Microsoft on Tuesday theatrically unveiled communications software it claimed would do to business telephones what e-mail did to corporate memos.
"Unified Communications" (UC) technology, made globally available on Tuesday, streamlines workplace communications and cuts the cost of using voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) phones in half, the US software giant said.
"The shift to software-based telephony is as profound as the shift from typewriters to word processing software," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said onstage during a press conference in San Francisco.
"This is a revolutionary change. Ten years from now when people think about telephony, see the desktop phone and they will go `Oh yeah, we used to have things like that,'" he said.
The software tailored to businesses lets companies merge e-mail, instant messaging, Internet telephone calls, schedule calendars and teleconferencing to enable workers to connect "immersively" through their computers.
"The era of dialing blind ... playing phone tag ... missed communications; that era is ending," Microsoft business division president Jeff Raikes said.
Gates showed off a "Round-Table" device, reminiscent of a table lamp, with microphones embedded in the base and a ring of cameras on top.
The device, priced at US$3,000, can be placed on conference room tables to project everyone there into a virtual meeting with people with like devices in other places, Gates said.
Microsoft's Unified Communications software is seen by some analysts as a wake-up call to telecom giants that technology may loosen their tight grip on the market.
"UC makes all kinds of communications available from users' desktops with just one click," said Etienne de Verdelhan, chief technical officer of French fragrance firm L'Occitane en Provence, which helped test the software.
"What we see is people using the UC technology love it. They would never go back to the old way. More importantly, this technology makes the IT department more popular in the organization," he said.