Software giant Microsoft unleashed its unified communications suite, of which VoIP is the central core, upon the industry on Tuesday evening.

At an event in the US, Bill Gates, chairman, and Jeff Raikes, president of the Business Division, announced the worldwide availability of Microsoft’s unified communications software.

The suite includes Office Communications Server 2007, which delivers VoIP, video, instant messaging, conferencing and presence within existing applications such as Microsoft Office; Office Communicator 2007, which is client software for phone, instant messaging and video communications that works across the PC, mobile phone and web browser; Live Meeting, an advanced conferencing service that enables workers to conduct meetings, share documents, utilise video and record discussions from any computer; and RoundTable, a conferencing phone with a 360-degree camera that captures a panoramic view of meeting participants, tracks the speaker and can record meetings.

Essentially, a user could start a whole conference or just a one on one conversation right out of a Word document, even with a remote worker. The whole phone experience would be linked to a specific user identity, with inbuilt presence indicators capable of being integrated with third party applications.

“Unified communications software will transform business communications as fundamentally as email did in the 1990s,” said Raikes. “Today, Microsoft is in the VoIP game, and our customers and partners are already winning with better economics and new business opportunities.”

Nortel has been one of Microsoft’s most high profile partners in this venture, creating an alliance to create a business service that combines communications technologies in an effort to simplify how workers communicate. The technology giants pledged a four-year agreement that will allow, for the first time, cross-licensing of intellectual property.

On Tuesday, Nortel said it expects to be first in the industry to offer customers software-based “native” interoperability between its IP-PBX portfolio and Office Communications Server 2007. The platform is planned for availability in first quarter of 2008.