BT has teamed up with Microsoft to offer a collaboration and conferencing service to customers of both companies. The service will use the newly-released version of Office Live Meeting, Microsoft’s web conferencing software.

Microsoft has also unveiled its long-awaited collaboration software, Office Communicator 05, previously code-named Istanbul. He said that the product would be available by the middle of year, probably next quarter.

The product launches were announced by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in a live videolink. He said that VoIP was exploding and that Microsoft was keen to tap into the growing interest in the technology. He said that it’s about identity and it’s about presence – and presence is not always about someone sitting at a PC, “what’s important is all the modalities coming together in a single experience”

Consequently, Gates said that Communicator would integrate IM, voice, video, telephony, and access to web conferencing, as well as providing links to Office applications such as Outlook,and Live Meeting. He added that users would also be able to use the software with traditional PBX-based phones.

Andy Green, CEO of BT’s Global Services division, said that Microsoft had really woken up to the potential of Metcalf’s Law and that the number of users connected to a network enhanced its potential. “That was not always understood by IT companies – it is now,” he said.

He added that BT had been working with Microsoft for about 19 months on an internal pilot programme using Live Meeting. The company has said that that the costs savings had been dramatic, saving 6.2 million miles of business travel. The company had already announced that it was incorporating its audioconferencing software in Live Meeting

Microsoft has also teamed up with Alcatel and Siemens to offer Office Communicator with the PBX vendors' Genesys and Hi-Path products respectively.