April 20, 2011, 11:27 AM — Every once in a very long while, I get to review a product that strikes me as a stepping stone toward the future. Microsoft Lync 2010 combines instant messaging, VoIP calling, live meetings, and videoconferencing, but it's more than the sum of these parts. Although Lync integrates with almost any PBX, it puts the PC at the center of communications so effectively that it could send your current phone system packing.
Lync provides clear VoIP calling and crisp videoconferencing without requiring special network accommodations. It integrates with Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Office, bringing user presence information to Outlook and SharePoint team sites and allowing instant messages and phone calls to be initiated with a click.
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Lync provides a much richer communications experience than any traditional PBX, all at a compelling price. The RFP competition at the Orlando 2010 VoiceCon, for example, tossed out a stunning result: Even when evaluated only on its voice capabilities, Lync was less expensive than the Asterisk-based solution, while still largely fulfilling the RFP. Microsoft argues that many of the RFP requirements missing from Lync (such as automatic callback) are unnecessary in a presence-based, unified communications solution.
It's a fair argument. The days of the hard phone definitely seem to be dwindling as a new generation of users live and breathe software-based communications devices. Looking at my computer's desktop, which shows three different IM connections while beside it my office telephone sits buried under papers, I have to think that traditional telephony vendors are missing the point when trying to duplicate an office telephone in software. Lync really is a step forward into a new era of the combined comfort zone of IM, voice, and video in a single manageable client.