Microsoft is going to ramp up its efforts to supply VoIP (voice over IP) services at the beginning of 2007, with a communications feature in Windows Vista.

Chief executive Steve Ballmer said the company plans to group VoIP, email, video-conferencing and IM (instant messaging) into a single communications facility that will be incorporated into desktop and server applications as well as the Vista OS (operating system).

However, actual details of how VoIP technology will be included in Vista are not available, suggesting it is only a recent decision to include the technology. Techworld has reported that, based on what little information there is, it seems Microsoft Outlook will offer the consolidated communications technology.

Suppliers such as VocalScape have already integrated Outlook contact information into their VoIP products.

Microsoft already offers point VoIP functionality. For example, Windows Live Messenger has PC-to-PC calling using VoIP and users can call out to external telephones too. This is in response to Skype, the fully owned eBay subsidiary, which is the current leader in PC VoIP and offers free software to Windows users. Skype claims to have 100 million users worldwide.

It seems likely that Microsoft is reacting to the growing VoIP trend by this last-minute addition of VoIP to Vista. As recently as August its Vista partner presentations said nothing about VoIP.

Microsoft is evangelising VoIP on its developer network, particularly for embedded devices running Windows CE, and has produced a VoIP white paper.

For more information, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive VoIP resource page.