Microsoft has put stickers on 15 phones that work with its Office Communications Server beta, at the launch of a branding scheme for its unified communications products.

Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Communicator 2007, launched in a public beta in December, combine email, instant messaging and video conferencing functions so that users can do things like click on an email message to make a voice over IP (VoIP) call to its sender. The software also supports standard desk phone features.

Microsoft designed the software to be compatible with phones already on the market, and has launched the branding scheme to assure buyers of this, starting with 15 phones from vendors including Samsung, LG-Nortel, NEC, Plantronics, Asus, GN, Polycon, Tatung and Vitelix.

In order to qualify for the certification, handsets must include wideband audio support, comply with a wide range of VoIP codecs and include specific user interface elements, said Eric Swift, senior director of unified communications product management for Microsoft.

Some of the new phones connect directly to a USB port so that mobile workers can bring the phone with them and use it along with their laptop to access features typically only support on desk phones, like call forwarding and conferencing. Other new phones include Bluetooth and video capabilities.

"We're looking to ignite partner innovation to bring software economics to what has been proprietary," said Swift. Microsoft hopes that the communications software and the qualification program will make it easier for hardware developers to create innovative new phone products in a phone industry that he describes as remaining stagnant for many years.

Microsoft's Office Communications Server competes with VoIP products from networking giants like Cisco Systems and Avaya Microsoft hopes to establish an edge against them by integrating its server with widely used products such as Exchange 2007 and enabling unified services.