Microsoft is particularly proud of the Unified Messaging (UM) system that it's building into Exchange 2007. Microsoft plans to compete in the UM market on the basis of superior integration with Exchange and Outlook and by driving the cost of UM deployment down toward a $20-per-seat price point, far less expensive than competitive solutions.

Microsoft has a history of achieving success in new markets by driving prices down while introducing new products. The best example is probably SharePoint Portal Server, which Microsoft introduced in 2001, slashing prices for portal functionality. The same could be about to happen when Microsoft delivers Exchange 2007 UM. Out of the box, Exchange 2007 UM delivers the following:

  • An architecture based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that lets UM connect to private automatic branch exchanges (PABXs) that support SIP or through a gateway that converts Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) signalling to SIP. Intel and AudioCodes are among the initial partners signed up to provide gateways.
  • Speech access for voicemail, email, calendaring, and contacts. Microsoft's most common demo is for a user to reorganize his or her calendar by calling Exchange from a cell phone when driving to the office. It's pretty cool to be able to cancel a pile of appointments and clean your calendar or to be able to call in an email message to tell your team that you'll be late into the office, but Exchange UM initially doesn't support all languages for speech recognition—a limitation that will definitely limit sales outside the US market. It might also limit the usefulness of UM to users whose command of English isn't particularly fluent, so this is definitely something to test.
  • Fax receiving so that faxes flow into user mailboxes.
  • Missed-call notification so that if a call redirects to voicemail but the caller doesn't leave a message, Exchange sends an email message to the recipient with the time and caller ID for the call. If Exchange can resolve the caller ID to a contact, the name of the contact is provided.
  • UM management policies. Administrators can specify settings such as maximum greeting length, minimum PIN length, number of days until a PIN must be changed, and international calling restrictions.

There's more than enough great functionality to qualify Exchange 2007 to play in the UM market. Some features are missing, such as voicemail networking to non-Exchange systems and the ability to call to pagers or other telephone numbers when a new voice message arrives. However, the lack of these features isn't enough to ignore the substantial cost advantage and the close integration with the rest of the Exchange infrastructure.