Microsoft moved ahead on its commitment to deliver unified communications (UC) solutions when it announced the latest version of its Web-conferencing service, Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007, this week at Tech Ed 2007. The new release emphasizes multiple areas of improvement: simplifying the user experience, enabling “engaged” attendees at meetings, supporting different types of meetings, and “bringing all the information together in one place by providing integrated, rich media that pulls together audio and video content into one console,” said Roger Murff, Microsoft’s director of unified communications marketing. (To view a video of Roger's comments, click here.)

The goal of the new Live Meeting, says Murff, “is to enable a face-to-face experience” in Web meetings through features such as rich media presentation, offering a choice between two-way regular phone and VoIP audio, and support for live Webcam video and 360-degree panoramic video. The latter feature is possible with the new Microsoft Roundtable, a hardware/software product that includes a 360-degree Web camera and will be available this fall.

The new Live Meeting is based on the same technology as Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, now in beta and also due to be released this fall. Murff said that the releases support Microsoft’s software-plus-services strategy, which makes solutions available as both a hosted service, as Live Meeting is, and software that’s run and managed onsite (e.g., OCS), to give customers a choice.

The product is a step toward true UC; it offers various audio and video options but isn’t integrated with Exchange Server 2007, for example. (OCS 2007 offers some degree of integration with Exchange 2007, however). Nonetheless, the upcoming release is significant for how much it will improve the quality of the Web and videoconference experience for participants.