Nortel readies Outlook multimedia plug-in

Nortel announced a multimedia communications plug-in for Outlook on Monday.

Nortel Networks reached out to enterprises with multimedia communications software on Monday, announcing a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook to let companies integrate voice and other forms of communication with the widely used e-mail client.

The plug-in, called the Multimedia Office Client, is designed to let employees use voice, video and text messaging through Outlook. It will even work with existing analog voice switches in enterprises or analog Centrex systems provided by carriers, said Chris Pallen, senior manager of voice and multimedia services at Nortel. Multimedia Office Client will be offered in parallel with the current Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) client, which is a Windows application with a Nortel user interface.

Nortel is introducing and demonstrating the software at the Supercomm trade show in Chicago, where Microsoft loomed large. The Redmond, Washington, software company announced alliances Monday with AT&T, Sylantro Systems and Amdocs that also were focused on VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and other communications capabilities.

The Multimedia Office Client works with Nortel's MCS 5100 and 5200 platforms, which are used in enterprise and carrier networks, respectively, for providing IP multimedia communications. Those servers use SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for the translation between existing analog voice switches and IP communications applications, Pallen said.

Users will see Multimedia Office Client as a toolbar within Outlook 2003 that lets them initiate voice, video or text-messaging calls by clicking on a contact's name, as long as that contact has the capability to participate in those types of sessions. Presence information provided in the toolbar indicates whether they can. The client can start voice calls on either a desktop phone or a PC-based soft phone with a headset. Also through the toolbar, users can manage their communications: For example, they can answer or reject calls and set rules for who can contact them and how.

Nortel created the Multimedia Office Client to provide a convenient interface for the many enterprises that use Outlook, and to help carriers offer new multimedia communications services with an interface familiar to enterprises, Pallen said. Nortel also is working with Microsoft on making that company's Live Communications Server 2005 software, which is due to ship next month, work with Nortel voice switches, he added.

The Multimedia Office Client is now in customer trials and should be generally available on the MCS 5100 and 5200 platforms in the fourth quarter, according to Nortel.