Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday said it is launching a desktop application that aims to seamlessly integrate e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing, traditional phone service and Internet-based calling.
Microsoft plans to debut the product, code-named "Istanbul," sometime in the first half of 2005 to compete with efforts by rivals like IBM Corp. to link different channels of communications onto a single platform accessible from a computer. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)
Microsoft is testing Istanbul with corporate clients, and expects to run similar tests with consumers in the next few months before bringing the product to market, said Anoop Gupta, vice president of Microsoft's real-time collaboration efforts.
The effort dovetails with Microsoft's announcement in July of plans to offer business users interoperability between its instant messaging program and users of the other two leading services, AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.
Istanbul will enable users to communicate with others regardless of which brand of instant messaging either party is using, said Gupta, who announced the plans at the VON Fall 2004 conference on voice-over-Internet phone technology.
Istanbul will feature so-called "rich presence" technology, using "buddy" lists to indicate which colleagues or friends are available for a range of communications rather than merely through the IM service itself.
Then, users could choose to immediately respond to an e-mail via instant messenger or another method such as voice-over-Internet within the same application, rather than switching back and forth between applications.
The product also includes capabilities to initiate impromptu, real-time, remote "meetings" by bringing together groups of people without having to arrange Web or phone conferences with dial-in numbers and passwords.