Under the Hood of Microsoft Communications Server 14
Microsoft has made major strides toward improving Communications Server 14, and the market may be ready to finally consider CS 14 "good enough" as a telephony replacement solution.
When Microsoft came to VoiceCon last spring, there was a flurry of activity and announcements around the long anticipated Wave 14 developments for Office Communications Server. The company had been working on a new version of OCS for several years, and there was anticipation that the capabilities and architecture to be found in the new version would be disclosed. While Microsoft did reveal many of the new capabilities in "Communications Server 14", few if any of the underlying architectural changes and enhancements were discussed, Microsoft preferring to save these details for the Tech Ed conference, in June.
Well, June has come and just about gone, and Microsoft did indeed open the hood of Communications Server 14 (CS 14) allowing analysts, developers, and IT system managers to get a good look at what CS 14 has to offer. In this article I will share with you the key takeaways learned in three days of technical training at Microsoft Tech Ed.
What's in a Name?
Those familiar with Office Communications Server will note that the "Office" descriptor has been removed when Microsoft discusses the new product to be released under the Wave 14 development banner. Microsoft has not revealed what the name of the new product will be, but it seems clear that "Office" will not be part of the new branding. CS "14" is also a code name for the next version, and when Microsoft announces the new name later this year, it may be a totally different naming convention than we have grown accustomed to.
A Pretty New Face
Communicator in CS 14 has taken on a very different look and feel from previous versions. The multicolored gum balls are gone, replaced with photos and side bar presence indicators. Photos can be stored in AD and can be linked with SharePoint as “Default Corporate Picture”. You can also show a picture from a web address as well. A new contact card pops up when one hovers over a selected name, giving details about that person. This can either be a small card with basic details or an expanded card with full details.
Figure 1The new Communicator interface and an expanded contact card
One of the surprising features of this interface is a dial pad. Although there are zillions of other ways to place a phone call in CS 14, when one clicks on the telephone icon in the user interface, the more traditional dial pad appears. The dial pad was available in OCS 2007 R2, but you had to click around to get it to display.
According to Microsoft, customers asked for the larger, more in-your-face dial pad in Communicator because it helps users transition more easily from a dial-by-number to a presence-enabled-dial-by-name paradigm. It also sometimes makes Communicator easier to use when you are dialing numbers that are displayed as mnemonics (like 1-800-Starbucks) or when you have to enter conferences in which you must press the * or # keys. OCS 2007 R2 and CS 14 both allow a user to type a mnemonic into the Communicator dialing interface and Communicator dials the proper digits.
The CS 14 interface takes advantage of this dial pad by integrating a voice mail pane in the window frame. If a company uses Exchange Unified Messaging, voice messages display in the Communicator window, and clicking on the message brings up the voice mail message from Exchange, which is shows text translation as well as an interface to play the message.
Figure 2 Communicator's dial pad showing the integrated voicemail pane and voicemail player
This new interface no longer has the video button or a meeting button on the main contact screen. These functions can be accessed through drop-down menus, from a contact card, or from an instant messaging window.