VoiceCon, Pick-On-Microsoft Con

Who says it’s easy being king? The King of Software already has many battle fronts opened: the OS Wars, the Browser Wars, the Antitrust Wars, and the Smartphone Wars. After VoiceCon Monday it can add another to the list: the Interoperability Wars.

Communications vendors clearly see the world as Microsoft and everybody else. But who can really blame them? The Redmond Giant is known for its bullying tactics and questionable anti-competitive practices to achieve its goals. The Windows operating system isn’t an industry computing standard — it’s just the de facto standard because it’s so popular. Along the same line, its Internet Explorer browser isn’t the best out there — in fact, it’s one of the least standards compliant among others. Yet in all the demos I saw on the floor today, all of them ran on IE and most recommended using IE when they say their product is “browser based.”

So of course Microsoft has good reasons to make Office Communications Server (OCS) proprietary. It can easily capture a big chunk of the market simply because it’s Microsoft. Wait, but OCS won’t work with the fancy IP-PBX from Avaya or Alcatel-Lucent? Won’t work with my cool SIP phones, either?

But we thought that open and interoperable systems are better?

It may be better for the customer, but a late-entry major vendor like Microsoft reaps plenty of profits by introducing a proprietary system. Think about it: If an Avaya PBX can do the same things as the Alcatel-Lucent PBX, then what distinguishes them? Microsoft can sell an OCS by showcasing all the cool, dazzling, non-standard features, even though it has interoperability issues with other platforms.

If today’s animated exchanges between executives during the Next-Gen Communication Architecture session are any indication of the frustration and threat Avaya et. al. feels about Microsoft OCS, then we can look forward to an interesting year in UC:

The issue was interoperability, and our panelists–from Alcatel-Lucent; Avaya; Cisco; HP; IBM; Microsoft; IBM; and Polycom–threw quite a few elbows. Mostly it was Phil Edholm of Avaya (who came over in the Nortel acquisition) squaring off with Warren Barkley of Microsoft over who was more proprietary. Phil asked why Microsoft’s OCS client (Office Communicator) wouldn’t work with anyone else’s central system, to which Warren shot back, “Whose proprietary protocol do you want us to work with? Yours? Cisco’s?”

It’s evident that Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, etc. have customers who use or want to use OCS, which diminishes the seamless user experience provided by these UC vendors. Avaya’s answer to this “problem”?

Zeus Kerrevala of the Yankee Group also had a great observation to sum up guidance to customers in deciding what direction to take. “Look at the span of the ecosystem,” he said, “When you evaluate a vendor.” This advice, along with the aforementioned need for a strong program around interoperability, has long been a strength for Avaya and the driving force behind our DevConnect program.

Ecosystem. What else can you do if your customer wants to hug an 800-lb. gorilla, right?

Perhaps the best comment regarding this brouhaha, from Moz Hussain of Microsoft’s OCS team:

Amen, brother! Show me the “unified” love in UC, please.


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