Today we got another of the incredibly rare tidbits of information from Microsoft regarding its plans for Live Meeting and Live Communications Server (LCS). It now looks as though Microsoft will give up their plans for a general unified theory of web conferencing and instead offer it in two flavors... The traditional server-hosted model they bought from Placeware and a new locally-hosted model integrated into the Microsoft Office LCS package. Microsoft has been trying to figure out how to integrate the two systems for ages. In a CRN story on the subject way back in February of 2004, they talked about "full integration of LCS with Live Meeting" - but I'm guessing the technical challenge was simply too daunting. Placeware was written for a Sun Java / universal UNIX compatible base. Microsoft wants everything in C# and Microsoft Java, which is incompatible in several "interesting" ways (especially from a graphics and interfaces standpoint).
LCS of course is much more than web conferencing. As a matter of fact, I get the impression that web conferencing is going to be treated as an afterthought for the unified collaborative work package. In another article on LCS, CRN (which really seems to be into this story!) quotes an anonymous Microsoft source: “Do the math. The market for collaboration software is $4 billion. The market for voice is $40 billion. If you were Microsoft, where would you go?”
As far as I can tell, Microsoft seems to have all but abandoned direct sales efforts on the Live Meeting (Placeware) product, relying on pick-up sales from inbound calls. Their direct sales force has been slashed and relegated to combined sales channels with other products. In the meantime, WebEx continues to push the heck out of its hosted enterprise web conferencing activities. This should result in a completely obvious and predictable ceding of the hosted market to WebEx.
It's funny to watch this dance. Microsoft has long been the king of pre-announcements designed to make consumers hold off purchase decisions until a promised new offering finally hits the market. But in this case, the company can't seem to figure out their own strategy well enough to clearly communicate it to their potential market. In the meantime, WebEx continues to widen its lead on market share.