Microsoft is merging its Exchange and Real-Time Collaboration (RTC) groups into a new unit called the Unified Communications Group. The change is aimed at aligning development work on Microsoft's e-mail platform with that done around other communications systems like instant messaging, web conferencing and VoIP.

The new Unified Communications Group will be led by Anoop Gupta, who is currently the corporate vice president of Microsoft's RTC unit. The new group will be part of Microsoft's Business Division, overseen by Jeff Raikes.

Microsoft said the restructuring won't affect existing product plans or release schedules. The next version of Exchange, Microsoft's e-mail and collaboration system, is aimed at a late 2006 or early 2007 launch, while a closely watched RTC product, Speech Server 2007, is scheduled for a late-2006 release.

Although their development teams will now be aligned, Exchange, Live Communications Server and other software products will remain standalone offerings, Microsoft said.