps Premium Edition, which integrates VoIP technology from Avaya, are also in the fray.


So Microsoft faced a crowded market on Wednesday when it took the wraps off of its Office Communications Server and Office Communicator and made them available for public testing.



Microsoft has long sought to take desktop control of the one communications medium over which it has no direct power: voice. It has had little success doing that with traditional, circuit-switched voice.


But with voice entering the IP realm, Microsoft has jumped at the opportunity and spent more than 18 months developing and testing the reliability of its two products that integrate VoIP into Windows.


Despite the announcement, shares of Microsoft fell $0.12 to $27.71 in recent trading.


Background Voice

The company has worked with a slew of telecommunications gear suppliers including Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, and Siemens to integrate VoIP with email, IM, and even video so that users can access all four from any Microsoft application.


By adding voice control to the Windows desktop, Mr. Raikes said, users can employ a combination of phone, email, IM, and video to reach their colleagues, hopefully making voice mail history.


“We have to get out of today’s communications potholes of telephone tag, voice mail jail, or looking up and dialing a colleague’s office number, cell number, and home number only to leave a message,” Mr. Raikes said.


But phone access using Microsoft’s communications products will be available only in Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel, and Outlook.


“I don’t think that will be a drawback for business customers because most workers spend the majority of their time in Microsoft applications anyway,” said Patrick Monaghan, an analyst with the Yankee Group.


“Microsoft has a significant advantage over its VoIP rivals because it will sell VoIP on its more attractive and stickier integrated features, not just cost,” Mr. Monaghan concluded.