Microsoft launches into Web conferencing

Microsoft will unveil its Web conferencing service on Monday, the latest step in its plan to transform Office from a product suite to a concept. The service, called LiveMeeting, is based on technology the Redmond, Wash., software maker obtained when it acquired PlaceWare in early 2002. LiveMeeting, like similar services on the market, is largely designed to enhance conference calls with Web content. Participants log into a central Web site, where they can then concurrently view a presentation, exchange notes or ask questions through chat software, and collaboratively edit documents. A number of companies use it for remote training seminars.

"You want to simulate everything that happens in a meeting," said Jennifer Callison, director of marketing for Microsoft's real-time collaboration business unit. "You just need a browser and an Internet connection and a phone." LiveMeeting, an essential part of Office, marks a change in the overall sweep of the product suite. For years, Office has been synonymous with the bundle of desktop applications such as Word or PowerPoint that comes with corporate computers. In the future, Office will encompass a broader collection of applications and services. With LiveMeeting, for instance, customers don't download any new software, and no extra software is included in the desktop suite. All the software needed to conduct Web conferences--except for a standard browser--will remain on Microsoft servers.

Rather than purchase licenses, customers buy subscriptions to a service, a first for Office. While LiveMeeting is the first Office service, it won't be the last. "While this fits as part of the Office system, it is not in Office the suite," Callison said. "LiveMeeting won't be the only component not integrated into an Office desktop."

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