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Microsoft Touts Lync 2013 Mobile Device Support, Skype Integration

Microsoft's opening keynote talk at its Lync 2013 Conference in San Diego on Tuesday featured a few firsts.

Derek Burney, corporate vice president at the Skype Division, showed what he called the "first demo" of simultaneous voice-over IP (VoIP) and video on the Windows Phone. Next, Burney demonstrated the same capability over an Android mobile device, as well as an Apple iPhone and iPad. The message was that Microsoft is maintaining broad support for various mobile platforms with Lync. However, another point of the demo was to show that the functionality of the user interface was basically the same across all of the devices, even while staying true to the device operating system design.

There were a few differences in terms of the position of some command buttons on the various devices, but the overall experience was similar, allowing people to have full voice and video conferencing on their various mobile devices. Another point made by Burney during the keynote was that both Lync Server 2013 and Lync Online can enable this mobile capability.

Microsoft also announced some Lync roadmap details. Lync Online updates will start arriving on a quarterly basis. The next version of Lynch Online is expected this month, according to Burney. According to a blog post by Tony Bates, president of the Skype Division at Microsoft, Microsoft will add enterprise voice support to Lync Online in the next 18 months. Enterprise voice, which is Microsoft's term for VoIP, is a little trickier with Lync Online as it requires the use of a service provider, according to Microsoft partner Avanade.

Microsoft has grown its enterprise voice deployments to five million seats, up from three million 14 months ago. Microsoft now counts more than 1,000 Lync partners.

Microsoft previously released Lync Server 2013 in October. A new version of Lync Server is expected to appear in the second quarter of 2014, according to the blog post by Bates.

Microsoft also released the Lync client for Windows 8 in October, but Burney said that users can expect to see a faster release cadence now that it is a Windows Store app. The next version of the Windows 8 Lync app is expected this Friday, he added.

Per the blog post, Microsoft expects to deliver Lync 2013 mobile apps for Windows Phone 8 and iOS devices in "early March." An Android Lync 2013 mobile app is expected to arrive in April. Among other details, Microsoft is promising improved battery life with the new apps.

The Lync client has four communications modalities and a "rich presence" model that allow users to change their status and set call forwarding. Contacts lists can be sorted by name or by group, and people are shown in org charts. Users can click and see their conversation histories. There is also a new persistent group chat feature that stores instant messaging conversations. The calendar is integrated so that users can just click on it to join a meeting, and then they can see people on the call, with up to four images streaming, Burney explained.

Microsoft expects to "add structured meeting support to Lync Online and the next version of Lync Server" in the next 18 months, according to the blog post. That addition will allow Microsoft's Live Meeting customers to move to Lync.

Lync Room System
Microsoft showed off how it conceives of next-generation videoconferencing for organizations by demonstrating an emerging "Lync Room System" product from Smart. The Smart system shown at the event consisted of two big-screen LCD monitors side by side, with the left screen devoted to white board activity, while the right side showed the meeting participants. A Lync Room System consists of dedicated hardware running the Microsoft Lync Room System Edition software, and includes a high-definition video camera and wideband audio for meeting participants.

In addition to Smart, other hardware partners producing Lync Room Systems include Crestron, LifeSize and Polycom. They're expected to start delivering systems this summer, according to Burney.

Current video teleconferencing systems (VTCs) take an average of 12 minutes to get started, and are just too complex, Burney contended.

"People don't know how to work the conferencing systems in a board room," Burney said. "What if you had a button to push to do it all?"

The touch screen of the Lync Room System allows users to use a pen on a white board or they can move content around. "In the virtual world, remote participants can add to the white board," Burney said. PowerPoint slides can be presented and users can advance the slides independently.

Skype and Lync
Microsoft's progress in adding the consumer Skype VoIP service to work with Lync was demonstrated at the keynote event. The work isn't quite final yet, according to Burney. He showed the user interface in Lync and Skype and how it's fairly "seamless" to connect using either service. For instance, the demo at the event showed Bates sending an IM from Skype to Burney on Lync. Burney then clicked on an icon and connected to Bates via Skype. That demo was described as another "first" by Burney.

"What we've really seen here is bringing people together in a seamless way," Bates said. "No longer is it siloed. That's gone."

The Lync-Skype connectivity, including IM, presence and voice, will be available to all Lync users in June, according to Bates' blog post. In the next 18 months, Microsoft is promising "native interoperability between Lync and 3rd party VTCs," according to the post.

Bates described the Lync-Skype connectivity as "a new concept for the unified communications industry," calling it "B2X." He said that B2X will be "dynamic, fluid and about human connections."

Bates also announced some Lync changes that will occur over the "next 18 months." New capabilities in Lync will start to appear in 2014. There will be the ability to moderate and curate meetings. Microsoft is very committed to Skype-Lync interoperability, he added. Microsoft is going to ensure that users can connect to legacy video devices, he promised.

"We showed you the future today," Bates said. "If you take away anything today it's what the power of software can do to make communications more centric."

Bates contended that only Microsoft has the assets to bring Lync and Skype together. Skype has about 300 million users. He said that Skype will extend across platforms. He noted that it needs to be done with security and reliability and supporting service level agreements and data ownership, with proprietary information staying within the business. Bates said that Microsoft's commitment is to deliver the most robust network that its customers and partners can depend on.

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