Microsoft Rolls Out Skype for Business to Office 2013

As it promised earlier this month, Microsoft on Tuesday released its new Skype for Business client to Office 2013 users as part of its April Patch Tuesday update.

Microsoft is also starting to roll out Skype for Business Online to Office 365 customers. The company expects all Office 365 customers to receive the update by the end of May, according to its announcement on Tuesday.

A new version of the on-premises Lync Server, to be called Skype for Business Server, is also scheduled for release next month. Microsoft said in March that the new server edition will support high-availability, including support for the company's AlwaysOn capability included in SQL Server.

Skype for Business is Microsoft's next-generation unified communications (UC) product, previously called Lync. Microsoft introduced Lync nearly five years ago as a revamped iteration of its Office Communications Server. Microsoft announced its plans to rebrand Lync to Skype for Business last November. Skype for Business has been available as a technical preview only since mid-March.

Organizations not ready to let their users transition to the new Skype for Business client can switch back to the existing Lync interface, Microsoft said. The company posted instructions for how customers can roll back to the current Lync client, both for shops with Lync Online and those with Lync Server.

Skype for Business promises to bring the look and functions of Skype -- which Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion, its largest acquisition to date -- to Office. Microsoft claims that more than 300 million consumers use Skype. By integrating the enterprise features of Lync with the interface of Skype, Microsoft is hoping it can raise the profile of its UC technology among business and enterprise users. The UC market has been a slippery one for Microsoft, which recently lost more ground against market leader Cisco, according to data from Synergy Research Group.

Microsoft says Skype for Business has "enterprise-grade security" and controls for compliance. Just like the existing Skype and Lync clients, the new Skype for Business provides IM, presence, voice and video calls and meetings. With this new release, Skype is integrated directly into Office.

In the new client, users can initiate and control calls from their Office contact lists. It also brings the Skype emoticons to discussions; improved file transfer, including the ability to drag-and-drop; the ability to let recipients see file details, including the file's size and name; and the ability for users to take notes from within the clients via OneNote. It also includes the Skype call monitor.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.