Microsoft ships first service pack for LCS

Microsoft Thursday released the first service pack for its real-time communications and instant messaging software Live Communications Server 2005.

The service pack delivers to users the ability to integrate their instant messaging infrastructures built on Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 with public IM services from AOL, MSN and Yahoo. Users can share contact information, IM messages and see indicators of who is online.

LCS 2005 SP1 is Microsoft's first step in providing a real-time server and client that provides presence, IM, audio, video, Web conferencing and telephony features in a single package.

Not to be outdone, AOL on Thursday said it was ditching its old IM platform for a new architecture called Triton that would integrate IM, audio, video and other forms of communication. And earlier this month, AOL and Jabber announced a deal to integrate their instant messaging platforms.

For Microsoft users, the full benefits of LCS 2005 SP1 upgrades won't be apparent without the companion client, Office Communicator 2005 that Microsoft unveiled in March and is currently in beta testing.

Communicator is needed to support the IM integration features called Public IM Connectivity (PIC). Communicator, which runs on XP, is expected to ship before the end of June.

The integration features of LCS 2005 SP1, however, will work on a limited basis with the current Windows Messenger 5.1 client, according to Microsoft officials.

"PIC does work but in a less robust scenario with 5.1," says Dennis Karlinsky, group product manager for real-time collaboration at Microsoft. "The same features are there, but there are certain scenarios where presence information may no be updated as often. There are small things that are not showstoppers but are not the 100% ideal scenario for some of our business customers."

Microsoft also plans to release a Web-based client by the end of the year that will run on Windows 9.x and non-Windows platforms and provide basic IM and presence capabilities.

In addition, users rolling out PIC will need to purchase a separate yearly license, which is priced at US$10-$12 per user or per device. Also, the PIC service is only available to users with volume licensing agreements.

Office Communicator 2005 is a major upgrade on the client side for Microsoft. In addition to the IM integration capabilities, it provides users with voice, video, Web conferencing and telephony in a single desktop interface. When coupled with a PBX, the client can be used to control calls, such as call forwarding and multi-call conferencing. Also, users can search for contacts listed in the LCS Address Book Service and have the ability to look up free/busy information on other users' schedules housed in Outlook and Exchange.

On the server side with LCS 2005 SP1, Microsoft added administrative controls to ease connections to partners using LCS, including the ability to control which internal and external IM domains can be integrated. Administrators also can upload those domain configurations in a batch mode instead of having to enter them one at a time. Also new are message encryption and an optional spim (spam via IM) filter.

The server also includes a set of COM-based APIs that lets developers extend presence information from LCS to other applications, allowing users to see who is online every time they encounter a name whether it is in Outlook, Windows SharePoint workspaces or portal, or Office applications.

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