A new generation of collaboration software is poised to become the linchpin for enterprises and service providers to make the internet available everywhere. Industry experts said software that enabled more integrated communications would allow for greater, seamless communications between various fixed-line and mobile internet environments used by businesses and consumers. In a market report last month, Robert Mahowald, research manager for collaborative computing at International Data Corp (IDC), said: 'This year is shaping up to be a year of convergence.' IDC said demand for worldwide unified messaging applications - systems that unite e-mail, fax, and voice messages in one mailbox, accessible by a personal computer, browser or telephone - were set to grow to 2008, with business users being the strongest market segment. Nowhere is that convergence being pushed further than in the workplace collaboration software arena, where Microsoft's Office productivity software suite is paving the way for consolidated communications in enterprises and for individual users. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates outlined the company's integrated communications offering last Tuesday under its Office real-time collaboration system. These included Service Pack 1 for its multimode, instant-messaging software Live Communications Server with spam controls, available next month; the updated conference service offering Live Meeting 2005; and Office Communicator 2005, software for voice over internet protocol communications and instant messaging. The integrated communications initiative would build what Microsoft described as 'presence awareness' into all its software applications, integrating various modes of real-time communication such as e-mail, phone, instant messaging, short messaging, video-conferencing and Web conferencing. 'We have lots of ways to connect with people using technology, but there are countless opportunities to make them smarter and more efficient,' Mr Gates said. 'With these solutions, we can use the power of software to simplify the way we communicate - offering a greater sense of presence, a more unified experience and a more secure, trusted environment.' Research firm Gartner said last week that this development in Office was making an immediate impact on the market. 'Many telephony, messaging and conferencing vendors plan to integrate with Communicator, and America Online, MSN and Yahoo! have agreed to open their networks to Live Communications Server users,' Gartner said. Sandra Ng, IDC Asia-Pacific vice-president for communications and peripheral research, said: 'True convergence may be some years away, but we have already seen the lines between fixed and wireless communications blurring with boundaries being tested and crossed.'