Does Skype for Business Fit into Microsoft’s Bot-based Future?

Instant Messaging (IM), Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications

Everyone’s talking about the LinkedIn acquisition. Microsoft spends $26 billion to acquire a company, no matter how big, people notice!

Naturally I wondered about what this might mean for Skype for Business. We can already surmise LinkedIn’s profile information will appear in Office 365 apps. Will LinkedIn feeds inform Skype for Business Online too? Will Cortana pop up during a Skype conversation, offering LinkedIn information on that one person you just mentioned?

At this point, speculation runs rampant. With good reason—even Satya Nadella isn’t quite sure where working with LinkedIn will take them.

(Seems like $26 billion is a lot to spend without a crystal-clear path to the future, but it’s not me making the decisions…)

However, my attention got quickly diverted by other news. News, it turns out, that may address Skype for Business’ future more directly.

I do think Skype for Business has some big changes in store from Microsoft’s acquisitions. Not from the LinkedIn acquisition though…from another one.

A Magic “Wand” Might Fit Skype for Business into Microsoft’s Bot Plans

Microsoft Boosts its Chatbot Future By Acquiring Wand Labs – Fast Company

Synopsis: Microsoft bought Wand Labs, a tiny startup working on connecting up different apps & services. The Wand apps use “a messaging interface to let you perform a variety of collaborative tasks.”

Bot-enabled Smart WatchHmmm. A chat/messaging-based system for integrating disparate tools. If you tied that sort of functionality into some communications software, you’d get a system that can reach you anywhere needed.

You could even activate conversations right at the moment you needed to talk to someone. Through a quick message, or a voice call…ooh, maybe even chat. Microsoft happens to have a product like this…

Microsoft now has LinkedIn, a massive social network with lots of business conversations & employment data, as well. How would they work all this together? What would be the value?

According to the latest speculation—bots!

Fast Company talked about Microsoft’s plan to build bots & agents into its software. For those who don’t know, bots are a semi-autonomous software app which performs a set of tasks at your behest. Agents are similar, but use a deeper access to your personal information to help you organize & perform your work.

With the Wand acquisition, Microsoft has the technology to spread bots & agents across its entire platform. Wand software connects the apps. Skype for Business provides voice and chat functionality. Azure facilitates the bots.

Consider this example: On the Wand Labs website, they show how one person can share access to their home’s Nest thermostat, to another person, from their phone. Now envision that kind of technology within Skype for Business. Instant desktop sharing from any app? Pull a Skype contact into a group text? A lot of possibility here.

4 Predictions for Skype for Business Using Wand in the Future

This is me making predictions, I know. One never truly knows how accurate a prediction will be. But it’s fun to do, and I’ve had a pretty good track record so far!

So here goes. Four predictions on what Skype for Business may move toward, using Wand Labs technology and (maybe) LinkedIn tools.

  1. Cortana entering Skype for Business. She’ll listen for file requests, remind you of meetings, issue notices to Persistent Chat subscribers, etc.
  2. The Wand Labs system bridging Skype for Business’ Instant Messaging and/or Persistent Chat into LinkedIn’s systems.
  3. New bots in Microsoft’s platform using Skype for Business-style communication independent of the full install.
  4. Skype Call functionality appearing in LinkedIn profiles. Great option to connect with someone fast, but still protecting your phone numbers.

Only time will tell just how extensive the integrations will become. I’d rather like #2. But #4 might tread on some LinkedIn users’ privacy. Privacy, in fact, may become the big issue going forward. I’ll keep an eye out for changes related to both Wand and LinkedIn.

What do you think will come out of Microsoft’s latest acquisitions? Please email or comment your thoughts below.  Got a prediction of your own?  Let’s hear it!

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The Privacy Risks in Skype for Business-to-Skype Conversations

Security, Skype for Business

“Can I use my regular Skype now?”

A customer asked us following their Skype for Business install the other day. She meant her consumer Skype, or Skype-C account. She wanted to use that account in Skype for Business. We explained that she needed to use her new Skype for Business account. She in turn asked if she could add all her existing Skype contacts to her Skype for Business account.

Rather than just say, “No, that’s a bad idea,” let’s explain why. It has to do with privacy.

How Private is Skype? Not Very.

You can add Skype contacts in Skype for Business. It’s one of the much-trumpeted features Microsoft added when they made the update from Lync Server. However, that doesn’t mean Skype-to-Skype4B conversations are private.

Why? Simple. You (the Skype for Business admin) control the Business accounts. You don’t control the Skype-C accounts.

The Privacy Danger: You Can’t Secure the Other Person’s Side of the Conversation

Microsoft runs the Skype servers. Now, they do incorporate a set of legal privacy terms, laying out protections for Skype users and detailing how they use consumer information.

But right there is one privacy concern. We’ve known Microsoft monitors your activity for a while now. They gather data and use it to improve services & work with partners. (Yes, and show us ads.) But in 2013, bloggers discovered that Microsoft computers accessed previously-unseen webpages transmitted via Skype. Something they shouldn’t be able to do.

Now, let’s say you’re having a conversation on a new project. You’re using Skype for Business; another person (we’ll call them Frank) is on Skype-C. You send Frank a message with a staging link in it.

“Frank, here’s the current staging link for the XYZ project. Don’t share it around, it’s got proprietary information on it. Just have a look through and let me know what you think.”

Surprise. The privacy you thought you had? Microsoft itself just compromised it.

Open computer at coffee shop

“Uhh, Sir? You left your computer up…”

Don’t Forget the “Oops!”

Even if you avoid sending links, you’re still open for an accidental information leak.

What if Frank leaves his Skype window open and goes to the bathroom without locking his PC? Worse, what if he does this when he’s in a coffee shop? Anyone can just stop and take a peek!

Accidental leaks are just that…accidents. People don’t mean any harm. But the simple fact does remain that any side of a conversation – especially if one side is an unmanaged, unsecured Skype-C account – can accidentally display or share Intellectual Property.

Essentially, the moment you allow Skype for Business users to talk with Skype-C accounts within your work environment? It’s the moment you start bleeding business information out of your work environment’s safeguards.

Technical Risks to Skype’s Privacy

Skype-C has been around for many years. Many people have written add-ons and plugins for the software. Some good, some great, some…not so good.

I’m thinking in particular of malware. Several malware apps exist which record Skype calls & conversations. Palo Alto Networks discovered a new one, T9000, back in February. Guess what it does? It records your Skype calls—without your knowledge!

Obviously, malware can get to a Windows Server inside your network too (if you’re not careful!). But you can monitor for that. Can you monitor the computers of all the Skype contacts out there, talking with your Skype for Business users? Didn’t think so.

Which means every Skype-C/Skype4B conversation can contain a privacy hole.

What Can You Do to Protect Privacy? Policy and Awareness

There’s only a few things you can do on the technical side to protect privacy in Skype for Business. Your best approach is awareness and policy limitations.

I have some advice here. We give these recommendations to our new Skype for Business customers during their user training.

  1. Limit the Skype-C contacts your employees add. Can they make a business case for Contact A? Then they get to add Contact A.
  2. Stay familiar with Skype for Business privacy relationships. From the Skype for Business Privacy Supplement:

    “Note: By default all external contacts, either personal or federated, will be assigned the External Contacts privacy relationship, which will share your name, title, email address, company, and picture. These contacts will not be able to view your Presence Note. Assigning external contacts to other privacy relationships, for example Work Group, Friends and Family, and so on, will allow them to see your Presence Note and could inadvertently share information that should not be disclosed to them.”

  3. If your users need to talk with Skype-C contacts, have those contacts beef up their Skype privacy. You can send those contacts this link: Use These Skype Privacy Settings to Secure Your Account – MakeUseOf.com.
    And install Malwarebytes too!
  4. Inform the C-level execs of the privacy concerns. That way they can update corporate policy (if it’s needed) regarding sharing of Intellectual Property and links.

The Privacy Spectre Lurks in the Background. Don’t Forget it’s There!

We advised the customer to limit the number of Skype-C contacts she adds to her Skype for Business. Trusted business associates only…and always use caution about what you send them. To her credit, she understood right away what we meant about privacy.

Having the ability to add Skype-C contacts in Skype for Business is a big help. But, just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should”!

What are your biggest Skype for Business privacy concerns? Please comment or email. If you’ve had a Skype privacy issue, please share what happened (and I’m sorry you had to deal with it!).

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Skype for Business iOS Evaluation: Testing Results

Skype for Business, Skype for Business Mobile

Last month I mentioned that I hadn’t received a download for the Skype for Business iOS Mobile Evaluation client. When I did, I’d test it out like I did for the Mac Preview Meetings client.

I received the download link two days after posting. Onto my phone went the iOS evaluation client, and testing began!

I quickly discovered something important though. The Mac Preview client is meant for staged development releases. Allowing users to test one set of features, before adding another. The iOS evaluation client is different.

Client Setup

I installed the evaluation client according to the instructions. You must use the TestFlight app to download the evaluation client.
 
TestFlight app, Skype for Business

(I had the existing Skype4B iOS client already installed on this phone. I was able to keep it, and even run it when the evaluation client wasn’t signed in.)

You must enter your Skype number on sign-in. I saw an error window after doing this – “Saving phone number disabled due to the server policy.”

 

Saving Phone Number Issue

However, the client did save my number, and we have no server policy in place to block number saves on phones. Hmm, an issue appears!

Features & Similarities to Standard Client

The standard Skype for Business mobile features are available:

  • View Meetings
  • Make calls
  • Hear Voicemails
  • IM Contacts
  • Add Video to Conversations
  • Join Meetings

The evaluation client UI is near-identical to the standard iOS client. So much so that at first I thought the only difference was Conversation History. On the login screen of the Standard Skype4B iOS client, you get recent phone-based Conversation History.

I thought at first that the evaluation client would either not have Conversation History at all, or it would link to the Skype for Business Server (like it’s supposed to!). Testing revealed however, that the evaluation client behaves just like the standard client. Conversation History shows up under “recent” on the login screen.

The TestFlight install screen does call attention to one additional function: Skype intelligently detects meetings on non-federated domains and auto-joins them as a guest user for you. Saves you a step.

The Real Value: Microsoft’s Ear

When checking the Settings screen, I noticed an additional line in the options list: “dogfood feedback”

 

Skype4B Dogfood Feedback

As we’re a dog-themed IT company, I rather like that!

The term refers to the phrase, “eating your own dog food.” It means you use your own product to test and promote the same product. We’ve used the term for years now on our website. Every time Microsoft releases new software, we test it out in our datacenter before installing it for any customer. That way we know the software’s ins and outs beforehand, and can confidently say whether it will solve a customer’s problem.

In this case, Microsoft is asking all its preview users to submit “dogfood feedback.” I found the option under Settings, and in the options menu for each contact.

Why? Because Microsoft wants more feedback. And they’re offering their ear in exchange…a valuable opportunity.

Here’s what the Feedback Submission screen looks like.

 

Skype for Business iOS Feedback Form

 

I filled in a dummy example here, to show what kind of information Microsoft collects. I did submit feedback on the “Saving phone number” issue mentioned earlier.

Development Status: Further than Mac Preview, Not 100% Yet

Microsoft has not placed iOS Evaluation documentation on their Skype Preview website, www.skypepreview.com. As such I’m not sure the full extent of available or limited features in this client. We’re all waiting on more information, Microsoft!

Development on the iOS client is further along than the Mac Preview client we reviewed last time.  I suspect Microsoft solicits feedback with the iOS client to help bolster other client updates, like Android Mobile.

Have an Issue with Skype for Business on iOS? Here’s Your Chance to Speak!

As far as I can tell, the iOS evaluation client does not have significant new features. The Meetings join functionality is nice, but it’s just an automation of existing processes.

What it does have is a built-in feedback mechanism for gathering user data. Microsoft is polling its users for more data it can crunch, informing future updates from the results.

While I was hoping for more features to test, this is good too!

If you have an issue with Skype for Business on iOS, here’s your chance to be heard. Join the iOS Mobile Evaluation at www.skypepreview.com, download the evaluation client, and select “dogfood feedback” wherever you experience the issue. Even if you experienced the issue with the standard Skype for Business client, that’s still valuable feedback. Send it in!

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Record Your Skype for Business Calls with Atmos

Skype for Business, Third-Party Skype for Business Products, Voice over IP

A few weeks back, I got an email. It was from Ryan at CallCabinet, a call recording solution provider in Florida.
Ryan told me about Atmos, one of their products, made for recording Skype for Business voice calls.

He’d seen my prior reviews of Skype-related products, and asked if I’d like to try out Atmos. Great idea! I’m always happy to try out new software.

Ryan kindly set me up with a full demo account. Last week, I installed the Atmos app on my laptop & conducted a week-long test. Here are my findings.

What Atmos Does

Atmos records voice calls. It has three integrations right now – for Asterisk, mobile, and Skype for Business (also supports Office 365). No server access is required to run Atmos, and you don’t need any additional hardware.

It works by running a small app in the background, which performs the recording & transmits it to your CallCabinet account on their cloud servers. Recordings are not stored on your local computer.

Installation process is a little more involved than, “download this app & run it.” You must create a new CallCabinet account, which generates two numbers: a Customer ID and Site ID. These connect your desktop Atmos client to your CallCabinet account.

Nice way of doing it, I think. Avoids the need to configure servers. (It works through a VPN too!)

Once the Atmos app is installed, it quietly does its job without bothering you. No popup notifications.

Atmos Popup Notifier

The CallCabinet Recordings Dashboard

The Atmos app is only half of the solution. The other is the web-based dashboard where your call recordings are stored. To access that, you’ll log into your CallCabinet account.

Atmos CallCabinet Site Login

Once logged in, you see a Homepage with statistics on your recent calls. Switch to the Calls window…and there’s the list of your call recordings.

Call Recording List in Atmos

From here you can play back the recording (the Play icon to the left, blue square), or download an MP3 (the Download icon on the right, red square).

I’ve played every recording on this list back. The clarity is great–no echo, only one instance of voice glitch, and the recordings captured every second of the call.

Atmos Features I Like

The Atmos solution is focused on one thing only: call recording. I always like it when software does one job and does it well. Atmos definitely does it well.

They do have some backend features I like too. Features useful for maintaining an office’s safety, like:

  • Recordings are stored using 256-bit encryption
  • Atmos dashboard is compliant with regulatory legislation
  • Redundant backups

When I talked with Ryan, he mentioned upcoming features like screen capture, analytics, and reporting. I’m curious about the analytics & reporting myself. Always like looking at the numbers!

Results: A Clean Solution if You Need to Record Your Calls

One of the terms I like to use when describing software is “clean.” To me, “clean” software is focused on its goal both in content and in visuals. Its UX is easy to figure out. The feature set isn’t overloaded.

Based on this demo, I can say that CallCabinet’s Atmos Skype4B Recorder is definitely “clean.” Setup is fast, no server configuration required. The dashboard uses HTML5, which makes for high-contrast, easy-to-read windows. The pricing is very reasonable for what you get (rates as low as $18 per user per month for 1,000 hours, with unlimited storage for up to 5 years).

Atmos Call Recording Software – CallCabinet.com

Do you record your calls? With what software? Please comment or email your app of choice. I still have a little time on this demo; if we have a few other contenders, I’m happy to do a compare-and-contrast!

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Skype for Business Preview on Mac: Testing Stage 1

Conferencing, Skype for Business

Last month I blogged about the new Skype for Business on Mac preview program. I got into the testing beta, and received the Stage 1 Meetings client a short time ago.

Today I document Stage 1 of my testing to date. So far, the new Mac client is shaping up as a MUCH better app than Lync for Mac.

Release Notes for Skype for Business Mac Preview (Stage 1, Meetings) – Office Support

Following the criteria I set last month, here are my testing observations.

Starting the Test

For this and future tests of the Skype for Business Mac Client Meetings Experience, I used an older iMac desktop (still running El Capitan). The computer has 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

In my previous post I noted three things I saw in the Mac Preview content:

  1. No toolbar with Present options along the bottom
  2. Mac uses the Picture-in-Picture viewing mode
  3. Borderless Meeting display

I quickly found that 2 and 3 are accurate. 1 was a little off; there is a Present option, but it’s limited. Explanation below.

Installation Process

Installation took only a moment. Download the preview client .app file and click to install. I was pleased to see an update notice right away: Microsoft had pushed out a couple of new versions just in the few days between my download and the install!

Skype Meeting Preview Update

Login requires the same information as any other Skype4B client: username, password, and (depending on your server setup) domain.  I needed to enter my domain in the following format: “DOMAINNAME\chris.williams.”

Skype Preview Login

Another helpful thing I noticed: This Mac has the Lync for Mac client installed. Once I finished my test, I shut down the preview client and opened Lync for Mac. Installing the Skype for Business Preview client did not affect the Lync client.

Meeting Functions

Stage 1 is focused on Meetings. Joining them, scheduling them, voice & video, and content sharing. My test results, then, consisted of running through the preview client and verifying how much function I had for each Meetings aspect.

Scheduling: I was not able to schedule a meeting from the client. But I was able to join a scheduled meeting by clicking it.

Skype Meeting Calling In

I’m also able to adjust my Presence status, which I didn’t expect to have just yet.

Presence on Skype Preview for Mac

I was also able to invite people into the meeting once created.

Invite People to Skype Meeting Mac

Meet Now: I had a co-worker initiate a Meet Now & invite me. He did so, but I didn’t see any notice on the Mac. I did hear my everyday computer – which also has Skype for Business installed – signaling me that I had a Meet Now invite.

*Note: Ringing/showing invites to the most recent login is typical Skype4B behavior. In this case it did not occur. That may be due to the Mac client’s preview status. I’d assume as much anyway.

Voice and Video: Speaking in a Meeting on the Preview was no different than voice on my regular computer. Same with video – in fact, to my clearly-not-a-designer’s eye, the video looked sharper on the Mac than my PC!
See below for quality results.

Content Sharing: I could present my Desktop. However, I found no other present options in the menu. No big surprise; I expect these to trickle in between Stage 2 and 3.

Mac Present Desktop

Meeting Quality

Okay, Meetings do work. How about their quality? A Skype Meeting is no good if you can’t see video, or the call drops randomly.

Video: No problems here. Video renders smooth and clear–like you’d expect on a Mac. Here’s a capture from my video feed.

Skype Video on Mac

Handsome devil, aren’t I?

Responsiveness: Comparable to my regular computer. Which itself is encouraging, since my regular computer has better specs than the test Mac. Since this is a Mac-only version of the Preview, I could not test it on other devices. (Come to think of it, I haven’t received a download for the iOS preview client yet…)

Voice Quality: Comparable to my regular calls. I conducted a test call with a co-worker and a customer, neither of whom knew I was calling from a different computer.

Limitations

Since this is a Stage 1 client, we expect plenty of limitations. And as expected, I had absolutely no access to Contacts or the Phone. But they are in the client window already. You see this screen if you click them:

Mac Preview Only

Also, I did not see a screen sharing option. According to the Release Notes linked above, we should be able to “Share your screen in the meeting.” But I did not have the option. Maybe it wasn’t developed enough for Stage 1? I’ll monitor the updates in case Microsoft slips it in before Stage 2.

Test Results: A Strong Foundation for the Rest

The new Meetings Preview client has its limits. It’s not usable as a Lync for Mac replacement yet. But it signifies a strong foundation on which to add more functionality.

Stage 2 of the Mac Preview, Messaging & Contact Lists, is expected in about 4 weeks. I’ll upgrade the preview client once we get it and do another test.

Mac users! What would you say is your biggest frustration with Lync on Mac? Please comment or email your thoughts. As the preview proceeds, I’d like to try testing common issues.

Join us again next week!

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How to Open Your Skype Meetings to the Public (But You’ll Risk Security)

Conferencing, Skype for Business

At one point or another, we’ve all used the Meet Now tool in Lync/Skype for Business. It’s convenient—one click and you have a ready-and-waiting meeting space. Pull it some co-workers and you can discuss the current project right away.

This is possible because Meet Now is, in a sense, a low-security tool. It bypasses some Skype for Business security, starting up a public meeting that’s open to everyone. No lobby. Come right in.

I bring this up because recently, we had a customer ask us about their Skype Meetings. Essentially, they wanted to take the Meet Now security level and apply it to all of their future Skype Meetings.

No waiting in a virtual Lobby.
No authentication before joining.
Open to everyone.

The first thing we did was tell them two things. One, we could do this. Two, we did not recommend doing it!

Public Meeting Access = Potential for Security Issues

There’s no setting for “totally public” meetings via PowerShell or the Control Panel. But it IS possible to manually configure Skype for Business like this.

The question is, should you?

Allowing anyone to join a meeting, at any time, with no access restrictions introduces all of these security risks.

  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Introduction of dangerous code
  • Theft of intellectual property
  • Compliance violation

We recommend AGAINST this course of action. But if you do want to configure your Skype Meetings as totally public – and you understand the security risk this creates – here’s how to do it.

How to Open Skype Meetings to the Public

If you only want to set an individual Skype Meeting as public, all you need to do is modify its options.

When you create a new Skype Meeting, click the Meeting Options button in the ribbon.

Skype Meeting Options Button

The Options window will open. You’ll see Permissions by default. There are two choices:

  1. A new meeting space (I control permissions), and
  2. My dedicated meeting space (less secure).

Option 2 uses the same meeting space on the server every time. It also grants everyone in the organization Presenter access.
Skype Meeting Options - Less Secure
Note that the option to control who has to wait in the lobby is grayed out.

Option 1 uses a new meeting space on the server. This is more secure, but it also enables you to control who has to wait in the lobby. If you select “Anyone (no restrictions)” then nobody does. Everyone gets in right away, express lane, no waiting.

Skype Meeting Options - More Secure
This is the option we recommend customers use.

Finally, if you want to use the same settings for all of your future Skype Meetings, click the “Remember Settings” button next to the OK.

=====
Remember, this only works for this one Skype Meeting. To make all Skype Meetings totally public by default, you’ll have to modify your Skype for Business Meeting Policy.

First, determine whether you’re changing Meeting Policy Options globally, or by site.

To modify globally, the PowerShell cmdlet to employ is: Set-CsMeetingConfiguration
To modify by site, the cmdlet is: Set-CsMeetingConfiguration -Identity site:[SITENAME]

More on Set-CsMeetingConfiguration from TechNet.

These are the parameters to use.

AssignedConferenceTypeByDefault. True/False. If set to True, scheduled Skype Meetings are set as Public – the conference ID and meeting space URL are the same every time. Just like “My dedicated meeting space” above. If set to False, scheduled Skype Meetings are private, with a new meeting ID & URL each time (just like “A new meeting space” above).

Default is $true. This is a default with which we don’t agree; we prefer (and recommend) customers set to $false and use new meeting spaces each time. But if you want public meetings, you can leave it on default.

Example: Set-CsMeetingConfiguration -AssignedConferenceTypeByDefault $true

PstnCallersBypassLobby. True/False. Should you automatically admit dial-in (PSTN) attendees? No Lobby? If set to True, then attendees calling in go right into the Skype Meeting. If set to False, then PSTN attendees arrive in the Lobby.

Default is $true. Again, a default we recommend changing for security. But if you want the convenience of no lobby waiting, then set to $false.

Example: Set-CsMeetingConfiguration -PstnCallersBypassLobby $true

AdmitAnonymousUsersByDefault. True/False. Will you allow anonymous users into your Skype Meetings? If set to True, then yes, anonymous users can come right in. If set to False, anonymous users are shut out at the door. Default is $true (grumble).

Example: Set-CsMeetingConfiguration -AdmitAnonymousUsersByDefault $false

If you wanted to combine all these parameters, the statement would read like this (assuming a global policy change):
Set-CsMeetingConfiguration -AssignedConferenceTypeByDefault $true -PstnCallersBypassLobby $true -AdmitAnonymousUsersByDefault $true

skypemeetingoptions_cmdlet

Further details on these parameters at Andrew Morpeth’s blog: Lync 2013 Meeting Options Policies – UC Geek

Use Caution When Changing Meeting Policy

Once again, we recommend against opening all Skype Meetings to the public. Sure, doing it occasionally for important discussions is fine. Leaving all Skype Meetings open by default, however, invites security breaches you won’t even know about until it’s too late.

Normally, we change all of these options for customers before finishing deployment. We inform the customer, of course, and if they do choose to re-enable an option in Meeting Policy, we advise them of the security risk. That’s our job.

Have you ever experienced a security issue from your Skype Meetings? If so, please comment or email your experience. I’d like to examine this angle further. See what more we as admins can do.

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Update on the iOS “Missing Message” Bug

Instant Messaging (IM), Lync Mobile, Skype for Business

Last October I reviewed the Skype for Business iOS client. Three readers commented about a bug they experienced while using it.

“Whenever I miss a conversation (why is it missed?) I can see the first few words of the message I missed but when I click on it, I can’t see the rest. I can never see the full message. Where does it go?”

“Nearly every day, I will see that I had a message come in, and I will only see the first few words. “Hey, Liza! It’s really important that we—” and then when I tap into the conversation, it’s gone. Unrecoverable.”

“I have the same frustrating problem — I will miss a message, but when I go to open it I can only see the first few words followed by “…”, then I click on it and it brings me to a new message screen. I can never see my missed messages, which is the whole point of having this app in the first place.”

I promised to investigate, and so I did. Unfortunately, I don’t have many answers.

Three Parts Investigate, Only One Part Success

I took three paths to investigate the missing-message issue.

  1. Examine app reviews for other user impressions,
  2. Do some more support research, and
  3. Try to duplicate this in our office.

First up, review. How widespread is the issue? How many people does this affect? I checked reviews on the App Store and Microsoft-related forums, like this one: iOS Client for Skype for Business 2015 – SkypeFeedback.com

“Missed messages vanishing” is mentioned in both places. As are other sync issues such as voicemail. In fact the limitations are clearly wearing on iOS users. Makes me wonder how the new Mac client will turn out after the preview releases.

Research: From the bug description, it sounds like a failure of Server-Side Conversation History. Which informed my search. Is your Conversation History fully enabled? If you’re not sure, here’s how to check: Enable Server Side Conversation History – Martin Boam’s Microsoft UC Blog

I did find this note on an Office Support page:

“Note: Conversations that were accepted on other Skype for Business (Lync) clients but were missed on your mobile device don’t appear in the Chats tab.”

Might explain some instances of this happening. I’m sure it doesn’t explain all, though. It didn’t explain mine!

Duplication: I was logged into Skype4B on my iPhone, but answered a new message on my laptop. Sure enough, I saw a “Missed” conversation on my phone’s Chats tab. And it contained the message contents when I checked it 15 minutes later. Hmmm.

Skype for Business iOS Missed Message

In fact I could not duplicate the “missed message” issue no matter what. We tried two other iPhones, one 5 and two 6s in total. I even removed the Skype for Business client and reinstalled fresh.

We definitely have a bug here. But it’s not consistent.

Is the Bug Already Updated?

Skype for Business on iOS received updates recently – the latest of which came on May 2 (described as “general bug fixes”). My client automatically updated before I tested for the missing-message bug. So did the other iPhones I tried. This might be the reason why I didn’t have any trouble.

(By the way, I mentioned in the review that you couldn’t see a contact’s Contact Card in the iOS client. You can now–just tap a contact and tap their name. You’ll see a “See Contact Card” option drop down.)

iOS Contact with Contact Card

I know losing a message for any reason is frustrating. Right now, the best I can do is advise a safer practice:

  1. Use the iOS client for calls and meeting reminders. Unfortunately, this bug means it’s a bit unreliable when it comes to Instant Messaging. Still works, yes, but if you want to share important information with colleagues, use the Call button.
  2. Update your iOS client to the latest version, and keep it updated. Even general bug fixes can have a big help.

If you’ve updated your Skype for Business iOS client to the latest version, do you still see the “missing messages” bug? Please comment or email me your experience. If Microsoft fixed this bug, then we’re all a bit better off! If not, the bug needs reporting.

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Skype for Business Preview on Mac Coming Up. Join Me in Testing!

Skype for Business

Skype for Business is (finally) coming to Mac.

This week, Microsoft updated its timeline for the new Skype for Business Mac client. It has 3 previews coming up, with an RTM date in Q3. You’ll find the details at ZDNet: Microsoft closing in on Skype for Business for Mac public preview 1 – ZDNet.com

And on the Office.com Blog’s April 2016 update: New to Office 365 in April—Skype for Business Mac Preview, bringing collaboration to the forefront in Office and more – Office Blogs

Looks like they’re planning to build the Mac client out in stages.
Stage 1: Meetings. Starting with Meetings means Microsoft is tackling the service with the biggest bandwidth requirement first. Smart. Meetings have the most moving parts, which means the most bugs to hammer out.

Stage 2: Messaging, Contact Lists. 4-6 weeks after Preview 1. Messaging is relatively simple by comparison to Meetings. But it (and Contact Lists) are crucial components to iron out.

Stage 3: Voice. 8-12 weeks after Preview 1. The Mac users I know pride their machines on simplicity (and not without merit). For this client to work on Mac, voice MUST be easy to use. Otherwise the whole client is handicapped.

Skype for Business Preview on Mac

I borrowed this image from the Office Blog to point something out. If this is what we expect for Preview 1, then I note a couple of differences between Skype Meetings on Mac and on PC.

  1. No toolbar with Present options along the bottom
  2. Mac uses the Picture-in-Picture viewing mode
  3. Borderless Meeting display

Nice clean start. Which, according to Mary Jo at ZDNet, is the whole point. “Microsoft isn’t simply retrofitting the Lync for Mac product base, officials said. Instead the team has built the Skype for Business for Mac client from the ground up, they said.”

But Wait! The Preview has Arrived!

The ZDNet article updated only hours after publication. Microsoft has begun the preview!

Naturally I raced over to the preview site: https://www.skypepreview.com

I signing up for the following:

  • iOS Mobile
  • Skype 4 Business Mac Client Meetings Experience (a Mac meetings-only client)

(I wanted to sign up for the “New firmware for Polycom VVX Phones” too, but our new phones haven’t arrived yet…)

Hope to hear back very soon.

Why am I talking about this now? Because I’ve decided to conduct a little blog experiment.

When I’m accepted, I intend to document all my Mac testing in blog posts. Devices in use are my iPhone 6, one MacBooks, and one desktop Mac. I may even try Skype for Business out my personal iPad (an iPad 2 – older, but good for perspective).

Initial criteria are as follows.

  1. Meeting Functions (scheduling, voice, meet now, content sharing)
  2. Meeting Quality (is the video smooth, good voice quality, app responsiveness on each device)

As the next 2 previews come out, I plan to document the changes and how my devices react to them.

Great fodder for the blog, right? But I’d like to go even further. I want to hear from you!

Join Me in Testing – Preview Skype for Business on your Mac and Share Your Findings

If you sign up for any of the following at https://www.skypepreview.com:

  • Cloud PBX
  • PSTN Calling – Geo. Expansion
  • Cloud Video Interoperability Service
  • Skype Meeting Broadcast Enhancements
  • Android Mobile

Please contact me. I’d like to interview you as the testing progresses. I can even help you out with your testing.

The point? Document everything here on the blog. Multiple user experiences of Skype for Business on Mac. Valuable information for potential Mac customers, and for Microsoft’s testing team.

My standard guest policy applies: First name only. Business name only published with your express permission. No personal and/or proprietary information is ever shared on this blog, or with any other party. I don’t even add you the Skype4B Insider mailing list (unless you ask me to!).

Join us back here next week! What will we have – another Skype4B for Mac update? A good how-to post? You never know until you click.

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SQL-Active Directory Mismatch Prevents Skype4B User Login

Reference, Skype for Business

User accounts. They seem like simple things, don’t they? Enter your email and a password, log onto Skype (or your laptop, Outlook, etc.) and start work.

But we know better. In reality, every user account has several moving parts behind it. Server names, Active Directory credentials, database entries…all interconnecting behind the scenes. Making your login process the usual 5-second time-to-get-going routine it is.

Until one of those parts breaks.

An SID Mismatch Lurking Between Database and Active Directory

The other day, our Skype for Business team assisted a customer who couldn’t login to their Skype account. The password was correct. The user account shows as valid in Skype’s Control Panel. Where’s the issue?

Since the user shows up in the Skype4B Control Panel, we went to the logs. Soon we found a telling error:

“Failed to authorize user credentials
User Token SID S-XXXXXX did not match DB SID S-XXXXXXX”

An SID mismatch. What would cause that?

In this case, the most likely reason was old Lync information.

User Replicator Issue in the Database, Maybe From In-Place Upgrade

A few weeks prior, we’d performed an In-Place Upgrade for this customer. Lync Server 2013 on-prem to Skype for Business 2015 on-prem. The upgrade itself went all right – a couple snags with Exchange, which we smoothed out.

However, it appears another error had surfaced. We checked our runbooks; no previous incidents like this. So we searched online. We came across this post from Mostafa, a Lync/Skype for Business consultant in Germany:

Lync/Skype for Business – LS User Replicator Event ID 30020 – The Lync Dude

We tried the PowerShell cmdlet indicated in the post: Update-CsUserDatabase

Sure enough, we got the same error message.

“Event ID 30020, source ‘LS User Replicator’
User URI is already being used by another valid user in the database…”

Error 30020 User URI Duplicate

So what we had was a user account with some conflicting information between Active Directory and SQL Server. Residual information from Lync 2013 days, it appears, got stuck in the server database.

How? Not sure. Possibly a bug in the In-Place Upgrade. We made note to report it to Microsoft. But first, we needed to fix it!

The Solution – Modify SQL Database. Success, But There was a Snag

The blog post indicated a solution. Careful though – it involves directly modifying SQL databases. Chances of breaking the database, and your Skype4B right along with it, are significant. Make a FULL backup before trying this.

  1. Disable and delete the user from your Skype for Business Control Panel. Note down the user’s SIP address.
  2. Login to the Front End Server.
  3. Start SQL Management Studio.
  4. Connect to the RTCLOCAL Instance. (THIS is where it gets risky!)
  5. Run the following query against the RTC database: Execute dbo.RtcDeleteResource ‘[the user’s SIP address]’
  6. Restart the following services on the Front End:
    • Master Replica Agent
    • Replica Replicator Agent
  7. Wait a few minutes.
  8. Recreate the user account in Skype for Business Control Panel.
  9. Wait a few more minutes for full replication.

We hit a snag though – the process didn’t work for us! Even after several tries.

So we called Microsoft Support. We shared the SQL solution. Shouldn’t this work, we asked? Yes, said the Support rep, it should. Let me try it.

We granted the Support rep access. He logged into SQL, tried the query…and it worked.

Everyone blinked at each other for a moment. The same process, the same database, and the same access permissions. Nobody could explain why it worked when the Microsoft Support rep did it, but not when we did. Even the Microsoft rep admitted he wasn’t sure why!

But, no matter how, the fact is that it did work. We recreated the user’s account, and there were no more login issues.

Editing SQL a Last Resort, But for an ID Mismatch Like This One, It Worked

Bit of a mystery, start to finish. We did report the initial issue to Microsoft, of course. The rep said they had a similar bug logged (possibly by Mostafa).

I’m documenting the experience, mysteries and all, for our fellow Skype4B pros. If you do encounter a user account which mysteriously refuses to log in, may this post help you fix it!

Have you encountered a user account issue that required editing SQL to fix? Please comment or email. I’m curious what other issues like this (if any) exist out there.

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What to Do If Your Skype Meeting Configuration Doesn’t Update

Conferencing, Reference, Skype for Business

We may have found a new bug in Skype for Business Server. It’s located in one of the fields in your Skype Meeting invite.

First, some background:
When we set up our Meeting Invite in Lync Server 2013, it contained three lines under the “Join by phone” section:

  • PlanetMagpie Dialin [link]
  • Our Local Dial-in Access Number
  • “Find a local number” link

The thing is, the “PlanetMagpie Dialin” link didn’t always work. We logged it as an issue, but didn’t fully investigate before moving to Skype for Business.

The other day, we decided to update the Skype Meeting invite. In order to do this you must make changes in the Skype for Business Control Panel:

  1. In Conferencing, under “Meeting Configuration”
  2. In Conferencing, under “Dial-In Access Number”

Meeting Configuration lets you add personalization through a logo & custom text. Dial-In Access Numbers lets you set the phone number with which users can call into the meeting. You also set the number’s display name.

From TechNet:

“When you deploy dial-in conferencing, you need to set up phone numbers that users can dial from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to join the audio portion of conferences. These dial-in access numbers appear in meeting invitations and on the Dial-in Conferencing Settings webpage.”
Manage dial-in conferencing access numbers in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

That’s where we noticed something different. We could not change the Display Name.

The ‘Display Name’ field itself had stopped cooperating.

DisplayName Field Not Required

Optional, but not updating

(Likely) Cause: Bug in ‘Display Name’ from Lync Server Days

In Lync Server 2013, under Dial-In Access Numbers, the Display Name field was recommended but not mandatory. This is where we put the “PlanetMagpie Dialin” name referenced above.

When we upgraded, “PlanetMagpie Dialin” remained in the Display Name field. Skype for Business did its job, and preserved our dial plan information during In-Place Upgrade.

We edited the Display Name, as well as the logo & footer text under Meeting Configuration. But the changes didn’t populate to the Outlook meeting invites. Even trying the recommended cmdlet – Set-CsDialInConferencingAccessNumber – didn’t work.

Likely reason? A bug involving the ‘Display Name’ field. When Microsoft built Skype for Business, the upgrade carried dial plan information through. It appears that our upgrade also carried the bug over!

So we had an un-updated meeting invite, despite the server showing all the changes we wanted. How do we fix it?

Solution: Delete & Recreate the Dial-In Access Number

As with many troubleshooting episodes, the old “rip & replace” worked. Here’s what we did.

  • Confirmed the Meeting Configuration has the values you want.
  • Switch to the Dial-In Access Numbers window.
  • Open the dial plan you have in place now. Take a screenshot of it. Click Cancel.
  • Click Edit. Click Delete to delete the dial plan.
  • Now the server needs to refresh. The fastest way to do this is to open Management Shell and enter the following cmdlet:
    Invoke-CsManagementStoreReplication
  • Wait a moment for the changes to replicate. You can check the status with this cmdlet:
    Get-CsManagementStoreReplicationStatus
  • When it displays “True” the changes have replicated. Return to the Control Panel.
  • Still in Dial-In Access Numbers, click New.
  • Using the screenshot you took, re-enter the same dial plan values.
  • Click Commit.
  • Once again, open Management Shell and enter the following cmdlet:
    Invoke-CsManagementStoreReplication
  • As before, you can check the status with:
    Get-CsManagementStoreReplicationStatus
  • Wait for it to display “True.” Then you’ll know the new dial plan is published.
  • If you want to double-check, open Users in Skype for Business Control Panel. Open one or more User accounts and confirm that your dial plan name appears for them.
  • It may take a little longer for the meeting invite to update on all client computers. This took a while for us – long enough to grab lunch, in fact.

Once the updates populated, I checked our meeting invites.

Meeting Invite, No 'DialIn' Text

See? “PlanetMagpie Dialin” vanished, but the call-in number remained.  All other changes appeared too.  Meeting invites up-to-date!

Uncommon Bug, But Deserving of a Skype4B Insider Post!

We aren’t sure this is an official bug. I didn’t locate specific mentions of it in TechNet. We’ll report it, of course, just in case. Even the rarest bug deserves reporting.

In any event, since it IS a Skype for Business issue, we must document it on the blog! Hope it helps you, if you’ve reached this post and have a similar issue messing up your meeting invites.

Have you encountered issues with Meeting Configuration or Dial-In Access Numbers? If so, please comment or email what happened. I’d love to hear about it.

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    The Skype4B Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft's Skype for Business Server 2015, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., MCSE in Communication and PlanetMagpie IT Consulting's Tech Writer.
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