Browsing the archives for the video conferencing tag.

Hardware Review: PolyCom RealPresence Trio 8800 (Part 1)

Conferencing, Skype for Business, Third-Party Lync Products

We have a new device to review! It’s the RealPresence Trio 8800 from PolyCom.

I will do this in two parts. Today’s post will talk about the RealPresence Trio’s capabilities. Next post will cover our experience testing it in the office.

“RealPresence”? What’s That?

The RealPresence Trio is a conferencing system built for “amazing sound quality.” But it doesn’t just provide audio – you can add video, share content and link up devices like tablets.

The “Trio” part refers to its 3 products:

  1. A meeting console, or “smart hub.”
  2. A Logitech Webcam C390e. (Right now, this is the only camera with which RealPresence works.)
  3. And the Visual+ accessory unit. The Visual+ expands the RealPresence hub with content sharing & videoconferencing functionality.

RealPresence Trio from PolyCom

RealPresence works with Skype for Business and Lync Server 2013 at full capability. (RealPresence can work with a Lync 2010 server, but audio-only. Its video coding standard is too new for Lync 2010 to support.)

As you can see from the photo (credit to PolyCom), the smart hub looks a lot like the “Three-legged Spider” (my own name for conference room speakers). The hub’s panels are touch-sensitive – not only for the LCD screen, but on each speaker “leg”. For instance, touch the mute corner on any of them (visible in green above), and the speaker is muted.

The webcam can operate standalone, or connected to a TV/monitor. We’ll test it using the Panasonic LCD TV in our conference room.

The Visual+ facilitates content sharing – presentations, spreadsheets, video.

RealPresence Trio 880 FAQ (PDF)

What’s so Special?

Why should a business consider using the RealPresence though? They do have audio/video conferencing options.

Well, first off, the RealPresence Trio is very new. Which means latest-and-greatest tech.

1080p video at 30fps. Good clear video from the Logitech.

Built-in Power over Ethernet (PoE). Fewer cords is always helpful!

Exchange Calendar integration. The other day, a customer reported a little difficulty with their conference room. They had Skype for Business running in the conference room (but not on a RealPresence Trio device). Audio worked all right, and they could get video. But actually joining Skype Meetings proved problematic.

This is in fact one of the reasons we started looking at the RealPresence product. Its calendar integration for meeting joins should prove much simpler than the older device this customer used.

Audio. The big one. The RealPresence Trio shows some serious devotion to audio quality.

  • USB and Bluetooth connectivity for audio. You can use it as a conferencing device, or a speakerphone. Not just with Skype for Business either.
  • NoiseBlock – an audio technology “which identifies non-speech noise and mutes all microphones automatically.”
  • From the FAQ: “RealPresence Trio also uses its own echo cancellation capabilities, regardless of its operating mode. Trio is recognized as a USB echo cancelling speakerphone.”

I’ll try as many tests of this as I can. But I admit a slight bias here – we’ve used PolyCom phones and conferencing devices for some years now. In terms of echo and noise, they generally work well.

I’ll know more after the testing. But right now, I’d say the RealPresence Trio is a good chance if you:

  • Have workers out in the field, and need to hear from them regularly.
  • Operate out of multiple offices.
  • Have teams spread out geographically, who need to collaborate often.
  • Are moving to Skype for Business Server and want an audio conferencing solution that ‘just works’ with it.

Elements to Test

These are the elements I plan to test on the RealPresence.

  1. Video quality. As high as the Panasonic TV will go.
  2. Audio quality. I’m honestly not sure how to test this, but one of our designers works with audio-visual, so I’ll ask him for input.
  3. Content sharing stream. I’ve done a lot of desktop/app/presentation sharing through Skype for Business. Bandwidth and device quality influence how smooth & clear the stream is. We have plenty of bandwidth in the office…let’s see how the device measures up.
  4. Ease of setup. I’m asking the rest of our Skype for Business team for their input too.
  5. Ease of use for meetings. How long does it take to set up a meeting using RealPresence? Is the meeting join really one-step?
  6. Integration with Skype for Business and Exchange. How complicated is this part to set up? Do we need to do anything not documented?
  7. Will it BLEND? (No, not really.)

Anything you’d like us to test on the PolyCom RealPresence? If so, please comment or email the idea.

If you’re not already subscribed, don’t forget to sign up on the right! Otherwise you might miss the next post, detailing our test results. Nobody wants to miss that!

 

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Why Won’t Skype for Business Screen Sharing Work Over 4G?

Skype for Business, Voice over IP

Welcome to 2016 at the Skype4B Insider! I’ll start off the year with responding to reader questions. (Seems reasonable, since you as readers are the most important part of the blog!)

Over the holidays I received not one, but two readers asking a question about 4G. They went (roughly) like this:

#1 – “When I try to make a call over 4G, the audio works. But I can’t share my screen.”
#2 – “When I try to do a video session on my phone in a meeting, it (Skype for Business) won’t let me. I’m on 4G.”

My mind went right to the same thing in both cases – Network Bandwidth.Cell Tower

A Question of Bandwidth

According to Wikipedia, the 4G standard’s peak speed is 100Mbit/s for “high mobility communication” (e.g. from trains and cars), and 1Gbit/s for “low mobility communication” (people standing or walking).

Of course, mobile providers control 4G with a heavy hand. “The Fastest Speeds! Unlimited Data! …Oh wait, you thought we really meant ‘unlimited’? That’s cute.”

According to Skype for Business’ Network Bandwidth Requirements page, the required bandwidth for video sessions varies depending on codec used. But it can require up to 4Mbps, just for the video!

Most of us wouldn’t use that much; audio calls work fine on only 100-200Kbps. But when you’re adding a few people into an Online Meeting, and someone activates screen sharing, your bandwidth requirement could shoot up to a level where 4G cannot cope. Whether from signal strength, or from the provider throttling it.

Our experience with 3G/4G is similar. When using Wi-Fi or Ethernet, full capacity is easily managed (on a Standard Edition with default bandwidth configuration). When using 3G or 4G, sharing capabilities are limited or unavailable, and video is choppy or fails.

If you control the 3G/4G pipe, then of course you can configure both the pipe and Skype for Business to accommodate higher bandwidth. Here’s a bandwidth calculator for Skype for Business, if you need help.

Sometimes 4G Just Doesn’t Behave

All that said, this isn’t the first time a 4G network refused to cooperate with Lync/Skype for Business.  In fact I documented the issue back in January 2014:
Issues With Lync 2013 – Known and Unknown (But Documented)

“Sharing and video call invitations fail on some mobile 4G networks”
Version: Lync 2013 Windows Store App, June 2013 Update
Explanation: On some mobile 4G networks, you may not be able to send or receive video in meetings and video calls or to see shared content in meetings. When you’re in a call or meeting, a notification will be displayed that video or sharing is available, but clicking Accept will result in a failure because the mobile network connection is temporarily lost.
Workaround: No workaround is available at this time.

Additional Reference: Difference between Lync Mobility Using 3G/4G and Wifi – TechNet Support

I checked again for a workaround (it has been a while since MS documented the issue), but found nothing. Overall, Skype for Business’ bandwidth management is much better than Lync Server 2013. But it’s still a powerful system with heavy requirements.

When Using 4G, Some Skype4B Options May Not Cooperate. Sorry!

Since this is an issue with 4G providers, we don’t have a simple solution. One software patch won’t fix bandwidth allocation for multiple mobile providers worldwide. In addition, since 4G is almost always limited by providers, Skype4B’s video/sharing requirements may exceed those limits by default.

It’s frustrating, I know. But using Skype for Business in an office environment, where you have configurable Wi-Fi or Ethernet, often trumps ISPs’ 4G.

Do you regularly use Skype for Business on mobile? How is your bandwidth configured in light of this? Please comment or email. I’d love to hear the different ways people have configured their Skype for Business Servers.

If you’re just joining us, welcome! Please share how you got here and what you’d like to see. Don’t forget to subscribe (signup box is at top right).

Next week I’ll go through the December poll results, and 2016 plans for the blog. Nobody wants to miss that!

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Office 365 E5 Debuts – With New Skype for Business Online Services

Skype for Business

Yesterday, on December 1, Microsoft debuted the new Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan.office365e5

I you’ve seen any of the prior announcements, you saw that E5 replaces E4 (though E4 is still available until June).

Why am I talking about this here? Simple. The new E5 plan includes not only Skype for Business, but some of Microsoft’s new hosted services: Cloud PBX, PSTN Conferencing and Meeting Broadcast.

These have existed in beta for a while now. And hotly anticipated—I mentioned them back in May! E5 is their big debut. Starting today, we’re all about to put them through their paces.

First, let’s review the new Skype for Business services in E5. Get a solid idea on what to expect.

The Skype for Business Services Added in E5

  • e5servicesCloud PBX: Cloud-based call management. Acts as a replacement for on-premise PBX systems. No need to manage a dedicated Enterprise Voice server.
  • PSTN Conferencing: Meeting attendees can dial in from almost any device. It even lets organizers dial out and pull attendees in – very handy if someone’s having connection issues. Or forgot the meeting was at 11!
  • Meeting Broadcast: Create virtual meetings you can broadcast online for up to 10,000 attendees. (Really not sure why you’d want 10,000 people in 1 meeting, but hey…)
  • PSTN Calling: Lets you provision standard phone numbers for making & receiving traditional phone calls. No calling plan with AT&T or Verizon required.

Let’s clarify something here. The PSTN Calling service is listed as an “add-on” on the E5 features page. It’s NOT built into the Cloud PBX by default. You’ll have to pay an extra $12/month per user ($24/month if you want international calling). That said, if you want to use E5, I’d say PSTN Calling is a must-have.

e5pstncalling1 e5pstncalling2
Now, as with all new services, there’s some operational information we need before making a decision. How much E5 costs, can we try them out, etc.

What You Need to Know About E5

E5 licensing is more expensive than E3 and E4 (like you’d expect). It goes for $35/month per user, or $420 a year. Really not bad, with all the features you get.

Rollout is not complete internationally! The PSTN Calling service is only available in the U.S. right now. According to a Windows IT Pro post from Tony Redmond, PSTN Conferencing depends on local telecom deals, so it’s not available in some countries (like Ireland) just yet.

A free trial is available. Remember, you have a 30-day free trial option on this (and any other) plan. You can sign up for it right on the
Office 365 E5 Signup page.

The timing works nicely – it’s the last month of the year, and Microsoft is finishing up the E5 services. Try it out for December, make a decision to start off with E5 in January 2016.

The Side Effect: Third-Party Skype4B Support Becomes Harder

One caution I did want to point out. If these new Skype for Business Online services work out, it means more movement to the cloud, and away from on-prem.

For some businesses it means an easier adoption of Skype for Business. That’s great–an excellent benefit for those businesses. Plus it’ll save on telecom bills.

For others, it means a loss of control over operations – control they may have to keep in-house due to legal compliance. That’s a troublesome snag and may hurt adoption.

But the more serious issue is: Where does my support come from?

Expanding the Skype for Business Online service transfers the impetus of support back to Microsoft. Away from third-party service providers. Of course, many service providers do support Office 365 installations, and do a good job of it. But the more Microsoft moves systems back under their own roof, the harder it will be to provide high-quality support for them.

This does shape your support experience. Which is why I bring it up now. Make sure to consider where your support will come from, before you sign up for Office 365 E5.

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Now, a positive note on which to end! These new capabilities fulfill the promise Microsoft made months ago – making Office 365 into a complete phone system. On top of all the Office apps we use every day.

Let’s see how well they work!

Have you tried any of the new Skype for Business Online features while in beta? What was your experience? Please comment or email.

Also, if you’re planning to use E5, let me know how well it works for you. I’ll do a follow-up post later this month if I hear back from enough people.

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Call for Renaming: Let’s Refer to Consumer-Grade Skype as SkypeC

Skype for Business

If you’ve read almost anything about Skype for Business, you’ve run into a moment of confusion.

You read a certain paragraph, and suddenly think, “Wait, was he referring to Skype for Business, or regular Skype?”

Despite the “for Business,” many blog posts, news articles & so on are referring to the new Skype for Business as just “Skype”. This breeds an immediate and (in my mind) serious confusion.

That’s why I’m using today’s post to call for a new naming convention for consumer-grade Skype.

SkypeC for Consumer

From now on, let’s differentiate between the two products like this.

1. Skype (Consumer Version) is henceforth referred to as “SkypeC“.

Simple and clear. SkypeC = “Skype Consumer”. That’s too many syllables for a quick reference though, so abbreviating it down to “SkypeC” keeps it fast.

Amazingly, this does already exist as a Twitter hashtag – #SkypeC. However, it hasn’t been in regular use for a couple years now. It’s time to resume use. I’ll do so when posting to Twitter from now on. You are welcome to do the same, of course!

2. Skype for Business, if abbreviated, is referred to as “Skype4B“.

This is already used as a Twitter hashtag: Hashtag #Skype4B
I’ve used the abbreviation myself for weeks now. You can even refer to this blog as “The Skype4B Insider”.

Why would we need this though? Why not just stick with “Skype”? As I’ll clarify below, confusion is brewing…there’s a need for clarity.

The Need for Better Naming Convention

Skype. Skype for Business. Similar names, similar features, similar interfaces.

While one is intended for consumer & one for business, that line has blurred for years. How many of us used consumer-grade Skype in the office at one point or another? Thousands have over the past 5 years. I sure did.

Now Skype for Business presents a clearly business-focused product. Will everyone switch? No. So we’ll still have both consumer Skype (SkypeC) and Skype for Business in use around offices. Simultaneously.

This presents not only an adoption roadblock, but a more disruptive concern.

The Concern: Version Confusion

Let’s say you’re in the office one day, and a colleague requests a Skype call. You have Skype for Business, but they don’t. Maybe that department is slow on upgrades, or this person is just comfortable with SkypeC.

Now, these two should communicate just fine, if set up properly. IMs, calls, and even video should work.

But they don’t use the same codecs. They have different security requirements. They have different feature sets. If a Skype for Business user tries to add a whiteboard or invite more people into an Online Meeting, well, you’re in trouble.

The GetApp Lab Blog has a good write-up on differences between Skype and Skype for Business: Skype vs Skype for Business: What’s the Difference? – GetApp Lab

Examples of SkypeC/Skype4B Confusion

While the SkypeC/Skype for Business confusion has gone on for most of 2015, what really spurred me on this idea was the recent announcement of Office 2016.

One of Office 2016’s new features is having Skype for Business bundled in. All the flagship apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – will access Skype for Business natively. Reading articles about this though, you’d almost swear they don’t mean Skype for Business. They mean consumer-grade Skype.

Why? Because they don’t clarify the version.

Here’s two examples of said confusion:
Five reasons Microsoft Office 2016 is better than Google Docs, and three reasons it isn’t – CNET
“Microsoft also added integrations with its search engine Bing and messaging and video-calling app Skype.”
At a glance you’d think this means consumer-grade Skype, not Skype for Business. But it doesn’t.

Microsoft Office 2016 Adds Built-In Skype, Collaboration Tools – BloombergBusiness
“Microsoft Corp.’s new Office software will incorporate Internet-connected features such as Skype and the Cortana digital assistant in both its cloud and packaged versions…”
Again, just labeling it as ‘Skype’ and not clarifying.

I’m not criticizing the authors of these pieces. They’re doing what they need to, with the tools they have. I’m only referencing the articles as evidence of the need for clarity.

What Do You Think? Start Calling Consumer Skype “SkypeC”?

I didn’t create the #Skype4B Twitter hashtag. It came into being by consensus as an easy-to-understand abbreviation. That’s why I like using it.

I think “SkypeC” works as another easy-to-understand abbreviation. With 1 letter we instantly know which version we’re talking about. Both in the written word and when speaking.

Maybe in the future, SkypeC and Skype4B will merge to a greater degree. Maybe we won’t need to differentiate between versions then. For now though, I think differentiating adds needed clarity.

Do you think SkypeC is useful? Is it necessary or unnecessary? Please comment or email your thoughts.  I really want to hear some feedback on this one!

 

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Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts

Skype for Business

Skype for Business isn’t the only voice/video option out there. But how does it stack up compared to others?

A reader emailed me the other day, asking about Google Hangouts. They were curious if there was a business case to make for using Hangouts over Skype for Business.

Good question! I made note of it for later. Today qualifies as ‘later’, so let’s do a little head-to-head.

Note: This post is longer than most; I didn’t want to go into exhaustive detail, but I did want a thorough comparison. It’s worth the read, trust me!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Google Hangouts Opening Screen

Skype for Business 2015 Google Hangouts
Instant Messaging Instant Messaging
Voice Calls Voice Calls
Video Calls Video Calls
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Presence Status Presence Indicator
Persistent Chat Group Conversations
Runs On-Site (Server)
or SaaS option (Office 365)
Runs as Web service
and Mobile Apps

 

From this match-up, the two look almost identical in terms of feature set. Even their branding is similar:

  • Google Hangouts bills itself as “Messaging, Voice and Video Calls.”
  • Skype for Business bills itself as “Secure Unified Communications.”

I do want to point out one notable difference right away. Google Hangouts reflects more of a consumer-friendly branding approach, while Skype for Business focuses just on business use. This becomes more important as we go along.

The Similarities: Features, Goals, Quality

Features. Obviously, these two systems keep up-to-date on their features. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Hangouts does sync its chat logs between devices. Lync Server 2013 didn’t have this feature–but Skype for Business does now.

Goals. Hangouts and Skype for Business essentially accomplish the same goal: enabling conversations between everyone, anywhere they are.

Voice Quality. I made a couple calls from the Hangouts Web Service (on a Lenovo Ultrabook) to colleagues. Then I made the same calls to the same people on Skype for Business. My stock audio-receptor devices (commonly called “ears”) detected no difference in voice quality. Both times people sounded as clear as your typical phone call.

Video Quality. Likewise, I tested Video Calls through Hangouts and Skype4B. I can see why people like Hangouts for video calls – you can’t get much simpler than clicking “Video Call” and having the call start up.

Start a Hangouts Video Call

Video quality appears just as good as my usual Skype4B video calls. Curiously, one person’s voice actually sounded better while video was enabled! Perhaps that meant more bandwidth allocated automatically.

The Differences: Price, Privacy, Presence

Price. Hangouts is free, but it has limits. Video calls are limited to 10 people. (I don’t know why you’d want to have more than 10 people talking at once, but hey, if you need to!)

Skype for Business is, of course, not free. You’re paying for the software and the hosting, either on-site or Office 365. In return you get every feature you want, with limits you set. Classic Free vs. Paid tradeoff.

User Interface. Google Hangouts is very visual, lots of emoji, avatars, chat bubbles…it’s “fun”. Again, consumer branding. Skype for Business is less “fun”, but it’s clean and works in a business context.

No big deal here. Your preference will dictate which interface type you like more.

Privacy. With Hangouts, all conversation logs are stored on Google’s servers. This, quite frankly, is a huge concern to me. It means Google has access to every conversation, ever.  And it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption.

We’re VERY privacy-conscious here at PlanetMagpie. We’re even leery of customers using Skype for Business 2015 Online, Microsoft’s Office 365 service. For the same reason.

Of course, with Skype for Business Server 2015, your conversation history is stored on the on-site server. Much better for privacy.

Presence. Skype for Business beats Google Hangouts here, in my opinion. Hangouts’ presence indicators are good for seeing who’s available/not available at a glance. Particularly on Android devices.

Hangouts uses a green circle to identify Available contacts (example on right). Very much like Skype for Business does. Custom status messages are available too.

However, you don’t have options for other status types, such as Away or Busy. This is where Skype for Business’ Presence functionality pulls ahead. It has more options: Available, Busy, Do Not Disturb, Away, In a Call, etc. We’ve also covered creating custom Presence status options in the past.

 

Apps. The Hangouts Extension only works in Chrome. I think that’s a “feature not a bug” from Google, but I prefer using Firefox. I can still use the Web-based Hangouts platform, of course. Minor difference.

In terms of app quality, I’d have to give an edge to Google Hangouts. Their iPhone app is clean and fast. I didn’t try out the Android app, but according to Twitter it’s just as good, if not better.

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Final Words: Very Close, Use What Works Best For You

Hangouts is a great quick-and-easy choice for video calls and group chats. I’d say it’s a viable choice for small outfits like startups, local nonprofits or communities. Free, lets you communicate the way you want, and doesn’t get in your way.

In larger business environments however, I’d stick with Skype for Business. It’s better suited for the privacy requirements and enterprise voice/video capability needs.

I know some businesses do use Google Hangouts and like it. That’s great–it does work with Google Apps for Business, so you’ve got plenty of tools at your fingertips. It all comes down to which interface you like & where your privacy settings are.

If you have a Google account, you can access Google Hangouts at: https://hangouts.google.com/

Which do you prefer using – Google Hangouts or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other? Please comment or email me what you think.

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How to Brand Your Lync Server

Lync Server 2013

We’re starting in on some end-of-year upgrades for our datacenter. While we’re doing the work, we took another look at our Lync Server. Right now we run Lync Server 2013 Standard, with a SIP line and Persistent Chat.

Given our explorations earlier in the year into using Lync Server as a LogMeIn replacement, we’re implementing a few changes to make that easier. Which is where today’s Lync Insider topic comes from.

What I Mean By “Brand” – Identify Your Lync Services to Employees and Customers

Lync Server, like most server applications, is designed to look the same across every installation by default. But it includes methods by which you may brand it.

Chances are most of you know what “branding” is. In this case, I’m referring to tagging all elements of your Lync Server users see with your company name, logo, etc.

Why would you want to brand a Lync Server? Well, we’re doing it for two reasons:

  • Internally, this is a helpful measure to avoid confusion. People see their employer’s name on the Lync tools, they know this is what they should use.
  • Externally, branding fulfills a marketing function. Customers, prospects and partners whom you invite to use your Lync tools – they see Lync, yes. But they also see who’s providing Lync services to them.
Image courtesy of Simon Bleasdale on Flickr.

Image courtesy of Simon Bleasdale on Flickr.

Below you’ll find 5 branding changes to make. One you should already have. One you’ll find right here on the blog. The others are links to blog posts which give a good how-to. I’ve included short versions to familiarize you, but I do encourage you to visit the other blogs for more detail.

NOTE: The following applies to Lync Server 2013 installations.

Basic naming: Domain-based URLs

Creating Lync URLs using your domain is done during the Lync Server setup. Particularly when setting up your Edge Server for external user access. Meet.domain.com, dialin.domain.com, etc. This is a fundamental branding element – nobody else has your URL.

Set up/modify the Lync Meeting invitations

Customizing the Online Meeting Add-in in Lync Server 2013 – TechNet
Short Version: Including a logo, custom footer text, and links to your Help or Support pages in every Lync Meeting invitation. Accessible via Lync Server Control Panel, under Conferencing/Meeting Configuration.

Change the logo image on the Lync Web App page

Customizing the Lync Server 2013 Meeting Page – Ehlo World!
Short Version: Change the image on the Lync Web App page from “Lync Web App” to your company name (or whatever phrase you want to put in an image). Replace the “Lync Web App” image in the Lync Server’s Images subfolder. Then restart the Web Conferencing service using this PowerShell cmdlet:
Restart-Service RTCDATAMCU

Customize Lync Presence options

Want to add custom Presence status options to your users’ Lync 2013 clients? We’ve covered two ways to do this in the past. Here are the blog posts you’ll want to reference.
Lync Add-Ons: Lync Custom Status Tool
How to Create Custom Lync Presence States

Customize the Lync Dial-In Page

How to Customize Lync Dialin Page – ExchangePro.DK
Short Version: Editing the Dial-In Conferencing page’s HTML. Add in your logo, or adjust the page formatting. Not the biggest location for branding, but you can alleviate some external users’ confusion at the same time.

Small Changes, Big Visibility Improvement

None of these changes should take you long to make. They work within Lync’s standard setup, either via Control Panel, Management Shell or direct folder access. But the result is far-reaching – once you’ve made these branding edits, everyone will see your logo & information.

Every time you invite someone to a meeting.
Every time your users change their Presence.
Every time you run a conference or webinar.

Every time, they see your name.

How’s that for branding?

Have you branded your Lync Server? Did you use a different method from these? If so, please comment or email me. Always like to hear what work our readers have done.

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Third-Party Software for Lync Server: What are the Qualified Lync Applications?

Third-Party Lync Products

The other day we went through a list of hardware approved for Lync use. (Lync Add-On Hardware for Client Enhancement and Server Capability: 10 Examples)

But third parties don’t just make hardware for Lync. There’s a whole host of third-party software too!

Thanks to Shaun, a reader, for sending me his Lync experience and this URL:
Qualified Lync Applications – Office TechCenter

On this page is a list of third-party software applications Microsoft has approved for use with Lync Server. They are designated as “Qualified Lync Applications”.

What do these applications provide?

  • New Attendant Consoles
  • Billing and/or better reporting tools
  • Extensions for Lync 2013 clients (including mobile)
  • A Contact Center
  • Persistent Chat enhancements (these particularly interest me)
  • Recording tools
  • Software-defined networking

And a few more. Let’s go through the list and see what we find.

Samroxx Attendant

A new attendant console for Lync. Very easy to install – I had a free trial downloaded and running in less than 5 minutes. Setup takes a little bit longer, as it appears (at least in the trial version) that you must enter contacts yourself, instead of relying on Active Directory. Samroxx did grab my account information from Active Directory though.

samroxx

As you see from this screenshot, the Samroxx interface is very clean, and options are clearly listed. If you opt to use a third-party attendant console with Lync Server 2013, this is a pretty good choice.

Zylinc Attendant Console

Another attendant console. This one seems beefier though – it has more features, like calendar updating and statistics.

Zylinc-Attendant-Console_EN

Image courtesy of Zylinc.com.

Plus it works for both Lync Server 2010 and 2013. This in itself could provide a useful transition from 2010 to 2013–the interface for reception wouldn’t change.

No demo option I saw. But they do offer a product sheet: Zylinc Attendant Console Product Sheet (PDF)

Verba Recording

Call Recording add-on for Lync Server. While Archiving Server does some of this, it does have its limits Extending recording capabilities is a huge benefit – not only does it protect against lost productivity from confusion, but it helps with legal & regulatory compliance.

Two things I particularly like about Verba:

  1. It records all calls, IM conversations, and videos – media Archiving Server doesn’t record.
  2. It’s a server-side solution. Nobody has to install software on their PCs, which means everyone is recorded by default.

I’ll book a Verba demo and report back on my findings soon.

MindLink Mobile Chat

Persistent Chat is one of my favorite Lync tools. However it suffers from one notable limitation – mobile access. Or lack thereof.

MindLink extends Persistent Chat onto mobile devices (phones and tablets). It also works on Mac and Linux computers, extending Lync’s chat capabilities across pretty much all platforms. MindLink even integrates with email and SharePoint.

I’m signing up for a MindLink demo too. Watch for a future post on this too.

Many More Third-Party Applications – Have You Tried One?

These are only a few of the 95 total “Qualified Lync Applications”. I’ll revisit the page later, go through more software, test the ones I can, and report back. Feel free to do the same (and let me know what you find)!

The idea that Lync Server 2013 would need “extending” might make some think the software is incomplete, or immature. Not so. One software application isn’t perfect for all situations. That’s why so many release APIs and work with third-party developers to create extensions. Firefox has its Add-Ons. WordPress has its Plugins and Themes.

Lync Server has Qualified Applications. Use them to make Lync run like you need it to.

Does your business use a Qualified Lync Application? Please comment or email me with the details. I’d like to hear about the application, what you use it for, and how well it works.

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RHUB Conferencing Software: More a Threat to WebEx Than Lync Server

Conferencing

Last month, a reader commented on my post Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration. Matthew mentioned RHUB as a secure conferencing software provider, billed as ‘unprecedented’ security.

This week I had time to test out RHUB’s TurboMeeting conferencing software. Glad I did too.

Useful? Very!
Secure? Yes, though I have questions here.
How does it stack up to Lync Server? Well, let’s go through my findings and determine that.

The TurboMeeting Demo

I signed up for a demo on RHUBCom.com – there are “Try It Free” and “Demo” buttons right on their homepage. I downloaded the TurboMeeting demo file, but it wouldn’t load for some reason (maybe my Windows 8.1). A zipped version of the download worked OK.

Here’s what the TurboMeeting client looks like on loading:

rhubturbomtg1

I entered my email and password. The meeting server address is “demo.rhubcom.com” for their Demo. Had to locate this in the Quick User Guide.

Now we have the main client window:

rhubturbomtg2

Huh, no meetings listed in the demo…let’s make one!

“Interactive Meeting” is the default, so let’s try that first. (I’m also curious about the “Remote Access to This Computer” option.)

I invited myself to join on another computer (henceforth the “attendee”) via email. Two things to note right away:

  • The email text looks very similar to Lync and WebEx. This is good; it encourages familiarity and gives simple instructions on how to join a meeting.
  • This is an impromptu meeting; a way to schedule the meeting for later is not immediately apparent.

On my other computer (“attendee”) I accepted the meeting request. The RHUB demo prompted me to download & run the TurboMeeting client. Like Lync Meeting and WebEx, it went through the automatic process of loading the meeting client in a snap.

But here’s the interesting thing. When the client finished loading on my attendee computer…my host PC shared its desktop!

rhubturbomtg3

Look at the top left of this screenshot. See how it says “Share My: [Screen]”?

I didn’t choose that option. TurboMeeting defaulted to Desktop Sharing on its own.

There’s an advantage and a disadvantage to this default.
Advantage: Fewer steps for sharing in a meeting. (Note: You can choose between open applications to share as well, with a click.)
Disadvantage: Maybe you didn’t want to start a meeting with a shared desktop. It happens. If so, there is an option under Tools > Preferences: “Show my desktop when a meeting starts”. Uncheck this to avoid defaulting to Desktop Sharing.

The meeting caused a little bit of lag between the host and the attendee computers. Just enough to notice; maybe a quarter of a second. Not a big deal.

Finally, I tested the voice quality. Since it’s just me on the calls, I got some echo (both computers are in the same room). I expected that. Voice quality is good; comparable to Lync’s.

Remote Control: 2 Ways to Achieve Remote Access

While in this two-computer/single-person meeting, I decided try out the “Give Control” button.

Clicking it gives a small drop-down with two options: “Reclaim Controller” and names of attendees. Click another attendee to grant them control of your keyboard & mouse.

Caveat: The computer which controls another must be set as Presenter. Use the “Change Presenter” button to do this. Then, Give Control to another attendee. (I typed this paragraph remotely from the attendee, while my host PC was Presenter and had Given Control to the other.)

This works similarly to using Lync for remote access, as I blogged about before.

The meeting suddenly ended after I returned control to the host. There’s a 15-minute timeout on the demo. I decided to reconnect and try out the “Remote Access to This Computer” option.

It starts up the same way – create a meeting, enter a password for access. Instead of a meeting Subject, you enter a name for your computer. And Invite by Email is not available this time. TurboMeeting does allow you to copy the meeting information though, which you can then email to attendees.

In the case of remote access, the password is encrypted & not shown to the attendees. You must give it to them another way – either in the email you send, or via IM/phone/yelling it across the hall (I don’t recommend the last option).

Once the meeting connects, you’re immediately granted access to the host’s computer. Again, I’m typing this paragraph from the attendee via TurboMeeting Remote Access.

The lag I mentioned before grew worse this time. About half a second on the attendee. I’m sure corrections can be made to improve the response time.

An attendee TurboMeeting window has different options than the host. Here you see the buttons for File Transfer, Start Webcam and Record along the top:

rhubturbomtg4

Better test these too. I initiated a file transfer between my other computer and the host. (What file to send…how about a screenshot of the process?)

rhubturbomtg5

I also did a test Record of both typing remotely, and a brief activation of the webcam. (Not brave enough to post it though!)

TurboMeeting automatically prompted me for a save location when I stopped recording. It saves as a .exe file though – a file format many spam filters will not allow through. Easy to share other ways, but sharing a recording via email could prove difficult.

The Security Question

RHUB places high value on making their conferencing software secure. It’s called out frequently on their site, and in product descriptions. I also found mention of it in a press release on MarketWatch.com: Why RHUB Web Conferencing and Remote Servers are so Secure.

There is one point which I must question here. RHUB points to access security as a weak point. “Practically anyone” can get in with a meeting ID and password. RHUB’s response is to create a virtual VPN limited to specified IP addresses. While that is indeed good security, it can seriously cramp remote conferencing capability.

Since the default option (at least in their demo) is to immediately start a meeting instead of scheduling, you could wind up inviting people who are connecting from unauthorized IPs. Their office network isn’t authorized, or they’re in a coffee shop, or logging in remotely. Instant security snag.

I could be missing some information; if so, I happily invite RHUB to comment here with their input. The security approach here is a strong one. I’m just concerned that when it comes to something dependent on multiple inputs like web conferencing, it can trip organizations up.

Final Thoughts

I’d draw a parallel between RHUB’s TurboMeeting and Lync Server 2010. A sturdy solution for its intended purpose (online conferencing), which could use a little more added. Is it perfect? No. But neither was Lync Server 2010. When we got Lync Server 2013, several issues were polished out & handy features added. I believe the same thing will happen with RHUB, giving us a superb Conferencing-only option.

Since it focuses on conferencing only, the vendor who should worry the most is Cisco WebEx. TurboMeeting is very similar to WebEx, but loads a little faster and has a cleaner client-side interface. Their focus on security is bound to win favor from WebEx users too.

Competition is always good in business. I like that we have TurboMeeting as a conferencing-only alternative. It’s not Lync, but it isn’t trying to be. It wants only to be a strong, secure conferencing solution. And in that, it does the job well.

(For everything else, there’s Lync Server! Sorry Mastercard.)

Have you used RHUB’S TurboMeeting? What was your experience with it? Please comment or email. If you’ve tried another conferencing solution, I’d love to hear about that too.

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Lync Add-On Hardware for Client Enhancement and Server Capability: 10 Examples

Third-Party Lync Products

Readers, I apologize for no “Stress Test” post yet. Stress testing is best done after a Lync Server infrastructure is set up…but before users being working with it. Since we already use ours, I’ll have to set up a test instance in order to run stress tests. I’ve asked for server room access to do this, but it could take a little while. I promise; you’ll have the post as soon as I can complete the testing!

Now, on to today’s post. A reader emailed in, asking about the MyIntercom device I wrote about last year. He wanted to know if MyIntercom would integrate into Lync 2013.

Interesting question. I researched it and eventually concluded that, no, it will not directly integrate right now. They are similar in the sense that MyIntercom and Lync both facilitate audio/video communication…but the MyIntercom software would need add-ons to transmit its data to a Lync client.

Which got me thinking. What other kinds of third-party devices are out there, which DO work with Lync 2013?

We already know about plenty of desktop phones from Snom, Polycom, Logitech, etc. We know about the Jabra headsets and conferencing room speakers from previous posts. And we know about the Lync Room System.

But what else?

Logitech Speakerphone

Photo courtesy of Logitech.com.

I went searching. And found a whole bunch of devices ready for Lync use!

So many in fact that I couldn’t list them all if I wanted to. I’ll instead select a group of Lync add-on hardware, at the client-level and the server-level, for you the reader to browse. Some we have worked with at PlanetMagpie; some we haven’t (yet!).

Maybe one of these devices is just what you need right now. Maybe the list will inform your future Lync Server upgrade. Either way, I hope the list helps!

Client-Level Devices: Cameras, Computers, Headsets with Extras

  1. Polycom VVX Camera: A USB video camera you can add directly to your desktop phone for conferencing. Listed as an add-on to PolyCom VVX phones, but since it’s USB it may work with other Lync-capable phones. (Any reader used these? If so, please comment!)
  2. Polycom VVX Expansion Module: Expands PolyCom phones into an advanced call handling system. Helpful to receptionists who need to manage a bunch of incoming calls. (Ours would love it–I’ll send her the link!)
  3. Logitech Conference Cam Series: One of the reigning champions of high-quality conferencing tools, Logitech has several conferencing cameras geared toward Lync Meetings. –I’d love to talk with a Lync expert at Logitech. Anyone know a Logitech manager I could talk to?
  4. Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e: (Pictured above.)  This device is particularly interesting to me for two reasons. One, it allows for an on-the-fly Lync Meeting using your phone or tablet. Two, it’s certified both for Lync and Skype use. Which increases its lifespan, keeping it viable while Microsoft continues to move forward on Lync/Skype integration.
  5. Lenovo ThinkCentre All-in-One PC: I want one of these. A Lenovo all-in-one, integrated HD speakers, built-in arm…and since it’s listed in the Lync Catalog, it’s obviously ready for Lync 2013 use!
  6. Jabra Motion UC MS: The Bluetooth headset for Lync 2013 users. Why shouldn’t we have a headset just as sexy as regular cellphone callers? The Jabra Motion comes with a touchscreen on its stand too, and it’s certified for use with Cisco and Avaya as well as Microsoft Lync.

Server-Level Hardware: Gateways, SBAs, Expansions

  1. Sonus SBC Gateways & Survivable Branch Appliances: We’ve used the Sonus SBC 1000 and SBC 2000 as Survivable Branch Appliances for clients’ branch offices. They have larger gateways too, the 5100 and 5200, if you need more than 600 concurrent sessions running.
  2. Juniper Wireless LAN APs: We are a Juniper partner and use their wireless APs in our office as well as client networks. They are certified for Lync Server use, and wireless call transmissions hold up very well.
  3. Sangoma NetBorder Media Gateway: I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating. Sangoma gateways are powerful Lync appliances. Use them as a Survivable Branch Appliance, a VoIP gateway to the PSTN, or both!
  4. PolyCom Packaged HD VideoConferencing Solutions: If the Lync Room System is a little big for you, but you like the idea? Try one of these freestanding video conferencing stations. (Let’s hope they don’t automate the rollers though…I’d feel weird if these stations drove themselves right up to your desk!)

You can see more Lync-approved products like these here:

Does your office use Lync Add-On Hardware from this list (or a device NOT on this list)? If so, please comment or email. Either way, I’d love to hear your experience with it.

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Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration

Lync 2013 Client

Last week, we had the Lync Conference in Las Vegas. (I was not able to go. Sad.)

One big thing to come out of that conference was news about more cooperation between Lync and Skype.

If you’ve read this blog a while, then you know I like to follow the Lync-Skype integration.
Lync-to-Skype Connectivity is Here. But Don’t Forget the Provisioning! (June 12, 2013)

So this was definitely welcome news. Especially when I read through the changes announced.

What’s Coming: Lync 2013 gets HD Audio, Skype gets video calls peer-to-peer

Essentially, the changes involve an exchange of capabilities. Lync will gain access to Skype’s SILK codec for HD audio. And the Lync Server architecture will allow peer-to-peer media connections – granting Skype more direct access to establish video calls with Lync users.

Simon Bisson has an excellent rundown on this at ZDNet: Lync and Skype together – here’s how it will work

Both Skype and Lync are gaining new protocols too – STUN, TURN and ICE. The big value on this is that both systems will be more friendly to newer mobile devices.

Which side is harder to update – Skype or Lync?

Since Microsoft has control of both Skype and Lync Server, this whole “capabilities exchange” might seem silly. Why don’t they just rewrite one to fit into the other? Or both?

I don’t think that would be smart. In fact, I think Microsoft is taking the smarter road by playing it safe.

Skype is a unique communications system. Built to be consumer-grade, and possessed of a huge worldwide following. Lync is made within the Microsoft architectural standard; popular, but designed as an interconnected system working with other Microsoft platforms.

Merging the two – or even modifying both to seamlessly work together – will take a LOT of programming changes. Introducing those changes one step at a time, allowing users to adapt and measuring the real-world usage, makes the most sense.

Which is exactly what they’re doing.

I suspect it’s actually harder to update Skype, since it has its own protocol structure and prides itself on peer-to-peer communication. Which might be why Microsoft opted to allow peer-to-peer for video calls to Lync users.

Plus, it takes advantage of PIC (Public IM Connectivity), which already exists in Lync Server. Saves time, less hassle.

Where are Skype and Lync going next?

I made four predictions last year, in a January post – Messenger Users Moved to Skype By March. Lync Users are NOT Next.

These new protocol exchanges between Lync and Skype figure into Prediction #4 – “Lync and Skype stay separate, but interoperate.”

Allowing Skype to run video calls peer-to-peer – something it’s already famous for doing – indicates that Microsoft wants to keep the functionality (mostly) as-is. Building Lync connectivity and security around it means the user’s experience is pretty much the same…just better on the backend.

Plus, with the interoperability and friendliness on mobile, we could see #3 coming about in the next couple years too. (That would be “A new Lync-Skype hybrid app replaces both platforms,” by the way.)

Call to Readers!  Do you use Skype and Lync for work?

Okay, let me ask you for a little help. I’d like to talk with a reader who uses both Skype and Lync. (Must be at least one of you out there!)

If this is you, and you want to help out, I’d appreciate asking you a couple questions about your experiences between the two systems. You get a link and a spotlight here on the blog, when I write it up!

Please contact me at chris.williams@planetmagpie.com, or leave a comment on this post.

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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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