Microsoft promises stronger ties between Lync, Skype

Microsoft is launching new capabilities in its Lync communication platform that ties Lync and Skype together to enable audio call and Instant Messaging interoperability as well as shared presence.

In addition, new hardware/software packages made with partners simplify the setup of room-based conferencing systems, Microsoft announced today at its Lync Conference 2013, the first such conference.

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BACKGROUND: Lync moves closer to proverbial PBX replacement ]

Microsoft will demonstrate interoperability between Skype and Lync, showing a Lync client connecting to a device running a Skype client for an audio call and each device registering presence that the other can see. These devices include iPads as well as Windows Phone 8 smartphones.

For now the Lync-Skype interoperability is just for audio calls, but Microsoft says that will be expanded to include video within a year so that a mobile phone with Skype can place a video call via Lync.

Microsoft is introducing a Lync room system that makes it faster and simpler to set up a conference/collaboration session in a dedicated conference room. The room system is a separate hardware device that connects laptops in a conference room to resources stored on the Lync server. This is a substitute for the architecture where the laptop contains all the content to be used in the conference and connects directly to the Lync server.

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The old method takes five to seven minutes to set up, where the room system device is ready to go once support materials such as PowerPoints and videos have been loaded onto the Lync server. These devices are being made by Microsoft hardware partners Crestron, Smart, Polycom and LifeSize.

Microsoft is announcing that Lync now has a Web app that enables devices that are outside the corporate infrastructure to connect to Lync meetings via their HTML5 browsers and the Web client, which is an Active X control.

Also part of the announcement, Microsoft launched Lync 2013, featuring upgrades that include multiparty HD videoconferencing supporting up to 250 participants per meeting.

Each participant has control over the view being displayed such as seeing one other participant or just the slides being discussed. Individuals can flip forward and back within slide presentations on their own screens without disrupting the slide sequence being used by the presenter.

The latest Lync version upgrades the codec being used to H.264, which Microsoft says will reduce bandwidth requirements for each user.

Lync 2013 is integrated with Outlook for setting up meetings, and the user interface has been upgraded to utilize the touch-optimized Office 2013 via Windows 8 devices in particular. The interface makes use of Windows 8-style tiles -- colored blocks with the names of applications and features written on them. Some tiles are live, showing, for example, changing presence status of particular contacts.

The new Lync has fewer points of failure and better tools for anticipating failures, Microsoft says. The new server ensures the best available quality of service for audio and video, and it chooses the best routing path. By running more efficiently than its predecessor, Lync 2013 can support an equal number of users with fewer servers.

Lynch 2013 supports federating Lync servers so, for instance, business partners could reach individuals at partner companies as if they were all linked via a single Lync server. Personal data supplied by Lync contact cards can be stripped out of the view given to partners using administrative tools, Microsoft says.

Microsoft says it has 140 Lync partners that produce hardware including phones as well as software that has been certified compatible. It says it has tied together its Lync and Skype teams to produce a generalized platform that allows connecting from work or home to co-workers or friends.

Microsoft says it has installed 5 million Lync systems as IP PBXs that are being used to either replace or supplement traditional PBXs as part of a strategic path toward all-IP telephony.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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This story, "Microsoft promises stronger ties between Lync, Skype" was originally published by Network World.

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