Perspectives on the Big Announcements at Lync Conference 2014

Now that the dust has settled on the Microsoft Lync 2014 Conference last week, this article gives a recap of the big announcements and some perspectives on what it means to Lync, Skype, and the communications world at large.

The full keynote is available here to watch here: http://www.lyncconf.com/.

Beyond “Unified Communications” – Introducing “Universal Communications”

After a brief work-assignment-sabbatical from the Microsoft UC space, Gurdeep Singh Pall (Corporate Vice President for Lync & Skype Engineering, Microsoft) was back in fine form and offered some insightful thought leadership on the communications space and what the future will look like. Gurdeep is a proven visionary and it was great to see him back helping to plot the course for the next decade.

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The “Universal Communications” announcement was somewhat lost in earlier more practical cool feature-based announcements in the keynote, but it is significant and will shape the UC industry in the next decade. Speaking from personal perspective, it was Microsoft’s initial vision of “software powered communication” that really resonated with me over 7 years ago and got me involved in working with Lync (OCS at the time!).

At the 58 min mark of the keynote Gurdeep talks about how the decade of Unified Communications is drawing to a close – specifically how the initial goals that were set out at the beginning of the decade have been largely accomplished, and he raises the important question – so what is next ??   Drum roll … enter:

“Universal Communications”

Gurdeep’s reasoning for this term is well thought out – it’s based on the changing landscape of communication tools and methods we use that cross barriers that include work & life, social, synchronous & asynchronous, multiple devices, and the cloud.

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Gurdeep then offered what he thinks will be the pillars of future Universal Communication experiences:

  1. Consistent User Experience
    • the next generation of information workers will require familiar user experiences as they have in the personal and social lives; they are not going to re-train to use enterprise tools.
  2. Application and Context Intelligence
    • your universal communication applications should “know what your brains wants”
    • regardless of what device you are on, your applications should know you and what you want
    • interesting – this leverages the intelligence platform Gurdeep was working on during his UC sabbatical
    • real life example offered by Gurdeep: your UC solution will “predict who you will be calling in the next 5 minutes…”.  Wow.
  3. Video – it’s about Video
    • study after study shows that people connect better with video – there are higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement when video is involved in the conversation
  4. Universal Reach
    • anyone should be reachable

Gurdeep articulates these thoughts here in this blog post: From unified to universal, the next stage for communications.

Perspectives:

  • Kudos – I think Gurdeep, and Microsoft, nailed it. They are once again demonstrating their ability to lead in a space with their vision and thought leadership.
  • Admittedly “Universal Communications” did not resonate with me when it was announced. Since having time to digest it however, the term “Universal” really does encapsulate the future trends that we are seeing in the communications space: a highly distributed workforce where people to communicate and collaborate across work & social boundaries, on any device, in the most effective way possible (intelligence + modality).
  • Microsoft is well positioned with Skype, Lync, Office 365, their devices, and commitment to cross-platform experiences to make this vision happen.

 

New JavaScript Wrapper Coming for Lync

At the 36:40 mark Derek Burney (Microsoft Corporate VP) makes what I think is another under-rated but very significant announcement in the keynote: a new Javascript wrapper for Lync built on the existing UCWA API – codenamed jLync.

This is very significant because it will enable web developers to integrate all modalities of Lync and Skype communications into web sites and web applications very easily. With the coming age of simple context embedded application in web applications and devices (aka ‘webRTC’) Microsoft is enabling Lync and Skype to be more easily embedded into the context of business and personal workflow.

Allows developers to integrate all modalities of communications into web sites and web applications very easily. I saw a tweet from the conference stating this will likely be enabled via a Lync Server Cumulative Update rather than a having to wait for the next server release.

Fellow Lync MVP Matt Landis has a posted a recent article if you are seeing J-Lync in action: Microsoft Demonstrates UC Javascript API (aka jLync, UCJA, Name TBD) That Brings All Lync Client Modalities “In Browser”.

Perspective

  • With initiatives such as webRTC being slowed down by the standards process, Microsoft is showing they understand the significance of simple embedded communications and is positioning Lync and Skype to be part of the that.
  • This will spur Lync and Skype communication modalities such as web chat, audio, video, desktop and application sharing, and conferencing into websites and any web application with a few lines of code.

 

More Lync Mobile Upgrades

Derek Burney takes the stage at the 17:13 min mark and demonstrates the latest and greatest features that are being delivered in Lync including the following:

1. Voice activated commands on Windows phone

Derek demonstrated the ability to show your meetings and join your next meeting with a voice command – no-click required. The user simply instructs the Lync mobile client to ”show my meetings” or “join my next meeting”.

Here is a screenshot showing an Android client responding to the “join my next meeting” voice command.

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Developers can use the same open Speech API to build your own voice activated windows phone apps.

2. Anonymous join from mobile and tablet

Lync as long had the ability to join a conference as an anonymous user via the Lync Web App.  Derek demonstrated the ability to sign-in as a guest from a mobile – making it easier for partners and customers who don’t have Lync to participate in Lync meetings.

Here is a screenshot of Derek joining a Lync meeting as a guest from and iPad:

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3. Display a PowerPoint deck in a on an iPhone

Here is a screen shot of the new ability to display a PowerPoint presentation in Lync on an iPhone:

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Perspective

For Lync and Skype to be to UC solution of choice, it will need to work on all popular devices and this is more proof that Microsoft keeps evolving their cross-platform mobile support to give Information Workers the tools to collaborate anywhere.

 

Lync Support for Android Tablets

Derek demonstrated the much asked for Lync client for the Android tablet.

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The client will be available on Google Play by the end of June.

More information on the Android tablet Lync app in this ZDNet article by Mary Jo Foley.

Perspective

Again, more fulfillment of Microsoft’s commitment to making Lync work across all devices and platforms.

 

New Windows 8.1 Lync Client Features

Some very useful new features were announced in the Windows 8.1 Lync client that leverages native Windows 8.1 functionality to achieve the following:

  1. Answer a call without unlocking screen
  2. Use split screens with adjustable sizes (e.g. content in one screen and communication in another)
  3. Allow participants to advance through presentation slides

Perspective

Although these are feature upgrades rather than big new features, I do like the fact Microsoft is staying committed to improving the user experience – crucial in the communication user experience.  The more effective an information worker is, the more a UC solution such as Lync fulfills it’s promise of better communication and collaboration.

 

Lync Online to get Enterprise Voice and Large Meetings

At the 41 min market of the keynote Gurdeep announced the coming support for PSTN in-and-out calling in Lync Online (at the 41 min mark of the keynote). He also announced support for large meetings in Lync Online: a 1000-2000 attendee meeting will be possible in Lync Online. Both features are expected “this year”.

Perspective

  • Although these were quick announcements, the addition of Enterprise Voice to Lync Online is huge. Bringing the ability to dial in and out to PSTN (i.e. the ‘regular’ phone system) makes Lync Online a viable complete SaaS based communication offering. PSTN connectivity is a powerful feature for businesses, and to offer this to consumers without the on-premises hardware and configuration is significant.
  • The ability to host large meetings gives Lync Online subscribers the ability to leverage Microsoft’s cloud to scale out large meetings when that workload requires it. To accommodate that type of meeting scale today on-premises typically requires an investment in additional hardware that might only be used for a small subset of your Lync meetings (e.g. large meetings).

 

Bing & Browser Skype Extensions

Bing has had the ability to allow users to call a number from the search results with one-click for awhile. Derek demonstrated the new ability to now allow the called-party to pay the bill.  Businesses can make their phone numbers free-to-call for any Bing user anywhere – offering a 1-800 type experience.

Here is a screenshot from the demo

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These extensions will also extend to high definition video calling.

Perspective

More proof of Microsoft’s vision of having Skype and Lync communication easily accessible in Web browsers and applications.

 

Skype and Lync get Video Interoperability

At the 37:08 min mark of the keynote Derek Burney announced video support for Skype to Lync (“coming in a few months”).

Here is a screenshot of Derek video calling a Skype user from his Lync client:

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This video interoperability is being called “Lync-Skype connectivity v2” and if you are interested in more details about it such as what video codes are used and how much bandwidth is consumed take a look at this NextHop article: Microsoft Lync-Skype connectivity v2 – Adds Video and More.

Perspective

This is continued evidence of Microsoft’s commitment to bring Lync and Skype communication together – enabling Lync enterprise users to easily connect with the hundreds of millions of partners, customers, and friends and family – the heart of connecting the enterprise to the consumer network (aka B2X).

For more information see Microsoft’s blog article: Video calling between Skype and Lync is part of next step of universal communications.

 

Bing & Browser Skype Extensions

Bing has had the ability to allow users to call a number from the search results with one-click for awhile. Derek demonstrated the new ability to now allow the called-party to pay the bill.  Businesses can make their phone numbers free-to-call for any Bing user anywhere – offering a 1-800 type experience.

Here is a screenshot from the demo

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These extensions will also extend to high definition video calling.

Perspective

More proof of Microsoft’s vision of having Skype and Lync communication easily accessible in Web applications.

 

Video Interoperability with Tanberg

Microsoft announced video interoperability between Lync and Tanberg VTC.  This will enable a legacy Tanberg VC to join a Lync meeting. This will likely be enabled via a dedicated Lync video interop server component in the next release of Lync Server.

Perspective

In the real world there is still a lot of audio and video solutions businesses have made investments in.  The more interop that Lync has, the more easily a solution like Lync can be utilized without having to throw away existing solutions.

 

More Compelling Lync Growth Numbers

During his talk Gurdeep Singh Pall also provided some compelling numbers on Lync’s continued domination in the UC space

  • Lync has experienced 38 Quarters of double-digit revenue growth
  • 60% of enterprise have deployed Lync
  • #1 UC voice market leader
  • 130 million Skype users use Android and iOS – out of the 300 million active Skype users

1 comment to Perspectives on the Big Announcements at Lync Conference 2014

  • […] This commitment was recently reinforced at the Microsoft Lync 2014 conference. Microsoft announced a slew of improvements and features for Lync mobile including a Lync client for Android tablets, the ability to share a PowerPoint deck on the iPhone, and the ability for an anonymous participant to join a Lync conference through the Lync Web App (for more information see the More Lync Mobile Upgrades and Lync Support for Android Tablets sections of my blog post Perspectives on the Big Announcements at Lync Conference 2014). […]

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