Microsoft says its renamed unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) platform, Lync, is ready to replace corporate PBXs, generating savings by centralising call control and other phone features to reduce the number of devices that need to be maintained.
That is perhaps the boldest claim Microsoft made during its formal launch today of Lync 2010, the next version of what used to be called Office Communications Server 2007, the UC&C software that is tied in closely with Microsoft's workplace applications Office, SharePoint and Exchange.
Lync supports E911 systems by proving information about where a person using the phone system is located, just one element of the presence information shared via Lync, says Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president for Office, Lync and speech. Lack of this feature was a major obstacle to using Microsoft's UC&C platform as a PBX replacement, but no more.
He also pointed to support for a survivable branch office appliance that reconnects branches to the public phone network if the link to the central Lync server in a data centre is lost. It also maintains local VoIP dialling and voicemail until the connection to the main server is restored. This, too, had been a major gap in Microsoft's telephony platform keeping it from challenging PBXs. But Pall says all that has changed. "The era of the PBX, folks, is over," he says.
During the announcement, he highlighted the importance of partners to provide hardware that enables some of the features: audio and video conferencing gear, PCs and laptops, phones and wireless headsets. Microsoft is issuing certifications that these devices meet Lync standards and are plug-and-play. The certifications mean the devices support appropriate audio and video standards to ensure end users get the experience Microsoft intends with Lync, he says.
Lync support in these devices will allow, for example, a certified desk phone to switch and drop a connection to a wireless device in mid call without disrupting the conversation, he says. Microsoft says it will have a Lync client for Windows Mobile phones and iPhones next year.
Pall then slid off discussion of the voice capabilities of Lync to present a list of new collaboration features that have been added including contact cards with photos of contacts that are automatically pulled from their personal pages within SharePoint, Pall says. Hovering a cursor over the photo yields more information about the person drawn from Active Directory.
Presence information is drawn automatically from Outlook calendar appointments as well as from individuals' status instant messaging, on phone calls or in conferences.
Pall highlighted a new feature that lists all forms of contact users have had with people on their contact lists. The history includes instant message strings, phone calls, conferences and emails. When a contact is invited to join a follow-up conversation, that history is attached so they can come up to speed quickly. "It's the mother of all redials," Pall says.
Lync 2010 client software includes a softphone with dialpad as well as the capability to call up voicemail that is stored in Outlook but without having to start the Outlook client.
These highlighted features are similar to features other UC&C vendors already have, so don't represent groundbreaking advances in general.
Demonstrations during the announcement showed setting up multimedia conferences that include a shared whiteboard on a touchscreen being manipulated by parties in separate locations. The whiteboard segment of a single screen view of the conference was isolated and displayed on a separate monitor, allowing it to be enlarged to full screen. A separate demonstration showed a person using consumer Microsoft products being included in a Lync conference via Windows Live Messenger video and audio features.
Lync is generally available to buy from December 1.