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Microsoft Lync is undergoing a metamorphosis and will reemerge next year with a new name, Skype for Business, plus a new interface and features geared towards providing a similar experience for business users and consumers.
Microsoft Skype for Business aspires to close the gap between large enterprises using Lync for corporate communications, and consumers and small businesses using Skype since Microsoft’s acquisition of the video service in 2011. Now, both large and small businesses will have access to the UC features -- in addition to the security and control -- that Lync offered, rolled into the familiar Skype experience that users of the latter platform enjoy.
Outside of enterprise IT, the Lync brand doesn't resonate with everyone, said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc. in Toronto. "The average employee knows they use Microsoft, but that's usually it. [However,] everyone knows the name Skype," he said. "Microsoft wanted to leverage the consumer mindshare that they have with the Skype brand."
As a result, the next version of Lync, to be released in the first half of 2015, will become Skype for Business, complete with a new client interface, new server release and updates to the UC service in Office 365. "We're really excited about how Skype for Business takes advantage of the strengths of both Skype and Lync," wrote Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Skype, in a blog post.
Microsoft Skype for Business fuses enterprise needs, functionality
Interoperability between Microsoft Lync and Skype has been in place for some time, but it's been limited to instant messaging (IM) and audio calls. But with the upcoming release, Microsoft is expanding that to video calls through integration with Skype's enormous, worldwide user directory. Microsoft customers will be able to reach any standard Skype user on any device, right from the new interface. The platform will also adopt the familiar consumer Skype icons for making a call, initiating a video chat and ending a call. Additionally, Microsoft will incorporate Skype's call monitor feature, which keeps active calls visible in a small window when a user moves to another application.
Bellevue College in suburban Seattle has been using an on-premises deployment of Microsoft Lync, and is preparing to migrate Lync to Office 365 in the cloud as part of its communications strategy for both its administrators and students. While Skype wasn't widely used for business purposes, the revamped Skype for Business might fill an emerging need for the college, said Russ Beard, Bellevue's vice president of information resources.
"One of our goals is around building our international student program, and the ability to make international calls with Skype is huge," he said. "I think we'd see great adoption of Skype for that purpose."
In addition to better integration with existing Skype features, Microsoft Skype for Business will keep all of its existing Lync capabilities, such as content sharing, instant messaging and telephony. However, Lync's features will be improved, according to Microsoft. "Transferring a call now takes only one … click instead of three," Microsoft’s Pall wrote.
The overarching goal is simplification of Microsoft's UC portfolio, all the way down to having consistent icons between tools. "Skype for Business is still going to have the security, authentication, and scalability -- everything that makes it a corporate tool -- but it will also have the ease of use consumers appreciate for things like switching quickly between IMing and screen sharing," Constellation's Lepofsky said.
The change will benefit Skype enthusiasts, regardless of whether they use Skype for Business or Skype's consumer version for personal purposes. Skype will improve security and codecs for both business users and consumers, he said.
Microsoft Skype for Business is also expected give Microsoft a boost in the telephony space, an area in which the company has struggled historically.
Bellevue's Beard, who is also on Microsoft's higher education advisory board, said that Lync has been tied into Bellevue's corporate voice system, but that integration has never been a part of Skype's roadmap until now. "I think that is what we are going to see from Skype for Business now -- that same ability that Lync had to integrate with voice systems," he said.
To be successful, Microsoft must streamline authentication and identity management between its disparate tools -- a concept the vendor hasn't yet addressed, Lepofsky said. Even with the latest integrations, users will still need one account for Skype and another for Skype for Business users. "Your Skype for Business ID has to match your corporate directory -- you don't get a choice in Lync -- and Microsoft has to ensure that consistency in Skype for Business as well," Lepofsky said.
To take advantage of the new service, current Lync Server customers must update from Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business Server in their data centers. Microsoft will be pushing out the updates to its Office 365 customers, the vendor said.
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