Vancouver, BC-based CounterPath Corp. is perhaps the pre-eminent developer and vendor of audio/video softphone productsfrom it's original XLite, to the sturdy eyeBeam, and the latest, sleekest Bria.
Enterprise VoIPplanet reviewed Bria 3.0 when it came out in the summer of 2010 (see the review here). This week the company is announcing the release of its successor, Bria 3.2.
As you'll see, the simple term "phone" has taking on many new meanings. It's becoming the command center for the ever-growing spectrum of communications modeswhich in addition to voice and video now includes e-mail (through integration with another product), instant messaging, SMS messaging, and a few other twists we'll get to later.
According to Todd Carothers, CounterPath's senior VP of marketing and products, this release of Bria takes it farther down that road. "Bria 3.2 lays the foundation for our social networking strategy," is the way Carothers puts it. Although that strategy will not emerge fully until version 4.0, due out before the end of 2011, Bria 3.2 makes a good start, more fully embracing the changing ways we communicate.
The most concrete social networking-ish feature in version 3.2 is "multiple account integration." This lets users draw contacts from multiple sourceslocal and company directories, Microsoft Outlook, and XMPP, SIP SIMPLE, XCap, or WebDav servers. These disparate contact lists are then integrated into a single interface window, and multiple entries are consolidated into single entries that contain all the information present in the disparate directories.
The Bria 3.2 interface
The multiple account integration further aggregates presence data from each of the source servers, and adds the ability to expand or shrink the profile information displayed for each contact.
Bria 3.2 not only integrates contacts, of course, it supports the use of multiple open-standards-based instant messaging applications from within the Bria interface. "In my Bria, for example, I have my Facebook feed and GoogleTalk, as well as my Jabber accountwhich we use internallyfor my IM environment," Carothers told VoIPplanet.
The application does not support IM applications that use proprietary protocols, such as Yahoo or MSN, but it does support any XMPP-based system (Facebook or GoogleTalk, for example), as well as systems that use the SIMPLE protocol.
Carothers mentioned, in addition, that CounterPath can provide workarounds for organizations that use IM based on proprietary protocols, such as Yahoo or MSNby means of gateways.
The second highly significant improvement in Bria 3.2 is a "ribbon toolbar," really a plug-in that integrates with Microsoft Outlook 2010 (see figure 2). This is the integration alluded to above that weaves e-mail into the overall communications fabric.
The ribbon toolbar sits, and functions, within the Outlook application, interacting and combining with it to unite the two functionality sets. So, not only can users place calls by clicking Outlook contacts, the plug-in actually scans e-mails, identifying phone numbers and names that the user might want to call, and provides click-to-call access. Incoming calls can be answered from within Outlook.
The Outlook plug-in in action
"The key point is that you don't have to leave Outlook to do communications, you can do it all from within Outlook," Carothers commented.
The Outlook plug-in was the offspring of customer feedback, Carothers went on to explain. CounterPath launched a Bria for Outlook a little over two years ago, and although it was popular, the typical customer comment was, "We like Outlook integration, but we don't want it to be a separate client." Now they've got their wish.
In the odds and ends department, CounterPath has also developed its XMPP capability to enable what it calls "persistent chat rooms." These are permanent discussion areas set up by administrators or users to support activities like weekly status meetingsor any other ongoing interaction between groups of co-workers.
In a persistent chat room, group members can type ideas, make notes, or, as Carothers put it, "They're all writing on the wall together." All this input is then stored permanently for future reference, creating a record of group activity.
Finally, in Bria 3.2, CounterPath as more fully integrated SMS messaging into the communications flowtaken it out of its silo, so to speak. Carothers explained, "you can now initiate an SMS directly from a call field," thus making a service that was once the exclusive domain of mobile carriers, in making it another easy-to-access tool in the arsenal of communications modes.
That's a lot of improvements for an interim upgrade. But stay tuned, there will be plenty more news from CounterPath over the coming months.