Browsing the archives for the video conferencing tag.

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.


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:

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.


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.,, 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.


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.


Image courtesy of

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


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 – 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:


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

Now we have the main client window:


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!


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:


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?)


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 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.


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

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, or leave a comment on this post.


Answer the Door From Your Phone: The MyIntercom Live-Streaming Doorbell

Reference, Third-Party Lync Products

This week’s post is only tangentially related to Lync. It’s not actually about a Lync product. But it is a product which deals with video, and it certainly helps with communication!

PlanetMagpie recently became an Axis Camera partner, to provide video surveillance equipment for one of our major clients. Soon after, we learned of a device that uses an Axis camera in a place you might not expect…but it’s very useful (and pretty darn cool).

I’m talking about – the doorbell.MyIntercom Streaming Doorbell

The device is the MyIntercom.

What’s MyIntercom? Video-Streaming Doorbell + Intercom System, Accessible Anywhere

Here’s how it works: You install a MyIntercom at your front door. It connects to your network via standard Ethernet cable. When someone rings the doorbell, you receive a notification on your phone.

You tap the notification, and a live video stream starts up. You see who’s at the door right on your phone!

You can even push a button and talk to the person like a regular intercom.

Not at home? You’ll still see who it is; the stream comes in over 3G. You can essentially answer your door wherever you are.

(Or check the video & avoid talking to yet another insurance salesman!)

MyIntercom requires nothing except power, a network address and a connection to the Internet. Streaming apps are available for iPhone, Android, Windows and Mac OS (Windows Phone coming soon).

Answer the Office Door from Your DeskStream who's at the door to your phone!

I know, this isn’t a Lync product. But it’s too awesome not to mention. And besides, you can still use it alongside Lync.

Think about it this way. Lync makes communicating easy from wherever you are. But this is computer to computer, or phone to phone. The front door is neither; we still have to get up & answer it, at the office or at home.

With a product like this, you can automate answering the door! See who’s visiting the office right away. Determine if it’s someone you’re expecting. And notify them that you’re on your way.

All without leaving your desk.

** Full disclosure: We became a MyIntercom partner after using their device. We liked the product that much! **

I tested it myself last week. The video was crisp on my phone, with barely a hint of stream delay.

The MyIntercom device strikes me as a great addition to your Lync-enabled network. In Lync Server, all computers and phones are endpoints – places where you can communicate with someone else, via their preferred endpoint.

This device basically turns the doorbell into another endpoint, through which employees can communicate with visitors.

Visit the MyIntercom FAQ here. Got a question about it, feel free to ask me!

Next week: Training for the new Lync Server 2013 certification exams? I may have some helpful surprises in store. See you then.

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Is the Unified Communications Market Crowded?

Unified Communications

The other day I came across this article:
Microsoft pushes into crowded Unified Communications market – ComputerWorld

It says that Lync Server 2013 is pushing into an already-crowded Unified Communications market. And that it doesn’t really stand out from its competitors…or show any real innovation.

Are these valid concerns? Is the UC market really crowded?

All due respect to the article’s author (it’s still a good read)…but I don’t think it is. And I think Lync Server is well-suited for the future of communications. Let’s explore the market a little, and see what we find.

The Current Providers

As mentioned in the article, the major Unified Communications providers right now are:

  • Cisco
  • IBM
  • Avaya
  • Siemens
  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Mitel
  • ShoreTel
  • Microsoft Lync

8 major IT players. Definitely some healthy competition going on here.

That by itself doesn’t mean the market is crowded. Crowded implies the market is glutted, or the current providers are offering solutions the market doesn’t want.

Not even close. In fact, businesses are moving to more UC technology, not less.

The Current State of UC: 51% and Growing

According to a 2012 IDG Enterprise report, Unified Communications adoption is at 51%. Half the organizations out there.

Plenty more room for UC expansion. And in fact, 90% of organizations DO plan to invest more into Unified Communications & Collaboration solutions over the next 3 years, starting in 2013.

The most popular UC solution in use? Web conferencing (76% of organizations). Followed by IM (72%). VoIP is at 52%. (“The State of Unified Communications Adoption”, Osterman Research 2010) Again, plenty of room for more service adoption.

The BYOD trend is helping to accelerate adoption too. The enterprise is accelerating UC investment due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets.

Because employees are buying such equipment themselves, they’re essentially giving enterprise businesses ready-to-use UC endpoints. (Just be careful of security!)

Finally, consider that the market is not universal. We do have the enterprise, mid-market and small business segments. Are the current providers focusing equally on all three?

No. According to their websites’ UC content, they’re concentrated mostly on enterprise-level:

  1. Cisco – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  2. IBM – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  3. Avaya – Enterprise
  4. Siemens – Enterprise
  5. Alcatel – Enterprise
  6. Mitel – Enterprise, Mid-Market, Small Business
  7. ShoreTel – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  8. Microsoft Lync – Enterprise, Mid-Market, Small Business

Clearly, there’s plenty of room in the small business and mid-market space. And this is where the ComputerWorld article slipped – it appears to characterize Lync Server as an enterprise product only, like the other providers’ offerings.

Lync is more adaptable than that. In fact, far from “not showing innovation,” Lync Server is one of the very few which can provide Unified Communications to ALL market segments!

Unified Communications is Spreading Out, Responding to Market Demands

BYOD, almost half of the market still open, UC expansion continuing, most providers concentrated on the enterprise…I don’t think the Unified Communications field is crowded at all. I think it’s undergoing metamorphosis.

One final statistic: Right now, there are more cellphones than people in the U.S. (327 million phones, for 310 million people). And they’re still buying more!

In light of continuing phone & tablet proliferation, some of these providers will change their offerings. Some may drop out of the space, or be bought out. As mobile access speeds improve and business adapts to changing information flow, Unified Communications will provide necessary channels.

Perhaps that’s a little optimistic. But we’ll see, very soon!


Exploring (and Ranking) the New Features in the Lync 2013 July Update

Lync 2013 Client

Last week Microsoft released an update for the Lync 2013 client. Lync receives a few updates every year, for security patches and the occasional new feature.

This time however, we have not one new feature, but four!

So after implementing it, my boss asked me to test all the new features. Make sure everything’s working. Check for issues. And document it for the blog.

Having spent a few hours doing so yesterday and today, I now have my experience documented. But you’re not just getting a bland list of the new features, no no. This wouldn’t be the awesome blog it is if I did that!

I’m also ranking the new Lync features on usefulness. You’ll have them all when you add the July updates…but which will you use? And how often? That’s what I’ll answer here. Strap in!

The 4 Newest Lync 2013 Features, Ranked for Usefulness

#4 – IM Mute

Running a presentation, and want to keep to the audio/video side only? IM Mute does exactly that – mutes the IM side of the presentation. Participants will not be able to type questions/comments in the IM window. This helps to keep distractions low, so the presenter can focus on giving a clear presentation.

IM Mute Option

Usefulness: Low. While it’s a well-intentioned add-on, I think there’s a flaw in muting IM here. Not in the functionality (that works perfectly); in the motivation. Most webinars I’ve attended will mute the attendees, so they can’t hear chatter over the presenter. Muting IM, along with muted audio, effectively silences the attendees. I know some presentations aren’t intended as discussions, but totally removing the ability can hamper business meetings.

#3 – Embedded Images

IM conversations are fast and useful. Ask a question, answer one, check in and then get back to work. But when you run up against a limitation of IM – say, not being able to show someone an image – the conversation tends to derail.

Embedded Images fixes that, by adding in the ability to put images into your conversations. As simple as copy-and-paste, you can now toss an image into your IM window, and the other person(s) sees it. Just like this!

Embedded Image in IM

Usefulness: Moderate. While being able to stick an image into an IM on the fly IS handy if you need to show something, I don’t think I’ll use it much. Conversations that are detailed enough to involve images often branch into email and file transfer.

#2 – Meetings Menu

Meetings is a new choice available on the Lync client’s top navigation. You can see it her (far right, the pie chart):
Meetings View on Lync 2013
Clicking it brings you to a list of your scheduled meetings. If a meeting is blue, you can join it straight from Lync by clicking “Join”.

Usefulness: High. Having a list of Meetings right in Lync (instead of having to go to Outlook) alleviates some confusion about when the next Lync meeting is scheduled. Joining them only takes a click. And since you also see the day’s Calendar events, you can avoid scheduling conflicts.

#1 – Q&A Manager

Now THIS I like! Q&A Manager creates a space during presentations to ask questions, and receive answers, in a structured manner. All you do is enable Q&A from the Presentations menu…

Q&A Manager Option in Presentations

And a Q&A tab appears for all participants. They ask you a question, you type in an answer, and it’s all displayed in a clean, tiered layout for all to see.

Usefulness: High. Right now this is only available on Lync 2013 Desktop and Lync Web Access. That still covers the majority of Lync meeting users…which means my concern about discussion during presentations up in #4? Taken care of. You could even assign one presenter to give the speech, and another to man the Q&A.

To download the July update for your Lync client (2013 only), click here: Security Update for Microsoft Lync 2013 (KB2817465)
(Make sure your Lync Server is updated too: Updates for Lync Server 2013)

For further reference on the new features, Richard Brynteson’s post on Mastering Lync is a great run-down.

Which of these updates do YOU think you’ll use the most? And how? Comment or email me, and let’s discuss!

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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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