The past week has been insanely busy. I've been stressing over meeting print deadlines for articles I've been writing for the magazine. And the Seattle weather finally allowed us to record that Forefront podcast I've mentioned in previous posts. (If you’re interested in the podcast, here’s a link. You'll have to answer a couple of registration questions to access the podcast, but you don't have to be a subscriber.) It's looking like we'll do a series of podcasts on security (including Vista security), so let me know if you have questions you'd like me to ask the security team. That team has been very open and responsive to questions and comments from readers.

Unified Communications
You know how it is when you buy a new car and suddenly you start seeing your make and model everywhere you go? That's kind of how I'm feeling about Unified Communications (UC). I wrote a Hey Microsoft column on UC for the March issue of the magazine, and now I'm seeing announcements about UC everywhere! I think it's all building up to the release later this year of Office Communications Server (OCS), the successor of Live Communications Server (LCS).

What’s interesting is that UC seems to be the umbrella under which Exchange 2007 is being launched and discussed. Microsoft has said that Exchange is the "foundation" for UC, but it feels to me like they're de-emphasizing Exchange and will focus everyone on OCS. I’ve asked for a statement about what all this means for people whose job focuses on Exchange. Is the career path for Exchange going to lead you to becoming a UC specialist? What do you think about that if that’s Microsoft’s direction?

In case you're interested, here are a couple of the recent UC announcements. Last week Steve Ballmer and Nortel's CEO and President Mike Zafirovski announced "a joint road map to deliver their shared vision for unified communications. The road map includes three new joint solutions to dramatically improve business communications by breaking down the barriers between voice, e-mail, instant messaging, multimedia conferencing and other forms of communication," according to a Microsoft press release.

Ballmer explained, "The average employee gets more than 50 messages every day on up to seven different devices or applications. Software can and will help address the ongoing challenge of managing communications and this challenge is the driving idea behind our alliance with Nortel. Together, we will evolve VoIP and unified communications to integrate all the ways we contact each other in a simple environment, using a single identity across phones, PCs and other devices."

The three new solutions are:

  • UC Integrated Branch. This new product from the alliance will incorporate Nortel and Microsoft technology on a single piece of hardware that delivers cost-effective, high-quality and easy-to-deploy VoIP and unified communications in remote offices. The UC Integrated Branch is planned to be available in the fourth quarter of 2007.
  • Unified Messaging. To simplify customer deployments, native session initiation protocol (SIP) interoperability between the Nortel Communication Server 1000 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging is planned to be available in the second quarter of 2007. The solution includes Nortel professional services for design, deployment and support.
  • Conferencing. This new solution will extend the rich feature set of Nortel Multimedia Conferencing to Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, delivering a single, familiar client experience consistent across applications such as voice, instant messaging, presence, and audio- and videoconferencing. The on-premise solution is planned to be available in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Another UC announcement is about new Microsoft tools to help Lotus Notes customers transition to Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007, and Office 2007. Microsoft says that the release of tools and templates focuses on providing a simpler user experience and increased automation for IT administrators. These tools and templates include the following:

  • Microsoft Transporter Suite for Lotus Notes. This new suite leverages a simple, unified interface, allowing customers to plan, prepare and transition their messaging and directory services as well analyze their Notes application infrastructure, determine the best course of action for applications, and move data from template-based applications to Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. These tools ease the migration process, even for applications, and provide a great opportunity for partners to extend the tools for advanced migration needs of customers.
  • Role-Based Templates for SharePoint My Sites. Drawing on SharePoint Server’s rich personalization capabilities and integration with line-of-business data, a set of new Role-Based Templates for SharePoint My Sites provide a quick and cost-effective starting point to create customized portals where different employees can go to find the information and tools they need to do their jobs. They include templates for the following roles: sales account manager, financial analyst, staffing specialist, administrative assistant, customer services representative, IT engineer and marketing manager.
  • Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Application Templates. To provide organizations with a starting point for creating their own custom applications, Microsoft has developed a set of 40 templates for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. The templates make it easier for IT personnel to roll out customized applications for common business workgroup processes, allowing them to focus on more mission-critical tasks. The templates include scenarios for sales and marketing tasks, HR and finance processes, business and IT operations, project management needs, and vertical applications for education, healthcare, professional services, retail and financial organizations. In addition, organizations can use the Microsoft Transporter Suite to migrate data from template-based Notes applications to these Windows SharePoint Services application templates.

In the next 30 days, customers will be able to download these tools and templates at no charge from http://www.microsoft.com/technet/interopmigration/collaboration/default.mspx.