Image by jagelado via Flickr
For some it really is difficult to fathom how Asterisk, Open Source telephony framework which does little if any traditional commercial advertising can grow is size and defeat Response Point, a proprietary offering from M$. If you are one of the confused people, allow me to use the Apache web server as an analogy. At the dawning of the Internet, Unix was the cornerstone operating system. The balkanization or splintering of Unix caused its eventual downfall and allowed Windows to flourish. Fast forward to the web browser wars of the early '90s, and you have Netscape battling the Redmond Woolly Mammoth and its Internet Explorer. Most everyone knows how that ended; however, Netscape begrudgingly sowed the seeds of the Mozilla Project which later released Firefox. Now you're probably asking, "What does this have to do with VoIP?"
Just trying to paint the picture for you.. Be patient ;-)
M$ had just discovered the Internet several years after Unix was the dominant player in that space. Redmond used unfair business practices to game the system and supplant Netscape as the dominant browser. Redmond also tried very hard to create a very closed Internet experience, one that was "best suited for Internet Explorer" browser. I'm sure many of you will remember those websites that explicitly demanded that you view it with IE. To hell with standards right??
IMHO, this gestapo move failed largely because of the Apache Foundation and the Mozilla project. The Apache webserver is a very successful free software project. It used standards based reasoning to gain roughly 50-60% of the market share. There governing board is quite small and Apache Foundation is certainly not a Fortune 100 company. Truly remarkable and is a testament to the F/OSS product development model.
Now getting back to VoIP. Why was Redmond's attempt to get into the VoIP and CRM market ill-fated? Was it the price point? Was it due to the fact that its business model was highly dependent upon leveraging already existing M$ application software plays (ie Sharepoint, .NET, etc). I call this perpetual up sell. How about the fact there were several F/OSS equivalents already were entrenched in the VoIP and CRM space (Asterisk, Yate, FreeSwitch and SugarCRM etc). I would assert its demise was a combination of all of the above.
It would appear that Response Point was yet another example of M$ missing the boat and getting to the party too late. Very much like its discovery of the Internet in the early to mid 90's. The only difference is that they could not embed their VoIP product in the operating system, and of course Asterisk, FreeSwitch, Yate bear no resemblance to Netscape Navigator. Nope, M$ would now be forced to compete on a relatively level playing field against software that was not owned by anyone. How do you defend yourself against and virtually invisible foe? In most cases when you fight an invisible foe you get beat upside your head :-) Particularly if the adversary is agile free software. Additionally, it would appear that the Redmond wayward product could only be marginally useful if it was coupled with Active Directory, Sharepoint and .NET
The release cycles of Response Point were simply too slow. For instance Redmond launched the product 3/07, SP1 was released 7/08 and SP2 was scheduled to be released 1st Qtr 2010. Talk about gaps between releases.. In contrast, the release cycles for Asterisk, FreeSwitch and Yate are far more frequent. It probably is unfair to compare Redmond's wayward VoIP effort with a very mature Asterisk Project. According to the TFOT, Spencer conceived that telephony software as far back 1999. So I'll focus on freeswitch and Yate, considered new comers in the free software telephony world. Freeswitch released its v1.00 in '08 and Yate released its v1.0 in 7/06. According to the Yate project roadmap, it is releasing software in a 3-6 month cycle. That is impressive, but certainly not unusual for F/OSS projects. Release early and often with the appropriate amount of community support.
Methinks Response Point was also too closely coupled to M$ back office applications to be truly useful for the average SMB. Unless you've already committed to being 100% M$ shop, I would argue that licensing costs alone would make their VoIP play too costly. Besides, they hadn't even figured out the Outlook integration, this "feature" was not due to release until SP2. If you're using any sort of dashboard or GUI in your telephony offering, click-to-call is an expected feature.
Response Point died in the womb, due in large part to F/OSS offerings that were more mature. M$ was unable to generate significant interest in their product due to a host of reasons. A Redmond customer resource management (CRM) tool is also in the wilds, but is likely on life support due to the large number of competitors in this space (ie SugarCRM, SalesForce, etc).