Microsoft is planning to ship in February the first public beta of Office Communications Server 2007, which is key to the company's voice and unified messaging strategy.
The company also plans to ship next month a public beta of Office Communicator 2007, the client software for OCS 2007, sources say.
The Microsoft Unified Communications & RTC User Group in the United Kingdom has also said in a recent blog posting that betas for Office Communicator and OCS 2007 would be available in February.
Microsoft officials would not comment on the beta release cycle, but an announcement in the next few weeks would come at a strategic time, as longtime Microsoft rival IBM/Lotus gears up for its annual Lotusphere conference the week of Jan. 22.
Microsoft began a private beta of OCS 2007 on Dec. 11 with 2,500 IT professionals. The company also hosted a Technology Adoption Program Summit that same week for 250 IT representatives from 100 companies.
Final shipment of OCS is slated for mid-2007. Sources say the server should be generally available in June.
At the time of the summit, Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's unified communications group, said in a statement, "The convergence of telecom and data networks is happening rapidly. Software will integrate these two worlds, enabling IT managers to deliver new communications possibilities that include VoIP."
With the release of the OCS 2007 public beta, a wider swath of corporate users will get a chance to test that proclamation.
Microsoft is touting OCS 2007 as the platform that lets companies integrate VOIP technology into existing telephony infrastructure. OCS, which features native support for the Session Initiation Protocol, lets users instantly launch a phone call from Office 2007 applications, such as Word, Outlook, or Office Communicator, by clicking on the highlighted name of another user.
Microsoft is positioning OCS 2007 alongside Exchange 2007, which was released late last year, as a unified messaging platform. Exchange integrates with OCS 2007 to support its built-in auto-attendant for answering and routing inbound voice calls, as well as itsunified messaging that combines voice mail and e-mail in a single in-box.
In June, Microsoft and Nortel unveiled their Innovative Communications Alliance , which incorporates Microsoft's unified communications software and Nortel's Communications Server 1000 IP-PBX.
On Wednesday in New York the pair expanded on the alliance during a joint news conference by introducing three products: branch office hardware for VOIP and unified communications, a unified messaging integration slated to ship in the second quarter of 2007, and integration of Nortel conferencing software and OC 2007.
Microsoft has announced partnerships with Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel Networks, NEC Philips Unified Solutions, Polycom and Siemens Communications.