Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

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

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

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

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

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

Upgrades

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

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

Licensing

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

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

The Issues

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

The Office 365 Question

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

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

Anticipated Reactions

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

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

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

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

Where Help is Needed Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

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

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

Microsoft Rebrands Lync as “Skype for Business” – ZDNet

Lync Gets a New Name and Skype Features in 2015

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

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

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

Skype for Business

Image courtesy of ZDNet.com.

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

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

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

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

Impressions: Yea, Nay, and In-Between

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

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

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

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

What Will Become of The Lync Insider?

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

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

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

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

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

What should this blog be called going forward?

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

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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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Should You Spy on BYOD Users? The New Lync Online Client Devices Report Lets You

Lync Online

Last week, one of Microsoft’s Lync team announced a new reporting tool for Lync Online. The new Lync Online Client Devices Report monitors which mobile devices have been used to access Lync Online.

Announcing the Lync Online Client Devices Report – Office Blogs

Report data is collected on number of users, which device they used & when, and what kind of services they accessed (IM, calls, conferencing, video).

Useful data. For a lot of reasons. However, it brings up a very large concern. What about BYOD users?

Which Trumps: Work Flexibility or Privacy?

Essentially, the Client Devices Report means that administrators can spy on any device used to access their Lync Online service.

Client Devices Report - Courtesy of Office Blogs

Now, it’s important to make a distinction here. Many businesses are concerned about the BYOD trend eroding their IT security. With good reason, in our opinion. These are devices brought into & out of the office all the time. Most with very little (if any) administrative or security oversight.

However, privacy is also a concern. Examining users’ conversations on their personal devices? Too easy to cross the line and just spy on everything they do. And users know that.

Privacy vs. Protection

The delicate balance between safeguarding the office network and protecting user privacy is detailed in an October 21 piece on CMSWire by David Roe:

Microsoft Lync Can Spy on Enterprise BYOD Use – CMSWire

David makes a valid point about mobile malware. BYOD IS a security risk…we even documented evidence of such in a newsletter article last year:
10 Ways BYOD Threatens Network Security AND Your Private Data

That said, these are still personal devices. They may be used for work, but in many cases the user/owner has files they want to keep separate/private from work.

Lync is sort of a middle-ground. It’s intended for business communication, between all its services, and as such falls under most business’ intellectual property restrictions.

If You Institute Spying, Make It Clear

Frankly, I don’t think the BYOD trend will reverse anytime soon. Big manufacturers keep pushing out new devices. People will bring them into work & want to use them FOR work.

Since Lync’s primary purpose is office communication, there’s enough justification for instituting tracking with this new tool. But it’s also important to make clear what you are tracking and why.

  1. Maybe you want to maintain efficiency by using the data.
  2. Or you’re tracking to keep malware out of the network.
  3. Or maybe you’re measuring communications to identify where users are most productive.

All very good business reasons. Just make sure the employees KNOW your reasons.

My stance on the Lync Online Client Devices Report tool? If a client opted for Lync Online, and they had multiple employees with BYOD tablets, then I would recommend using this report tool. If nothing else, for 3-6 months as a data test.

Inform all users beforehand. Give the BYOD users the option of not bringing their devices into work. And make sure everyone knows that you’re collecting business data only, for business reasons.

Lync Online as a Testing Ground? Lync Server 2013 Next?

I didn’t see a version for Lync 2013 in the announcement. This tool (right now) is meant only to track Lync Online/Office 365 users. But I’m sure an on-premises version will come.

Could releasing the Client Devices Report tool for Lync Online first be a testing ground? Since it’s cloud-based anyway, data has to come & go between device and cloud server. Maybe Microsoft wants to examine which devices use what Lync services.

Or examine the workplace’s reaction to a new way of spying on users.

The new reporting tool will be available next month. We’ll see what kind of response it generates then. I have a feeling it’ll be a big one.

What do you think about tracking BYOD Lync data? Harmless data gathering, or invasion of privacy? Please comment or email me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linux Lync Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lync Web App

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

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

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

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

Android

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

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

Lync Online on Linux?

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

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

What About Skype?

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

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

Linux Alternatives to Lync Server

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

Here are 3 popular Linux/open-source alternatives:

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

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

Lync is Making its Way Onto Linux

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

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

Next week, more reader inquiries! Join us then.

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MSPL: What It Is, and How to Use It with Lync Server

Lync Server 2013, Third-Party Lync Products, Voice over IP

I mentioned last week that I’d explore MSPL more. While researching the Automatic Logout post, I came across a few MSPL-related websites with lots of good information. This week I’ve found a few more–so it’s time to blog!

MSPL – Scripting for Lync Call Routing

MSPL stands for “Microsoft SIP Processing Language”. It’s a scripting language you can use to customize how Lync Server routes SIP messages.
MSPL Scripting Reference – MSDN
Frustratingly, the MSPL Script Syntax has been moved out of the Scripting Reference at MSDN. You’ll find it here instead:
MSPL Script Syntax – MSDN

How Does MSPL Work

The process of creating and adding MSPL scripts to your Lync Server is actually quite simple:

  1. Generate MSPL scripting, either by hand-coding or using an application (see “How to Create MSPL Scripting” below).
  2. Scripting is imported into the Lync Server front end via PowerShell cmdlets
  3. The Lync Server routes SIP messages (like phone calls) where you have directed them.

There’s an excellent how-to writeup at the Code4Lync blog: MSPL SCRIPT HOW-TO – Code4Lync
It documents script structure, when to use MSPL over UCMA, and describes the basic scripting syntax. Worth a read.

MSPL formats as XML when it’s ready for importing. Commenting is included too, so feel free to note your processes.

What You Can Do with MSPL

You are limited in scope to addressing SIP messages within your Lync Server environment. However within that scope, there’s quite a few things you can do with MSPL.

Here are two examples at Channel9:
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Forward IM Calls
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Enforce Custom Privacy Settings

MSPL lets you control routing of calls, Instant Messages and even video from one SIP address to another. Roughly, the more SIP-enabled endpoints you have, the more MSPL routes you can make.

How to Create MSPL Scripting

Like I said before, you can hand-code MSPL, or have an application generate it for you. Last week I visited Matt Landis’ blog and found he’d posted on an MSPL application called SimpleRoute.
The Masses Can Now Make Microsoft Lync MSPL Scripts Via Free Tool from Colima – Microsoft UC Report

I tried this tool out myself. And it works exactly as Matt describes–very easily! I selected Audio/Video call and routed one SIP address to another (using a fake number of course). This only took 3 steps.

Generating MSPL in SimpleRoute

What’s especially valuable about SimpleRoute is that, once you create an MSPL script with it, SimpleRoute actually helps you install it. Remember Steps 2 & 3 above, about importing scripting into Lync Server 2013?

Well, take a look at this. This is what SimpleRoute displays after you click Save:

MSPL Import Instructions in SimpleRoute

==============================
Detailed instructions on how to import the saved script (in an .am file) into the Lync front end via PowerShell. How’s that for helpful?

Download SimpleRoute here: Colima – Customize Lync Routing

MSPL: Good for Basic, User-Level Call Routing

MSPL is a very specific scripting language. It’s pretty much designed to do one thing and one thing only–change SIP routing within Lync Server 2013. I’ve said in the past that I like tools which focus on one job and do it well. MSPL is another example of this.

Administrators should look to MSPL if they want to customize call routing down toward the user-level. Say an employee leaves and you want to route their calls to someone else, right away. Use SimpleRoute to generate some MSPL. It’ll take care of that for you.

Have you used MSPL in your Lync Server environment? What did you do with it? Please comment or email! We’d love to hear about it.

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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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What is the Lync Room System?

Conferencing

Reader emailed me asking about the latest update to the Lync Room System (see “What’s ‘Room PC View’?” below). And I realized…we’ve NEVER talked about it here on the Lync Insider!

So I’ll answer his question, of course. But along the way, let’s do a little introduction to the Lync Room System too.

Introduction to the Lync Room System (or LRS)

The “LRS” is an integrated hardware & software endpoint designed for conducting Lync Meetings in a conference room. Microsoft created LRS in partnership with Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART.

The LRS consists of a special Lync 2013 client, touchscreen monitors, video cameras, audio, and a tabletop meeting console. This kind of setup creates a much more immersive conferencing environment than regular Lync conferencing.LRSrender

You’ll find a full introduction post at TechNet: The Lync Room System (LRS) – TechNet Blogs

(Image taken from TechNet Blogs page, Copyright Microsoft.)

Who Can Use the LRS, and What For?

Unlike the standard Lync 2013 client, the LRS client is designed specifically for conducting video conferences. Businesses mid-market and larger can set up the Lync Room System in their conferencing rooms to run their meetings with internal and external contacts. (LRS has the same interoperability with other systems that Lync Server 2013 does.)

Because the LRS is assembled using dedicated hardware and thus requires higher up-front investment than a standard Lync 2013 client, it’s not generally recommended for small business use.

Do We Need to Have LRS to Run Conferences?

No. Lync Server 2013’s Conferencing functionality works with all its clients as-is. The LRS is intended as a standing “Lync version” of a conference room. Think of it like a dedicated workstation – you go to the conference room, touch the meeting console to activate, and begin a scheduled Meeting.

What Kind of Hardware is Needed?

You’ll need at least a meeting console, audio, a video camera and one display. See this list of video options for Lync for supported partner hardware: Video Solutions Qualified for Lync – Lync Tech Center
(I like Polycom myself; very reliable hardware.)

What’s “Room PC View?”

Here’s where we come to our reader question. The reader, K, asked:
“I saw this post yesterday. Never heard of Room PC View before. What is it? How does it work?”
(Slight editing to remove personal details.)

Like all its software, Microsoft updates the Lync Room System regularly. Its June 2014 update for Lync Room System includes a new feature called “Room PC View”.

This feature essentially lets a presenter push a button and display content from a PC connected to the LRS console. Microsoft added it because some LRS users connect a computer to their LRS and leave it there 24/7.

(Never seen this happen in person, so I’m guessing it’s meant as a storage location for conferencing-related content).

Room PC View is optional; if you just want to plug a laptop into the console and display PowerPoint occasionally, you don’t need it. Here’s some more information (this is the post K asked about): Lync Room System June Update Now Available: New Room PC View! – Office Blogs

How Would We Install the Lync Room System?

Consult this deployment guide: Microsoft Lync Room System Deployment Guide – Microsoft Downloads Obviously, you’ll need to have some form of Lync Server installed already (I would strongly recommend on-premise Lync Server 2013). The installation process is quite detailed; multiple PowerShell cmdlets are needed to enable LRS accounts, connect them to Exchange & Active Directory, and update Conferencing Policies.

Acquiring the LRS software itself is done through Microsoft’s partners (Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART). Makes sense, since you’ll have to pick up the hardware necessary to run it first.

And that’s our introduction to the LRS! It’s basically a super-strong conferencing station. Great for big important meetings with shareholders, partners, vendors, and the San Jose branch office. K, I hope this post answers your question.

Does your business have a Lync Room System? If so, please comment or email me. I’d love to hear your experiences using it.

Join us next week for a post on stress-testing your Lync Servers.

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    The Lync Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft Lync Server 2013, its predecessor Lync Server 2010, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., Tech Writer & SEO Engineer for PlanetMagpie IT Consulting.
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