Microsoft on Wednesday launched its Lync 2010 communications platform, the successor to the Office Communications Server product line (and, it seems, Live Meeting). Microsoft's unified communications platform will be made available as a hosted service as well as traditional on-premises servers, tying together email, voice, instant messaging (IM), audio- and video-teleconferencing and desktop sharing capabilities.

"Lync meets the toughest enterprise standards but was built with the way people like to communicate in mind," says Microsoft Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall. "Any interaction can now feel like a face-to-face conversation, because it can include video- and audio-conferencing, application and desktop sharing, instant messaging and presence, and telephony. Lync works with the applications people already use, so it's easy to become comfortable with the technology."

Put another way—and as Microsoft officials noted at this week's launch event—Lync signals the end of the PBX era. That's because Lync now supports critical PBX functionality that was lacking in previous versions, including E911 support that automatically transmits a user's location to emergency responders and automatic reconnection functionality for branch offices.

Microsoft Lync is available in server form as Lync Server 2010 Standard and Enterprise and will ship in a hosted version next year as Lync Online, part of the Office 365 offerings. For more information, please visit the Lync website.