Microsoft Talks Unified Messaging

In trying to end phone tag, Microsoft may find there's a lot of competition over just who is "it."

The software maker on Monday announced its vision for so-called unified messaging, which brings together e-mail, instant messaging, telephony and Web conferencing. It also introduced a series of products coming over the next year that should help achieve this. The goal is to free workers from having to guess which mode is the best to use to reach co-workers and others.

But Microsoft is far from alone in trying to solve this problem. In addition to computing companies, it is likely to find itself up against network-gear makers and business phone makers. It will also probably face telecommunications carriers that are looking to build similar presence-detecting abilities into their networks.

"It's up for grabs, really," IDC analyst Tom Valovic said.

Among business customers, Microsoft may have a leg up, given its already strong role as the center for managing e-mail and other business communications. On the consumer side, Valovic said that the network carriers may be the ones in the best position.

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