Another third-party Lync app to test!
I signed up for a trial of MindLink Anywhere. MindLink describes the product like this:
“MindLink Anywhere brings the power of Microsoft Lync Persistent Chat, Presence and Instant Messaging through your web browser to Windows, Mac and Linux users.”
The trial runs on a hosted instance of Lync Server 2013. Ordinarily, MindLink installs alongside your on-premise Lync Server.
Overall, I found MindLink Anywhere an excellent app for conducting chat conversations. It gives the user a choice of two different views, starting a chat is as easy as Lync 2013, and you can use it anywhere – get it? – you have a Web browser.
Touring a Persistent Chat Extension, Accessible Anywhere
My trial started with logging in at an auto-generated URL. Your average login prompt, with one additional checkbox: “Disable IM”. I didn’t check this box when initially logging in (it does have an effect though, as you’ll see later).
MindLink Anywhere loads in what it calls “Streams View” by default. Chats are organized into streaming “Group” columns in the browser window. Think TweetDeck, if you’re a Twitter user.
The other possible view is called “Classic View”. To reach it you must re-login. Classic View has the advantage of showing you a detailed guide of the buttons and actions you can take within it, right away. Because of this, I suggest all users switch to Classic View at first, until you can familiarize yourself. Then you can switch back to Streams View (as I did) if you like.
(This “Quick Guide” is also available in Streams View. Just click the “i” button in the top right.)
Two elements I noticed immediately: MindLink ChatBuddy, and Social Connector. These act like users, showing up in your feeds. The ChatBuddy provides tips and tricks for using MindLink. Social Connector shows you what MindLink’s social media accounts are saying.
In Streams View, you have a left-hand column for navigation and starting up chats. It has 4 features:
- LiveStream – snapshot of all activity, including Social Connector
- Groups – a list of the chats to which you’re invited, with activity counts
- Contacts – Your MindLink/Lync contacts
- Presence – Presence status. You can set your Presence status with the exact same options as Lync 2013 by default.
In Classic View, the left-hand column is still there. But its features are in different places:
- LiveStream – Click one of the chat rooms in the left-hand dock to see any chat activity.
- Groups – Under “Chat Rooms” in the left-hand column.
- Contacts – Under “Users” in the left-hand column.
- Presence – In a dropdown menu at the very top left of the window. Not unlike Lync 2013’s Presence menu.
(If you do check “Disable IM” when logging in, the Contacts and Presence icons are not present.)
In the trial, MindLink provides some videos to help get you started using the software. I watched a couple. They’re good for giving you the basics. Recommended for new users.
MindLink Anywhere (and I suspect all other MindLink products) uses hashtags, just like Twitter, displayed under a chat room in Classic View. These function like page markers: click one and you’re shown where the hashtag was used in conversation.
The two Views mean you can view chats in 2 different ways.
In Classic View, chat rooms look like large open spaces for text. Going to date myself a bit here, but they are very similar to IRC chat rooms.
In Streams View, chat rooms look like Twitter columns. This version is closer to Lync’s own Persistent Chat than the Classic View, with some social-media paint added.
Honestly, I prefer the Classic View version. But it lacks one important value: You’re basically limited to chatting in one room at a time. Streams View lets you engage in multiple chat conversations at once (including IM), which will definitely appeal to younger/more social-friendly users.
To Chat: Writing a message is easy – just click the cloud icon and start typing. There are options along the top for designating the message as an Alert, adding emoticons, attaching a file or adding a link.
The Gears: When you see a gear in MindLink, it means you can either change settings or create something. The gear at top right in Streams View will bring up Notification Settings. The gear which appears when you click Groups in the LiveStream window however, will bring up the Add Group & Add Folder options.
MindLink’s Advantages & Disadvantages
Advantages: MindLink’s web-based interface makes using Persistent Chat very easy. It’s simple to set up and to follow conversations.
A second advantage is the multiplatform support. Lync Server is very difficult to access on Linux–or at least it was. Since MindLink Anywhere is web-based, you’d have no trouble accessing IM and Persistent Chat on a Linux system. That’s a major value-add for Lync Server right there. I’m very glad MindLink built this cross-platform!
Disadvantages: It is an additional step. Extra login. Which takes you away from Lync itself. I see this as a minor disadvantage because if users are familiar with MindLink and not Lync, they may be confused if they must switch between them in the future.
EDIT: Mindlink Software has told me that the extra login is only for the Free Trial. Single sign-on is an option for on-premise Enterprise users. Mindlink Mobile also comes with a “Remember Me” option too.
A slightly larger disadvantage is that MindLink’s products are separated by platform. MindLink Anywhere is not the same as MindLink Mobile, nor MindLink Tablet. Anywhere works via web browsers; Mobile works on phones; Tablets on tablets. I’m sure they’ll interoperate, of course! But this division means higher cost if users want to keep using MindLink.
EDIT: Mindlink Software has clarified that Mindlink Mobile and Mindlink Tablet are essentially the same app; they only differ in form factor, showing slightly different interfaces for phones & tablets. Mindlink Anywhere and Mindlink Mobile are also sold as a bundle, which cuts down the cost issue.
I must point however, that while Lync clients are available on mobile platforms, Persistent Chat is not. That’s the value Mindlink adds for mobile users.
As I said earlier, MindLink Anywhere is a well-developed and useful Lync add-on. One of the most responsive I’ve seen in fact. Given my already-stated favoritism for Persistent Chat, this is a welcome extension of its reach across platforms.
How would you use MindLink Anywhere to extend Persistent Chat? Support Chat on your site? Communication across offices/nations? Please comment or email your thoughts.
And join us again next week for more!