Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications category.

Presence is Dead? I Think Not!

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

A tweet on Tuesday led me to an interesting NoJitter article:  The Death of Presence – NoJitter

It’s a thought-provoking read. The author asks a potent question – “How valuable is Presence, really?”

The article talks about a new technology from Cisco, called Spark. Cisco has decided not to include Presence in Spark. Deeming it “irrelevant”.

Well, what is Spark then?

According to CiscoSpark.com, it’s a messaging platform with “everything you need to work together everywhere.” File sharing, phone calls, IM, video meetings…hmm, sounds a bit like Skype for Business! (And Slack, and Google Hangouts…)

Except without Presence. Now, my immediate thought was, “Cisco will use this to differentiate themselves. That’s why they did it.”

But I gave it some more thought. I can see the case made against Presence here.

Despite its omnipresence throughout the Microsoft software ecosystem, Presence is often ignored when trying to communicate with someone. The notion of, “I need this information from Steve, right now!” outweighs “Is Steve available? Need to ask him a question.” At least in many people’s minds.

There are situations where Presence does not add to communications either. A single office environment, for instance. Everyone’s right there. A quick email, call or visit solves the problem.

However, I think Presence’s problem is one of familiarity, not laziness. I’ll explain with a story.

The Secret to Loving Presence: Relating It to Workday Stresses

Late last year, I tried a change in my Skype for Business training sessions. Before that, I would explain each Presence status type, and then relate it to the contacts in the contacts list. It worked, but people were more interested in the Call Options discussed afterward.

Instead, I tried jumping from explaining “Available” to explaining the difference between Busy and Do Not Disturb.

(Reminder: people can still contact you when you’re set to Busy. They cannot contact you when set to Do Not Disturb.)

The first time I mentioned this, I noticed an employee’s reaction. We’ll call him Bob. Bob sat in the training with his phone in hand, thumbing through something on it. Emails, texts, I didn’t know. I did know he looked bored sitting there.

But when I mentioned people not contacting you when set to Do Not Disturb, he lifted his head. “What?” he said, interrupting me. I repeated myself, talking directly to him for a moment.

This got his interest. He listened intently for the rest of the training.
Why? Because he realized the power Presence has.

Those messages probably distracted him all day, every day – a constant stream of “I need X! I need Y!” If he could shut those off, even for a little while? It would mean quiet. Wonderful quiet time. Time to accomplish things. Time he could control.

"Status Green. I am Available."

“Status Green. I am Available.”

So, I made a point to include this Busy/Do Not Disturb difference in all my future trainings. And sure enough, people kept responding to it.

They liked how Presence related to their workday stresses. Helped them mitigate some. How using it really did help them to get stuff done.

Presence Also Helps When Co-Workers Aren’t In the Next Cubicle

Other situations make Presence valuable too. Specifically, when your co-worker isn’t right next to you, or you can’t look at them. Branch offices, remote workers, international teams, call centers, etc.

When people are spread out, they can still communicate (thanks to technologies like Spark and Skype4B). But the real-time nonverbal interaction – eye movement, body language – is not there. Same if we can’t look around, like people in a call center. (I have friends in a couple. They tell me things…)

So we must rely on other cues to navigate the workday.

Presence makes for an excellent cue. It’s visual, it’s immediately recognizable, and with the “What’s happening today?” line filled out, it’s actionable at a glance.

Good Thing to Consider, But Presence Isn’t Done Yet

I’m glad for this NoJitter article. And for Cisco’s move, even though I find it a little premature. It pays to reconsider the tools we use, to see if we can get more value out of them. If we can’t, or we don’t see any need, then maybe it’s time to move on.

But I think Presence has plenty of life left in it.

How often would you say you actively use Presence in your organization? Please comment or email. I’m curious just how much Presence is helping you…or not!

 

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December Poll Results, and What to Expect for the 2016 Skype4B Insider

Office 365, Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

First off, I have to say Thank You to everyone who responded on the December poll. Not only did we get a healthy variety of answers, we had several emails from readers sharing how this blog helped them out last year.

Glad to help!

As I promised, let’s go through the poll results. See what we can tease out in terms of Skype for Business 2015’s reception.

December Poll Results: More Stability, Better Performance Needed

We had more than 60 responses to the poll. The #1 improvement request was “a stable, less bloated client”.

While we can all agree that stability is critical, I’m actually not surprised. Consider: Microsoft created Skype for Business 2015 from the merging of two disparate systems: Skype-C and Lync 2013. It was necessary to preserve the Skype-C user base’s expected features, as well as Lync’s broader capabilities.

I pretty much consider Skype for Business as “Version 1” of this new platform. It will, over time – hopefully not too much time! – grow more stable and sharper. (The bloat however, well, anyone’s guess.)

The next most-requested improvements were: RGS, Persistent Chat and Enterprise Voice (in that order).

RGS: I’m guessing performance is the major snag for most of you. If so, you’re not alone. We only use a handful of Response Groups (call flow after-hours, Support team, emergency reporting line, etc.). So far as I know, none have dropped calls or damaged audio clarity.Performance is Slow as...

However, I see both of these occur sometimes for clients. One in particular worked out of a high-rise office building, and shared Internet access with other businesses in the building. As a result their available bandwidth fluctuated. Like you’d expect, this caused some issues with dropped calls or poor audio quality–but only when Response Groups directed the calls. Normal calls were rarely affected. We wound up installing a backup Internet pipe to shore up their bandwidth, and the problem went away.

Persistent Chat: One Persistent Chat issue I have is with its performance. With our on-premise Skype for Business server, IMs are real-time. Same with calls. Video performance is good. But Persistent Chat…it draaaags. Sometimes I can’t even open a chat room. So for this one, I’m right there with you guys!

Enterprise Voice: I’m curious as to the issues readers have encountered here. Enterprise Voice does take some configuration up-front, but it’s one of our most stable Skype for Business services. If you voted for Enterprise Voice needing improvement, please comment or email with your setup details. I’d love to hear what kinds of hardware are used, available bandwidth, what kind of configuration you have, etc.

(As always, we will never share any of your Skype for Business details with anyone else for any reason!)

Along with these, we had several user-submitted responses. Things like IM notifications, Mac client features, and so on. Thanks for these! I’ve made note of all of them. Look for responses, and (hopefully!) some good solutions, in future posts.

Speculations on Skype for Business in 2016

Given all this feedback and Microsoft’s 2015 actions, I shall now speculate on what will happen in the Skype4B field in 2016.

We do have 2 new certification exams coming:
70-333: Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015 (beta)
70-334: Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (beta)

From the descriptions, these exams are quite thorough. One devoted to the ins and outs of Enterprise Voice, and the other to Skype for Business setup & configuration.

Office 365 Services from MSOne thing I note here is a relatively scarce mention of Office 365. It’s referenced twice on 70-333, on configuring integration with ExpressRoute or Edge integration.

This leads me to my first speculation: Microsoft will continue pushing a hybrid or cloud-only Skype for Business solution as a preferred option for businesses. The new features, like Cloud PBX, strengthen Microsoft’s hand in the VoIP marketplace. It makes perfect sense to update their certs…but we know which way they’re headed.

Of course, it doesn’t mean they’ll abandon Skype for Business Server and its clients.  The Skype for Business client for Mac is coming. I believe we’ll also see updates to all other clients. Stability improvements for sure; feature add-ons, I hope. (Deleting voicemails on my iPhone, please?)

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see a Linux client. At least not an official one. We’ve received comments on this very blog about Pidgin plugins for Lync services. I’m hoping to hear back from Mr. Andersson about his work, so I can test it out!

Which brings me to my final topic.

What to Expect from The Skype4B Insider Blog in 2016

For the past several years we’ve published 1 new post a week, usually on Wednesdays. One never wants a blog to go stagnant–then readers get bored and drift away. Now that it’s 2016, maybe it’s time for a change.

I’m debating a move to fewer posts per month (say 2), in favor of longer, even more technical instructions. Good solid posts, in the vein of Jeff Schertz’s and Matt Landis’ blogs.

Or we can stick with the current schedule. This one I’m leaving up to you, our readers.

What do you think? Would you like fewer and more detailed posts per month? Or are we good to continue on this schedule? Please comment or email your thoughts. If you have other suggestions for the Skype4B Insider, by all means, send those too!

And of course, don’t forget to join us again next week. Until I hear from enough of you (one way or the other), we’ll continue on our regular schedule.

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The SBC and Its Role in Skype for Business

Skype for Business, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications

Today let’s talk about the SBC.

I’ve mentioned SBCs here in the past, on the Lync Add-On Hardware post last year.

A new prospect reminded me of the SBC, as their situation will require one for interoperability reasons. They have several different types of VoIP phones scattered between 3 locations.

(Disclaimer: PlanetMagpie is a Sonus Partner. We use their SBCs for Skype for Business deployments, as well as our own Skype4B server. They didn’t ask me to write this though!)

That said, the reminder spurred me to a thought. “Have I gone into detail on what an SBC does yet? No, I don’t think so. Well, that’s this week’s topic then.”

What’s an SBC?

SBC stands for Session Border Controller. It’s a discrete hardware device which sits in the edge network. There, it

looks at each SIP packet going between your Skype for Business Enterprise Voice network and the external ISP. It determines which packets should be allowed through, and which route they should take.

Server Rack

What Does an SBC Do?

SBCs provide multiple security and mediation services within a VoIP environment.

Let’s say you have two phones – one onsite in your network, one offsite. Bob at Offsite picks up the phone & calls Jane at Onsite. This VoIP call is called a “session”. The SBC looks at Bob’s incoming call, determines that it’s legitimate, and lets it through to Jane. Hence, “Session Border Controller”.

Taking on this role helps stop a lot of bad things from happening. Within a Skype for Business deployment, SBCs can:

  • Protect the network from Denial of Service attacks, spoofing, and other outside attacks
  • Enable SIP trunking
  • Support interoperability between different endpoints (e.g., different VoIP phone types, as I mentioned in the opening above)
  • ‘Transcoding’ calls – Changing the codec used in a call, depending on the session type (audio, video), device type (tablets, laptops, phones), and bandwidth available

Why Would I Need an SBC in my Skype for Business Deployment?

Does your network suffer break-in attempts or DoS attacks? The attackers will target your Skype for Business network too. No question. It needs protection. SBCs are good for that.

Do your people ever call out? There’s no guarantee the SIP endpoints (VoIP phones) will talk to one another. Each phone can have a different bit rate. And if they do, they can’t connect to one another properly. Unless you use an SBC to bridge them (a process called ‘transrating’).

These are the two biggest reasons for an SBC. More exist, depending on your network configuration & security.

Okay then, what SBC should I use?

Right now, according to the Telephony Infrastructure for Skype for Business page on Office TechCenter, only two session border controllers are certified for Skype4B use.

Oracle Net-Net 3820
Sonus SBC 2000

(The Lync Server 2013-approved SBCs will work too. Here’s the full list.)

The Sonus SBC 1000 will also work for Skype for Business; we’ve tested it and the 2000 in small business deployments. Both of them do the job nicely. For Lync Server, we have several 1000s running at customer sites.

You CAN run Skype for Business (or Lync Server) without a Session Border Controller. It’s not mandatory. But it is helpful.

Want more? Sonus has kindly published a simple guide on using SBCs.
Ebook – Session Border Controllers for Dummies

I also like the Skype for Business guide: Ebook – Skype for Business for Dummies.

Both provide good overall explanations for Skype for Business and SBCs.

Do you use a Session Border Controller in your Skype for Business Deployment? What was the primary reason? Please comment or email your thoughts.  And join us again next week!

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2014 Reader Survey: What are Your 2015 Lync Plans?

Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

It’s the last Lync Insider post of 2014! Hope everyone’s Christmas shopping is done and the workload is light.

It’s been quite a year for the blog. Add-ons coming out. Big announcements. Lots of updates & fixes. Lync is out there in a big way and getting bigger. Each month, over 20,000 readers visit the Lync Insider, and we’re grateful for all the conversations we’ve had.

Here’s a few of our most popular 2014 posts (in case you missed them!):

2 Surveys in 2 Minutes – Please Tell Us Your Lync Plans!

We’ll return to our regular posting schedule in early January. But what should we start with? What directions should we go next year?

Well, why not ask our readers these questions! If you’ll spare 2 minutes, please answer the following 2 surveys about your Lync plans. The results will inform our 2015 posting schedule.

===================

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 2014-12-16 09:13:57
end_date 2015-01-10 23:59:59
Poll Results:
What is the most useful Lync service? (Choose up to 3)

===================

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 2014-12-16 09:13:57
end_date 2015-01-10 23:59:59
Poll Results:
What are your Lync-related plans for 2015?

===================

We had 67 votes on our last poll…can we make it to 100 for these two?

As always, if you have a question or want to share a Lync story, please comment on a post or email me. PlanetMagpie is always happy to help business users with their Lync (or other!) support issues.

I just received a comment about Chat inside an add-on, in fact. (Paul, I’ll answer your question as soon as I’m able!)

The Blog Name Change – Decision Made

Thank you again, to all of our readers. We asked you what you thought this blog should be named, since Lync itself will change its name in 2015.

After reviewing the poll results and talking it over amongst ourselves, we decided that the blog’s name will be…

The Lync Insider.

We will stay with the name you already know. But! We’ll have other changes coming to reflect the Skype for Business changes.

What will they be? Well, you’ll have to come back to find out!

Subscribe via email with the signup box at top right, for weekly post emails. Many of you already have this year…and we hope many more will join us next year!

Until then, Happy Holidays to all, and have a safe New Year.

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Moving Versions or Staying Put: How Should You Prepare for Skype for Business in 2015?

Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business, Unified Communications

Look out, Christmas is coming at us!

At several of our clients’ offices, plans for 2015 are in full swing. People are considering what to do next year, where to spend their budgets, what software to update.

With each new year we see new Microsoft software. In the case of Lync Server though, the change is more pronounced. A full rebranding, new features, interconnection with the 500+ million Skype user base…this is a BIG change coming. 2015 Planning Commences!

How should businesses approach Skype for Business? Should they wait, or jump forward? At what point should they transition–and does their current communications software factor in?

After reading some blog posts & reader emails, as well as brainstorming and staring at our own Lync Server a while, I came up with the following recommendations. Each recommendation depends on what version of Lync Server you’re running now (if any). I’ve even included some thoughts for Skype users too.

If you run Lync Server 2010…

According to Monday’s No Jitter post, in-place upgrades aren’t available from Lync Server 2010 to Skype for Business.

No big surprise; the hardware requirements rose between Lync 2010 and 2013. Lync Server 2010 users actually have a unique opportunity: They’ll have to upgrade either way, so moving straight to Skype for Business is a viable option. (If any businesses do this, I’d appreciate an email. Would love to hear how the transition goes for you.)

There’s only one caveat: make sure your Windows Servers are up-to-date before you try any upgrades. In fact, I’d say build a 100% fresh server group and test on there.

If you run Lync Server 2013…

Make sure you have your Cumulative Updates, but otherwise, you have the luxury of time. Lync Server 2013 will remain usable for a while.

We even received a new feature this past week – video calling between Lync and Skype clients.

Start a Skype for Business evaluation when scheduling/budget permits. I’m hoping to do this by summer 2015.

If you are evaluating Lync Server 2013 (and like it)…

Plan to deploy when you’re ready. Don’t worry about, “Should we wait for Skype for Business?” Go ahead and implement Lync. The hardware used can (at least as far as we know) be re-used when you do move to Skype for Business. No need to rush.

If your office uses Skype…

A change from Skype clients to Skype for Business Server is arguably the largest change on this list. Your users would gain a lot of functionality–and a whole new level of complexity to their communications.

If you do plan to transition in 2015, begin advising users of the change as early as possible. Invite test user groups to evaluate Skype for Business – more than once, if you can. You might even direct users toward this blog! I will endeavor to provide useful transitioning content next year.

If you do not have either Lync or Skype…

Interested in the Unified Communications world, huh? Glad you could join us!

2015 will provide you with a choice: Deploy Lync Server 2013 or Skype for Business Server 2015. If you choose Lync 2013, you can begin evaluations right now. If you want Skype for Business, you’ll have to wait a while until we at least see a beta version.

If you have no Lync experience, I would suggest going for Skype for Business. Use the first half of 2015 to read up on Voice over IP, Lync Server’s main Server Roles, blogs discussing Skype for Business features, etc.

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I hope these recommendations help my readers (and your businesses) plan well for 2015. Remember also that we should see a new version of Exchange Server in 2015 too. Lots of changes for which we must plan!

Next week we’ll close out 2015 with a reader survey and Q&A. If you have questions you’d like answered about Lync, Skype, Exchange or Unified Communications in general, please comment or email them to me. See you then!

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How will Licensing Work? Which Issues will Appear? Predictions on the Coming Skype for Business

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

The Web is abuzz with talk about Lync Server’s rebranding. I’m just as curious as the rest of you. (If anyone wants to weigh in, please feel free to comment with your thoughts/wild speculations.)

After reading more from fellow IT professionals, journalists “in the know” and the vast pool of brains we call ‘social media’, I think it’s time for some predictions.

(Yes, I was wrong about the Skype-Lync integration path, but humor me here! Predictions are fun!)

Upgrades

Microsoft claims the on-premise server upgrade will require “no new hardware.” For the most part, I believe this will be true. A solid Lync Server 2013 hardware setup should easily handle some additional Skype features (e.g., accessing the Skype Directory).ID-100103810

The only place I could see more resources being useful, would be the Mediation Server role. Which is almost guaranteed to change in 2015, to accommodate the Skype access changes.

Licensing

Here I pretty much have nothing but questions. Will Skype for Business have the same CAL structure Lync Server 2013 does? Will users need to use their Microsoft account to sign in?

Licensing costs & implementation issues strangled multiple Lync Server installations back when 2013 was released. We had one client who almost gave up on Lync entirely, after they had to pay for enterprise CALs and then add more CALs later on. Microsoft needs to give details on Skype for Business licensing ASAP.

The Issues

We’ll start seeing the issues appear in the second half of 2015. That’s when businesses will start moving toward Skype for Business. Blog commenters have pointed out several points where they suspect they’ll run into trouble – configuring for firewall rules or proxies, SIP trunking, communication between on-premise Lync users and off-site Skype users. We’ll watch for these.

The Office 365 Question

Announcements have indicated that the Lync Online service will also receive a Skype for Business update. Very little detail beyond that, for now. But I have a concern here…because of another announcement made last week.

Microsoft just released a beta of Skype for Web. A Web-based Skype version, with Skype for Business coming available in an online service too…this is a setup for serious confusion. I hope Microsoft has cross-communication between Skype for Web and Skype for Business completely ironed out.

Anticipated Reactions

There are still some organizations using Lync Server 2010. So, I imagine some of you will stick with Lync Server 2013 a while too. Moving to Skype for Business will be a very gradual process over the next 3 years.

I predict that the reactions to Skype for Business will lean slightly negative. At least next year. We have a lot of disparate groups who’ll weigh in on the transition:

  • Skype users who may not know about the new Lync tools available
  • Businesses who view Skype as “consumer only”
  • Lync 2013 users who don’t like or are confused by the new interface
  • And so on.

Personally, I’m not completely thrilled with the name change. But I’ll withhold judgment until I have a chance to test the software. Actual performance is always more telling.

Where Help is Needed Now

We have the luxury of time right now. We know a new version of Lync is coming, and we have an idea of what to expect when it arrives.

If I consider these predictions, what I think is needed now is:

  1. A better understanding of the new features.
  2. A map of how the old Lync features will transition (if at all).
  3. Performance measurements on the new on-premise server and the online service.

We will aim to bring you all of these, here at the Lync Insider Blog.

Speaking of which, last week’s poll results are split almost evenly between:
–Lync Insider
–Skype for Business Insider
–Inside Unified Communications

There’s a couple hilarious write-in votes too. Thanks guys, those were great. I appreciate all the responses so far. We’ll aim for the new blog name – if we do change it! – around the first of the year.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll see you back here in December for the 2014 home-stretch.

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Lync Server Gets a New Name – “Skype for Business”

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

A while back, I speculated on how the Lync/Skype integration process would work. A few times.

It seems we have an answer. And it wasn’t the one I picked.

Microsoft Rebrands Lync as “Skype for Business” – ZDNet

Lync Gets a New Name and Skype Features in 2015

Next year, Lync will become Skype for Business. A full rebranding–kind of like when OCS became Lync Server. Like before, the next version of Lync/Skype for Business will have some cosmetic changes and new features:

  • Skype contacts available in the Lync client
  • Skype’s “call monitor” window
  • More Skype-like video calling
  • Access to the Skype directory
  • Video integration between Skype and Lync clients

However, at least according to what we know now, the main Lync functions will remain.

Skype for Business

Image courtesy of ZDNet.com.

You’ll still have IM and Presence. Enterprise Voice and Conferencing capabilities. Persistent Chat.

I’ve seen “No new hardware” a few times too. “You will be able to upgrade from Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server. No new hardware is required.”

While I’d love if this were the case, I admit to feeling a little dubious. We’re talking about a major shift in the product’s features and interoperability; even if we can use the exact same hardware, I suspect some reconfiguring is required. Time will tell what kind.

The next release of Lync Server/Skype for Business will arrive in the first half of 2015. The rebranding/update affects both on-premises Lync Server and the Lync Online service (which will become Skype for Business Online, pushed out to users next year too).

Impressions: Yea, Nay, and In-Between

I read through some news articles, their comments, and Twitter. Naturally, such a move by Microsoft garners attention. The opinions range far and wide.

A few people view this as Microsoft abandoning the credit Lync’s built up among enterprise businesses. Others are wishing Lync a speedy goodbye and embracing Skype “on the job”. Still others are irritated by the fact that they just got everyone onto Lync, and now they’ll have to change again (can’t blame them there!).

One point brought up more than once is powerful, and may even indicate why Microsoft did this. Commenters pointed to Skype’s massive worldwide customer base and well-known brand. By changing to “Skype for Business”, Microsoft can capitalize on both the customer base’s familiarity, and extend Lync’s unique capabilities into the everyday Skype-user mindset.

However, this has a built-in problem as well. Skype is known the world over, yes…but as a consumer app. Microsoft wants to employ its name in a business context. That may work fine for smaller businesses, but the enterprise? They may have more of an issue.

What Will Become of The Lync Insider?

Now we’re left with the big question. With Microsoft rebranding Lync, getting rid of the Lync name essentially…what will become of this blog?

Will we continue to be “The Lync Insider”? How about changing to “The Skype Insider”, or “Inside Unified Communications”?

Truthfully, right now I just don’t know. We at PlanetMagpie have worked with Lync since before it was called Lync, and we’ll continue to do so when it’s called Skype for Business. Though I always liked the name “Lync.” Easy to say, easy for people to understand.

We’ll brainstorm on the naming & direction of this blog over the next couple months. And I’ll also ask you!

What do you think this blog should call itself? Post your answer here.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 2014-12-11 00:00:57
end_date 2014-10-12 23:59:59
Poll Results:
What should this blog be called going forward?

Do you have any topics you’d like to see us cover in 2015? Please comment or email them in. Sounds like 2015 will be a big year for unified communications…we’ll have lots to talk about!

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Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers

Lync 2013 Client, Lync Mobile, Reference, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

In my post on MindLink Anywhere last week, I mentioned that one big value-add from the software was its ability to work on Linux. Options for accessing Lync services on Linux are limited. Though in the past couple years they’ve improved a lot, both in number and quality.

What else is available for “Lync on Linux”? Let’s take a look and see what’s out there.

Running Lync Server 2013 on a Linux Server? No. But you can access it from Linux computers.

Unless you install Windows Server in a VM, this isn’t happening. Lync Server 2013 is intended for Windows Servers. Which makes sense, honestly – Unified Communications hooks into Exchange and SharePoint, also Windows-platform servers. If Lync ran on Linux, it would do so in an underperforming state, users unable to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Fortunately, this does not mean Linux users are completely in the cold! There are ways to access Lync’s services on Linux desktops and mobile devices.

Linux Lync Clients

Sadly, there is no native Lync client for the Linux desktop. You must use third-party products to connect with Lync. Only a couple of them exist as yet.

Judging from my research, the most popular choice is Pidgin. Makes sense – one of the most reliable, full-featured IM platforms on Linux. Adding Lync to Pidgin? Just one more service.

Choose from any of the following blog posts to install Lync into Pidgin:

  1. Microsoft Lync on Linux – GeekySchmidt.com
  2. Configuring Pidgin to work with Lync server in Arch Linux – I Fix Therefore I Am
  3. Add a Lync/Office Communicator Account to Pidgin/Ubuntu – ITSwapShop.com
  4. Setting Pidgin Up for Lync 2013 – AskUbuntu.comWync-Logo

No matter the method, you may have to deal with limitations when using Lync through Pidgin. Commenters have claimed everything from having to manually add contacts, to voice and video chat not working.

Another third-party client usable for Lync on Linux is Wync, made by Fisil. Wync is actually designed to work with Lync, and Fisil does offer support. Most functions work – Voice, IM/Chat, Screen Sharing and File Transfer.

I was only able to test it out briefly, but Wync was stable and made clear calls. (Tested on Ubuntu 32-bit desktop.) It’s great to see an actual Lync client available on Linux systems!

Lync Web App

Works, but only for attending Lync Meetings by default. No voice, video or IM.

Important distinction here: If you’re running Lync Server 2010, you will need Silverlight to run the Lync Web App. Silverlight is Windows-only. But there is a Linux version of Silverlight, called Moonlight.

Here’s an AskUbuntu discussion to help you work out Lync 2010 Web App with Moonlight. You should find Moonlight in your repository of choice…but if it’s not there, try these direct downloads: Moonlight for Chrome & Firefox.

If you’re running Lync Server 2013, Lync Web App does not require Silverlight. However, expect a very limited experience on a Linux desktop (if it works at all).

Android

I’ve heard people say that the #1 operating system in the world is actually Android–a Linux distribution. If so, Microsoft really should spend more effort on its Lync Mobile client for Android. The reviews are full of problem reports!

That said, I’m glad the client at least exists and is supported directly by Microsoft. Android isn’t poised to go anywhere but up, and I want a good solid version of Lync available to its users.

Lync Online on Linux?

Using Lync Online? You’ll still face the same problems as above. Fortunately, the same solutions also work. If you use Lync Online in a Linux environment, I’d say try Wync first, and then Pidgin. See which one works better for your day-to-day.

Here’s a blog post on how to get Pidgin working with Lync, specifically focused on using Office 365: Configuring Pidgin Instant Messenger for Office 365 LYNC – VincentPassaro.com

What About Skype?

There is a version of Skype available for Linux, so at least our Skype brothers & sisters are OK. A little better off than Lync users…at least for now.

If anything, this could be a positive sign for future versions. Depending on the upgrade path Microsoft takes for Lync & Skype integration, we may have ourselves a Lync client (or at least a Lync-friendly client) on Linux soon.

Linux Alternatives to Lync Server

What’s that? You only use Linux on your company’s servers? Well, I’m afraid it could be a while before you can enjoy Lync Server’s capabilities (if ever). But fear not! Alternatives do exist. None are quite the same as Lync, but they can give you the necessary communications tools.

Here are 3 popular Linux/open-source alternatives:

  • Avaya: Avaya has the Aura Platform for a VoIP, chat & video offering.
  • Twilio: Twilio is a cloud-based voice and text product suite that’s quite highly reviewed. Useful on the phone side, though not as full-featured as Lync.
  • Asterisk: Asterisk is a framework for building powerful communications systems. As I understand it, several enterprises have used Asterisk to build their own custom phone systems.

Of these, if I had to recommend a Lync Server alternative to a Linux-using business, I’d recommend Asterisk. Then Avaya.e00cb7b29fc9f70724e906d87e4e4dbf-tux-penguin-clip-art

Lync is Making its Way Onto Linux

While PlanetMagpie is a Microsoft shop and supports all Microsoft servers (not just Lync Server), sometimes I like to see how Linux is doing in comparison. It’s encouraging that there’s this much development regarding Lync. More is sure to come, both within the Linux community and from official channels. (Okay, mostly from the Linux community.)

Does your office use Linux and Lync? How do you make it work for you? I’d like to hear your experiences.

Next week, more reader inquiries! Join us then.

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Why I Think “Universal Communications” is a Ways Off

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

At the Lync Conference in February, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft Corporate VP for Lync and Skype Engineering said,

“The era of universal communications is here to stay. That’s what the next decade is going to be about. It’s going to change your and my life. In fact, 1 billion people in this decade will use Microsoft universal communications.”

Lync-Skype Chief: ‘Era of Universal Communications Is Here’ – Redmond Channel Partner

Bold words. Very ambitious. But are they realistic?

I’d sure like to think we’ll have universal VoIP (with video!) by 2024 or so. The capabilities it would generate for everyone – huge opportunities for developing countries, more expansion away from crowded cities, simple & powerful businesses popping up everywhere…

The problem is, I’m not sure 10 years is a realistic goal.

Why? There’s one small problem…and it’s not one Microsoft can fix by itself.

The Problem Isn’t Microsoft, It’s Internet

It’s not that I don’t believe MS couldn’t pull off the tech angle. They’re already a long way toward it. Lync Server, Lync Online, Azure cloud services, Skype federation, better hardware all the time, worldwide reach, huge development team…

They can make Lync-style Voice over IP universal. I believe that.

What I question is the infrastructure. High-speed Internet infrastructure capable of supporting Voice over IP, and related technologies like video and conferencing.

The Difficulty in Getting Fiber Connections (Even for Businesses)

Let me tell you a brief story. Some months ago we contacted Comcast about getting a high-speed connection into our datacenter. We wanted it for secure backups, cloud service, and – of course – the fastest Lync calling speeds we could get.Universal Communications Loading...

But Comcast wasn’t interested. They would have had to pull a new line into the area. That meant workers and downtime. Both of which they wanted us to pay for. Up front.

So we talked to AT&T. Fortunately, AT&T WAS interested. In fact, AT&T was happy to do the fiber setup, plus cover the cost! It’s part of a program they have running to help turn on fiber connections for local business use.

Read the whole story (and the AT&T program’s details) at our main blog: The Fiber Option: Super-Fast Internet for Innovation District Businesses (And Beyond) – PlanetMagpie Blog

So our connection problem was solved. But, one has to ask – if this is a common issue in rolling out high-speed Internet connections, how long will it take for a “bandwidth build-out” big enough to support Pall’s Universal Communications?

The Form Universal Communications will Take

From the Channel Partner article: “Pall defined universal communications as having five pillars: global reach through the cloud, video everywhere, the ability to work across all devices, context and application intelligence, and a consistent experience for work and life.”

1 billion people using all these services in the next decade? Tall order.

In terms of present technology in use, we’re not that far off. Global reach via the cloud and consistent work/life experiences can be had. The sticking points will come with ‘video everywhere’ and ‘ability to work across all devices.’

Mr. Pall is most bullish on the video. I agree with his notion that “you should be able to reach anybody anywhere in the world with video.” However, video does require bandwidth to support it. While we have lots of bandwidth going around via mobile 3G/4G tech, it hasn’t reached worldwide saturation yet.

I think the form Universal Communications will take is very similar to Pall’s 5 pillars. Though all of them will require a foundation of solid, universal Internet access. That comes not only from technology, but economics. Which is why it won’t happen all at once.

What I Think Will Happen: Staged, Cyclical Spread of High-Speed Internet & Lync

Stage 1: Lync Online receives PSTN calling. (Yay!)
Stage 2: Further expansion of Lync Server/Cisco/RingCentral implementations for VoIP
Stage 3: Infrastructure Build-outs (Fiber, wide-area Wi-Fi, etc.)
Stage 4: Cycle between Stage 2 & 3, expanding their areas of influence as they go
Stage 5: True Universal Communications

Stages 1 and 2 are proceeding. According to an RPC article last week, Lync Server 2013 deployment is expanding like crazy. (Our own IT consultants are also seeing more interest for Lync among Silicon Valley businesses.)

It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft delivers on the “PSTN Calling for Lync Online Users” promise. Stage 3 is where we’ll either see rapid expansion toward “Universal Communications”…or we’ll see economics slow things down.

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What do you think? Is infrastructure the key to Universal Communications, or a potential slowdown? Please leave a comment or email. We love to hear readers’ thoughts!

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Using Skype and Lync for Work – A Reader’s Experience

Unified Communications, Voice over IP

I was planning on testing some Lync plugins from GitHub today. But that will have to wait.

The other day I asked you, our readers, for a little help. Would someone who uses both Skype and Lync answer a couple questions about your experiences with the two systems?

And someone did! Peter from Psquared.net has come forward. His office uses both Lync and Skype (along with a couple other add-ons, as you’ll see). He was kind enough to answer my questions with great detail.

From my questions and Peter’s answers, I hope you’re able to get a good clear example of how businesses can use Skype and Lync in concert. CAN, mind you, not MUST. There are many different ways for Skype and Lync to interoperate…this is just one (albeit one that appears to serve Peter quite well)!

So let’s see what Peter has to say. The following is from his own words.

Q&A – One Company’s Skype/Lync Experience

1) What’s your Lync Server setup like?

We have a single Sangoma Lync Express appliance which hosts our FE [Front End Server], as well as VMs that host the Web Apps server and the Edge Server. It also has a special Sangoma software SBC VM image.

We still use a TMG2010 server for our Reverse proxy. I keep meaning to switch to a new VM running IIS ARR etc. but just haven’t gotten round to it – after all, it currently ain’t broke!

We actually use an Asterisk based IP-PBX for our main office PBX (Sark from Aelintra), but this has bidirectional links to Lync so our employees can use either Lync or legacy SIP for their calls – the phones are all Snom 820/821 phones with accounts for Lync (7xx extension numbers) and for the Asterisk extensions (all 2xx extension numbers)

The reason for still having the Asterisk box is that although we have Enterprise Voice, the built in Response Group Application is just too slow at connecting calls when used with the Snom handsets, so we have stuck with the Asterisk for the majority of calls.

Our biggest use for Lync is internal IM, but it’s also key for our disaster management plans – in the event that the office cannot be reached due to bad weather etc. then staff will remote desktop into the building and use the Lync client for all calls in and out of the building. We would change our call routing so all calls will go straight through the Asterisk box direct to the RGS service on Lync – as these are then Lync Client then the call connect delay is minimal. This is all much easier to handle than achieving the same with our Asterisk box which would require everyone setting up soft Sip clients and all sorts of other tricky bits, not least due to the lack of multi-endpoint registration to a single account.

2) Can you tell me a little about the people who use Skype? Just customers, or maybe partners?
man-talking-on-phone-md
We use Skype to connect primarily to customers, though a few partners as well. Primarily we use it for doing initial web based meetings and demonstrations of our products with new customers. However, we have quite a few customers in India and in East Africa and Skype is ideal for them to save a fortune on international calls!

Because of the relatively high cost of a Lync deployment for small sites, we actually don’t have any active Lync federation with any customers, so Skype is what gets used for “free” calls to us and vice versa.

3) What kinds of errors do you come up against, user-related or otherwise?

The biggest issues we have are to do with initially getting Skype based contacts into our Lync Contacts List. If you add the user, but they haven’t requested to contact you first, then the Skype user doesn’t always seem to get the Contact Request. If they do, but then discard it by accident then you end up with a real problem as it doesn’t seem that you can re-send the request – even deleting the contact from Lync and trying again doesn’t seem to resend the request.

The opposite is also true – even with your Lync Permissions set to allow anyone to contact request you, some requests just don’t seem to come in from Skype users, and if they do but you accidentally reject it, you’re stuck again. After a lot of removing from both ends and re-trying you sometimes get the requests come through and then you can connect without any problem.

The main issue is that it’s obviously great for IM and voice, but with video not supported, we often end up getting the person to join a straight Lync Web Conference instead. Being honest, most of the time we just go straight to this anyway as it obviously works without any Skype client install so is good for locked down users like education sites, but also means we can do multi-person conferences. Skype can do these, but at a cost!

When we get Video to Skype with the next release of Lync that will be a big improvement, but we’re really comfortable with web meetings now, so not so critical.

4) From your site, you work with radio software. Do you find Skype is more conducive to good-quality recordings? Or is Lync better? How do they compare?

The Skype audio codec is excellent so when we do Skype-Skype it’s always good. However, we have a full broadcast studio here with professional quality microphones and hi-def Microsoft webcams, which means that when we do Lync Web Conferences we always get comments on how amazing the quality is and how clearly the end user can hear us – important when we’re aiming to sell audio equipment and software to them!

We know that a lot of our customers are using Skype for doing Outside Broadcasts to get high quality audio back to the studios, so they obviously like the Silk codec, so when we get to see that in the next release of Lync it will be quite interesting to see how that sounds!

5) Do you use any add-on services for either Skype or Lync?

We use Skype Connect to actually give us “real world” phone numbers in Eire and the US which are routed directly into our Asterisk phone exchange – this is not ideal as there is quite a connection delay with 2 or 3 rings before Skype forwards the calls on. We have looked at using 3rd parties to provide us real world numbers on TLS streams that could be fed into Lync, but these are expensive and complicated to setup compared to Skype.

We also looked at using WorkAnywhere, but as this is licensed by the number of queues, not by the number of end users, it’s much too expensive to justify.

6) What’s the most common cross-platform communication you do for both systems? Chat, voice calls, conferences?

Chat is easily the biggest – even while typing this email I’ve handled 3 or 4 Lync IM conversations with people here in the office, and also with a supplier who open federates so we can do nice quick IM checks with them as to how they get on.

For Skype, we primarily use it for voice, but we do do some IM as well.

In terms of sales, we use Lync Web Conferences a lot – these have saved us a huge amount of travelling to show customers (and potential customers) new features and “how-tos” for existing deployments. We’ve never actually done a Lync to Lync conference as we just don’t seem to have any customers on it! But because the Web client can work for anyone with a modern browser, it’s ideal for use for demos and training sessions.

Some Observations to Add

  • It seems that the strongest services for each – IM and Conferencing for Lync, Voice Calls for Skype – are Psquared.net’s focus. They’re using the service which makes the most sense for the communication medium.
  • I’ve heard good things about the Sangoma Lync Express Appliance, but never had the chance to work with one. I’ll have to look into it more.
  • Curious doubling effect with the Asterisk PBX. Sounds like they have VoIP partially overlapping. Though it does make for an excellent disaster recovery setup!
  • Introducing the Silk codec into Lync may in fact be the driver for broader Enterprise Voice adoption.
  • The contacts error in #3 seems very similar to the Contact Removal trouble I had a while back: How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Thanks very much Peter! This is excellent insight into Skype/Lync interaction. Again, you’ll find his business at Psquared.net.

 

Is your Skype/Lync experience different? Have you experienced problems using either Skype or Lync? Please comment or email…I’d love to talk about it!

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    The Lync Insider/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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