"The era of the PBX, folks, is over," said Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Office Communications Group, during yesterday's launch event for Microsoft Lync 2010. It's a strong message, and a big play coming from a company known predominantly for its software. But when you see how Lync interoperates and pulls together your streams of business communications, perhaps that idea isn't so farfetched after all.
Microsoft's Chris Caposella, senior vice president, Information Worker Product Management Group, opened the launch event, which was broadcast virtually from New York City. "Lync is the lynchpin to our communications strategy," Caposella said. He then brought up company cofounder and chairman, Bill Gates, live via a Lync video call to talk about the shift from traditional PBXs to "software-powered unified communications." This portion of the presentation was probably really exciting if you were in the audience; broadcast glitches—blamed on problems with the satelite trucks, not Lync—made it just about unintelligible if you were watching the web broadcast. (Fortunately, the event is now available to watch on the Microsoft Lync website without the glitches that plagued the live broadcast.)
Pall then took the stage for the serious demo of the features of Lync, which is where things get really interesting. As you probably know by now, Lync is Microsoft's updated version of Office Communications Server (OCS). Lync provides all the basic features you've come to expect from OCS, but builds on top of them. For instance, they've made the presence indications more responsive and automatic; as Pall explained, Lync updates your status for you if you get on a call so that others can tell—you don't have to manually set your status to busy. You get the same automatic adjustments when you're in meetings or out of office and so forth, information pulled from your Exchange Server calendar. "People forget to update presence. And when they forget to update presence, the confidence of the people who are watching them goes down," Pall said. "So we made it completely automatic."
Another new feature tied into the Lync client is the ability to recall conversations with a single click. As Pall said, "This is the mother of all redials. This is basically all the conversations you've had, whether they be Instant Messages, video calls, phone calls, web conferences, audio conferences—they're all here. And with one click, I can rehydrate that old session. And as the other person gets the invite for that particular session, they go back to the same history that they were in." The integration with Exchange, Outlook, and Active Directory gives you pop-out information about your contacts that lets you initiate IM, email, or phone conversations all with a simple click.
Another big piece of the Lync story, and something a lot of time at the event was dedicated to, is the partner relationships and the extensibility of Lync. As a result of the Lync APIs available for developers, "We've seen presence being embedded into all kinds of applications, exactly in the same way they're embedded in SharePoint and Office applications today," Pall said. So essentially, you have the ability to incorporate the UC experience throughout your line-of-business applications, or you can look to third-party developers to provide new tools to help in this area. There are already many vendors working with Microsoft as partners to release products that are certified to work with Lync—companies such as HP, Dell, Polycom, Logitech, and others had devices on display at the event.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Lync client has a component similar to popular social media sites (which you can choose to not look at if you like). Part of that feature is location, which can either be manually set or detected automatically by your network, so people can see where you are. "We think it has a lot of social value, but that's not the reason why we originally built it," Pall said. "We built this location-based system to support E-911 capabilities." So this feature allows calls to 911 to automatically display the caller's physical address—an important safety feature, and what led Pall to declare that Lync makes the traditional PBX obsolete.
It looks like a great system. The integration Lync provides throughout your Microsoft-centric ecosystem is already excellent, and with the extensibility promise, it might even be a solution non-Microsoft shops might want to consider. I don't anticipate everyone chucking their well-established PBX systems out the window instantly. But, who knows? It's exciting technology—can't wait to see how well it's received by businesses. Lync 2010 will be officially available beginning December 1.