Each week, I have to come up with a column topic—ideally, more than a day or two before the column is due. Sometimes this works better than others. My original plan this week was to write about Exchange virtualization and why Microsoft won't come out and say what everyone already knows about it. Then I changed my mind and decided to cover Terry Myerson's keynote at the INTERACT2008 event. Myerson is corporate vice president of the Exchange team at Microsoft. Unfortunately, virtualization interfered, and I was stuck in a ballroom rebuilding virtual machines for my INTERACT2008 sessions during Myerson's address.

I was stuck with no column topic—until I got an unexpected nugget of good news: permission to disclose that Microsoft is very close to releasing a new version of Microsoft Messenger for Mac. The new release, version 7.0, supports Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 and its enhanced presence model. I've been using a beta version of Messenger for Mac 7.0 for a few months now; it combines support for OCS audio, video, and enhanced presence with a polished Mac-like interface. It's another good piece of work by the largely unheralded Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) at Microsoft.

Now, you might be wondering why I'm writing about a Mac instant messaging client in this column, even if it does supports OCS. The answer is simple: The Messenger for Mac client points out several possible ways that Microsoft can make OCS and Office Communicator more attractive business propositions.

The first option Microsoft might try would be to produce a single client for both public and private IM. One of the attendees at my INTERACT2008 session asked me why Microsoft hasn't released a combined Windows client for Windows Live Messenger and OCS. I thought of several possible answers, related mostly to the differences between public IM services (which tend to focus on glitzy features and are often ad-supported) and corporate IM implementations. However, the Mac version of Messenger shows that you can produce a single attractive and usable client that supports key features of both types of service. Microsoft has shipped integrated clients before, notably Windows Messenger, which shipped with Windows XP and supported Exchange 2000 Instant Messaging and MSN Messenger. However, in recent years the corporate and personal client bases have diverged. Bringing them back together offers the possibility of having a single application integrated into the OS so that OCS deployments no longer depend on concurrent deployments of Communicator.

The second potential step Microsoft could take is to produce a free version of Communicator. As I understand it, you get a Communicator license with some SKUs of Microsoft Office 2007—but you still need an OCS CAL to use it. This situation doesn't make much sense to me. People who buy Office but don't use OCS are getting something they don't need but have to pay for. People who buy OCS CALs aren't getting something they do need unless they also buy Office 2007 (which, in all honesty, many of them will do anyway). It seems that a "light" version of Communicator would help spur sales of OCS by removing the tie between OCS and Office 2007. In fact, because the enterprise voice features of OCS require an Enterprise CAL, offering those features in a "pro" or "enterprise" version of Communicator that you only get with an Enterprise CAL might be a perfectly reasonable way to market these features.

I admit to not having any data to back up these suggestions, and it's certainly possible that I've misunderstood the licensing requirements of OCS in some way that renders my suggestions invalid. I also realize that Microsoft is in business to make money—but sometimes giving things away to your best customers is a terrific way to increase your sales, and emulating the MacBU strategy with Messenger for Mac might be a cost-effective means to keep OCS 2007's sales momentum going when the overall technology market is slowing.

Next week, I really will write about virtualization . . . unless something else pops up. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts about Exchange virtualization. Drop me a line at probichaux@windowsITpro.com and let me know your thoughts.