PDC: Office Communications Server Gains New Developer Hooks

Developers this week heard more about the planned upgrade of Microsoft's platform for integrating e-mail, instant messaging, conferencing and telephony at this week's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

The upgrade is dubbed Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2, and it is currently available only for private beta testing. OCS was dwarfed by many other high-profile launches at PDC this week. However, Microsoft did conduct a handful of technical talks on the planned OCS release.

Earlier this month, Microsoft had announced that OCS R2 would be an incremental upgrade, although the release will offer some noteworthy new capabilities for .NET developers looking to add conferencing-, presence- and telephony-oriented capabilities to business applications.

OCS R2 comes with new APIs and features integration with the latest release of Microsoft's Visual Studio development environment. Microsoft plans to officially launch a new OCS release in February, the company said at the VoiceCon Conference last month in Amsterdam.

Thousands of organizations have begun using OCS 2007 as their primary voice-communications platform since its release one year ago, according to Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division, in a video statement released at the VoiceCon show.

Tom Nolle, president of the Voorhees, N.J.-based telecommunications consulting firm CIMI Corp., said that OCS has gotten off to a respectable start in Microsoft-centric shops.

"Those with SharePoint, for example, seem to be adopting it almost completely, at least in my experience," Nolle said in an e-mail.

"There aren't any issues in terms of negatives that I'm aware of with respect to adoption, but it will be important for enterprises to review their overall voice, UC [unified communications] and collaboration strategies given the new release and the directions. [But it looks] promising."

New and Improved
Among the new features in OCS 2007 R2 are built-in audio teleconferencing, desktop sharing and what Microsoft calls "persistent group chat." The new chat feature is aimed to let teams participate in specific topic-based chat sessions that persist over periods of time.

On the voice side, the new release will allow for improved call management, including response groups that manage incoming calls based on predefined workflows. It will have call delegation and VoIP-based call trunking.

There are two key new capabilities for the developer experience, said Anand Ramakrishna, principle group manager for Microsoft's Office Communications Server Developer Experience. First, the object model will allow developers to tweak behaviors and do more advanced kind of scenarios so they "can get down and write code," Ramakrishna said.

The other key developer capability centers around improvements to the API set called the Universal Communications Management API. The new API addresses support for presence, teleconferencing and call controls.

Developers will be able to integrate these new and existing features into their applications with Visual Studio 2008 using the latest capabilities in .NET Framework, Ramakrishna said.

One such example is Windows Workflow Foundation.

"We created Windows Workflow activities that you can drag and drop onto your workflow agent or your designer, and then model it using those APIs," Ramakrishna explained. "You can bring up your workflow canvas and drag and drop the UC activities onto your workflow -- in conjunction with your other workflow activities."

For instance, this will let developers build UC into their workflow models in SharePoint, while taking into account human latency in business processes.

"We're bringing [UC] and integrating that so that you can do intelligent routing and intelligent notification from Windows Workflow," Ramakrishna said. Applications can range from the routing and approval of forms to integration with CRM-type apps, he added.

In addition to call management, presence and teleconferencing, Ramakrishna pointed out that the new API set supports speech recognition and notification.

Developer Checklist
New in OCS 2007 R2
  • Visual Studio 2008 integration
  • APIs for presence, conferencing, call control and speech
  • Support for automated routing using Windows Workflow Foundation

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.