It’s been nearly two months since Microsoft let it be known that the Lync name will go away in 2015 in favor of “Skype for Business” and a few details are starting to emerge about the change – along with some concerns.
I say “let it be known” deliberately because to my knowledge there has been no formal announcement, at least in the traditional sense – meaning a press release explaining the new product along with contact info for anyone with more questions. Such ancient practices have been replaced by blog posts and comments in social media forums.
In this case Gurdeep Pall, a Microsoft Corporate VP for Lync and Skype, got the ball got rolling with a blog post on Nov. 11:
We made Lync a core part of Office to make it easy for people to connect with others to get work done. Lync means the freedom to work anywhere. It’s like tapping someone on the shoulder to say “let’s chat” no matter where you are in the world. Colleagues meet together and make decisions in an instant and IT Professionals rest easy knowing their end-users are supported by a secure platform that they manage and control. Today, thousands of organizations, large and small, count on Lync for voice, video and conferencing.
In the first half of 2015, the next version of Lync will become Skype for Business with a new client experience, new server release, and updates to the service in Office 365. We believe that Skype for Business will again transform the way people communicate by giving organizations reach to hundreds of millions of Skype users outside the walls of their business.
He goes on to explain that Skype for Business incorporates the strengths of both the Lync and Skype platforms:
We’re adopting the familiar Skype icons for calling, adding video and ending a call. We’ve added the call monitor from Skype, which keeps an active call visible in a small window even when a user moves focus to another application.
At the same time, Skype for Business keeps and improves on all of the capabilities of Lync, including content sharing and telephony. For example, transferring a call now takes only one touch or click instead of three.
Response to that last feature has been favorable on Internet, at least judging from this Reddit string, where one poster was pining – in colorful language – for a dedicated transfer button. A user under the name nomorephones, who is apparently a Microsoft product manager, responded:
It's better. We surfaced transfer to one click behind the main conversation window....
it's a click off the conversation window but not buried in phone.
Nomorephones even provided a screen shot to demonstrate; and it does appear that call transfers are a simplae matter.
Pall’s original blog post also mentioned that Skype for Business adds video calling, which we’ve covered previously, and integration with existing Skype user directories, “making it possible to call any Skype user on any device.”
That may get some mixed reaction. Companies whose users have existing directories filled with corporate contacts may not want users integrating them with personal contacts – and users may well want to keep them separate as well. Whether some mechanism will be in place to make that a simple matter is unclear.
Others were clearly not happy with the idea of using the Skype name, which has been solidly associated with a consumer-oriented service, for a business product. A commenter named Simon Jones had this to say on The Register (emphasis his):
Users get easily confused with two DIFFERENT products called such similar names.
It is the same with “OneDrive” and “OneDrive for Business”. They are completely different but users can’t see the distinction, causing loads of headaches for the users and especially support personnel.
Here again, Microsoft’s nomorephones chimed in, saying the company heard that feedback from early release customers and decided to deploy two interfaces in the next update, one following the “classic” Lync format and the other more Skype-oriented. Companies can choose which they prefer in a server policy setting. As nomorephones says:
We think the Skype for Business look and feel is a pretty big step forward but we understand businesses want to manage the rollout, so you can set the policy as you need, get the adoption plan in place and turn on the new UX when ready.
We’ll be keeping an eye on further developments as we await the next version of Lync Skype for Business in the first half of next year. In the mean time, we welcome your comments on the Skype for Business move.