Product review: Microsoft Response Point 1.0

Microsoft's small-office VoIP system, buoyed by speech recognition, combines extraordinary ease and a restricted feature set

Microsoft's Response Point is PBX software that runs on Embedded XP inside of hardware sold by three Microsoft partners -- Aastra, D-Link, and Quanta -- with more partners to come later in 2008, according to Microsoft. You can engage a VAR to install the system or do it yourself without much effort.

Response Point setup is remarkably straightforward, and so is day-to-day use. Thanks to an automated assistant that responds to voice commands, callers can do most anything with the push of a single button. The trade-off in keeping the system simple is a minimum of telephony features, and collaboration features such as presence awareness and instant messaging are absent.

Response Point requires Windows XP or Vista running on one PC; this functions as the management console. Additionally, each user may use an XP or Vista PC to take advantage of telephone functions and Outlook integration, but this isn't a must because call routing and other configuration tasks may be done by your administrator. Also good: You don't have to install separate servers, such as Exchange.

The Quanta Syspine DOS A50-8G base unit used for this review, like the Sutus Business Central unit, is a diminutive, attractive tabletop box that will fit into most any office decor. Installing a small system should take less than 30 minutes; just connect the base unit and phones to a network hub, and plug in your analog lines. The Syspine unit includes eight analog ports.

Next, using Response Point Administrator software, you configure the base unit, add users, and assign them to phones. But I was slowed by a similar problem I faced with Allworx: Administrator, 32-bit software, refused to run on my 64-bit Vista laptop. After finding a 32-bit XP system and loading the Administrator program, finalizing my setup proceeded quickly.

First, the phones on my network were automatically discovered. Next, I stepped through Administrator's menus to assign handsets to specific users, groups, or locations (such as a conference room). There's basic call routing for each user, such as forwarding to an outside line if the employee doesn't pick up the call after a preset number of rings -- but no options to have different greetings by time or day of the week.

Like other systems, Response Point has an auto-attendant and directory of users that I easily configured. For instance, I recorded custom greetings from a phone and designated an employee as the operator. Lastly, Response Point let me configure an outgoing SMTP e-mail server so that users would receive e-mail notification and an attached audio file of voice messages.

Surprisingly, there's only minimal integration with Microsoft Outlook -- and this requires each user to install Response Point Assistant (another 32-bit-only utility). Assistant correlates a caller ID with your Outlook contacts list and pops up their information. It also allows users to change voice mail, notifications, and call forwarding settings.

Besides voice mail, Response Point telephony features include call park/retrieval, three-way conferencing, and ringing all phones in a group. However, Response Point doesn't support softphones.

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