I was introduced to Unified Communications at Microsoft, and it can be a really cool thing to have. The goal behind Unified Communications is to finally pull together all of our various communications devices and software together into harmony. Microsoft and it's partners like Cisco have been busy selling such services to big businesses. Microsoft themselves rolled out some of the features while I was there. It was really nice... if I got a phone call at work, my computer would pop up the Caller ID and an IM chat window (Microsoft Office Communicator), so I didn't even need to glance at the phone to see who was calling. I could pick up the call on the computer if I had a microphone attached, or I could pick up the actual phone handset and answer it there. The IM window let me know how long I was on the phone, could let me record conversations if I needed to, and would allow me to copy and paste text fragments or send files if the other person had their computer on. If I received a voicemail while I was away from my desk I didn't need to bother with a voicemail service, instead voicemails were delivered right into my email inbox as a simple email with the caller ID information and the voicemail as an attachment. Contacts in Outlook or Office Communicator had Call items in the menus and the dialing would be pick up-able from the phone handset (or the computer if I was so inclined). Pretty cool, huh?
So I've been invited into the GrandCentral Beta. GrandCentral, which is owned by Google and in the process of moving/migrating to more Google-ishness, is something like Unified Communications, and once Google is done with it I expect it to be even closer, for us ordinary mortals without the budget for big PBXes from Nokia or Cisco. GrandCentral works by acting as a universal voicemail service. You choose a GrandCentral phone number and then attach any number of "real" phone numbers, such as your cellphone number or even a Gizmo Project SIP phone number. When someone calls your GrandCentral number the service rings any or all of the attached phones (configurable to the individual contact level). Voicemails get left in an email-like inbox, with a simple flash-based interface, and notification emails can be sent to your actual email address. Black list spam filtering exists for incoming phone calls. There are more features and with Google now backing the development of the system I certainly expect continued features to be added over time.
If any of you, my friends, are interested I apparently have 10 invites to the Beta to give away, and I'll also certainly be happy to give you my GrandCentral phone number. Knowing my ability to miss emails on my actual cellphone you might have a better time reaching me that way... I still seem to catch emails sometimes more often than voicemail messages. It's certainly the number I start giving out with business cards on my resume from here on out.