Lync 2013 Previewed
New versions of the Lync unified communications line of software and online services will probably appear in the first half of 2013. The new versions promise to improve conferencing (especially on devices that won't run Lync client software), ease configuration of maintenance of server installations, and help enforce data retention policies for archived Lync content. Better mobile clients and integration with the popular Skype communication service are also planned with release of the new versions, but are not available in previews released in July 2012.
Presence and Real-Time Communications: Lync and Skype
The Lync software enables users to view and publish presence status (for example, online, busy, or away) and initiate communications sessions that include IM, voice, video, and application sharing. The software also enables Web conferences, structured online meetings that typically include a synchronized PowerPoint presentation and an audio feed to attendees. "Enterprise voice" capabilities enable Lync installations to integrate with or replace on-premises private branch exchange (PBX) telephone networks. Microsoft hosts Lync Online, a component of Office 365 service plans that offers presence, IM, and conferencing but not enterprise voice. Microsoft's primary competitors in the unified communications arena are Avaya, Cisco, and IBM.
The Lync brand was introduced with a release in Nov. 2010. It replaced a set of Office-branded products built around Communications Server, its Communicator client, and the Live Meeting client and service. Live Meeting, the predecessor of Lync Online's conference functions, has been discontinued. Service will terminate for most customers when their current contracts end. New versions of the Lync software have generally appeared every 18 months to two years, with client and server versions arriving approximately together. In Oct. 2011, Microsoft acquired the Skype communication client software and service, which currently is on a parallel development track with Lync and Lync Server but offers many of the same functions, focused primarily on consumers and small businesses. (For a graphical overview of recent and upcoming releases, see the illustration "Lync and Skype Overview". For upcoming retirement dates of current and past versions, see the chart "Important Dates for Communications Server and Lync Server".)
Next Versions Preview Conferencing, Management Improvements
The next versions of the Lync software will be called Lync 2013 and Lync Server 2013 and appeared as public previews in July 2012. They will ship with the Office 2013 wave of releases, probably in the first half of 2013. A major update of Lync Online also began public testing in July 2012 and will probably enter production around the time the software ships.
Some notable improvements planned include the following:
An improved Lync Web App and browser plug-in will replace the stand-alone Lync Attendee conferencing client application, making it easier for users without the full Lync client to attend conferences. The new Lync Web App will deliver streaming audio and video, which was missing in earlier versions of the Web App.
A new conferencing user interface simplifies control of conferences by presenters; for example, it makes it easier to mute participants.
High-availability enhancements will enable more voice services (such as the Response Group service for distributing inbound calls to pools of users) to fail over between data centers, offering better service during data center outages.
Several server roles have been merged, which eliminates some architectural options for scalability and redundancy, but simplifies configuration. However, Lync Server 2013 will require at least one new server role: organizations using Lync Server 2013's PowerPoint sharing feature for conferencing will have to deploy additional servers running the PowerPoint Web App, which is required for the feature in the new version.
Exchange Server 2013 can store contact information for Lync 2013, enabling organizations to maintain a single contact infrastructure for both applications. (This feature was planned for Lync Server 2010 but dropped before the version's production release.)
Lync components use IPv6, enabling the products to take advantage of IPv6's larger address space, enhanced security, and other benefits. Lync 2010 used only IPv4, although it could coexist with IPv6 in "dual stack" networks that used both IP versions.
Persistent chat is integrated into the Lync client and Lync Server console. Persistent chat, also called group chat, is a discussion board feature that uses IM, user presence, and sophisticated filtering to route time-critical information to users, and it has been popular inside financial firms. The Lync 2010 feature, which Microsoft acquired with Parlano in 2007, requires its own client, server, and console. Integrating the client and console with Lync and Lync Server should make persistent chat easier to deploy for IT departments.
The 2013 preview products require relatively recent versions of Microsoft's platform software: Lync Server 2013 requires Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2008 R2 or SQL Server 2012, while the Lync 2013 client requires Windows 7, Windows 8 (Release Preview), or Windows Server 2008 R2. It's possible that these will be the requirements for production installations, which means that many firms moving to the 2013 versions will have to upgrade platform software.
Mobile Clients, Skype Integration Planned but Not Previewed
Microsoft plans improved Lync clients for mobile devices, but these were not available with the preview versions that appeared in July 2012, and the target platforms and capabilities have not yet been announced.
Microsoft also has not given a roadmap for any convergence between the Skype and Lync product lines. Skype IM and presence will be accessible alongside Lync's from the next versions of several of Microsoft's business products, including Outlook 2013. The company also plans federation of Lync Server 2013 and Lync Online with the Skype service. This would enable Lync users in companies to communicate with Skype's many users. (Skype claimed 250 million connected users per month as of June 2012.) Microsoft already offers Lync federation for other public communications networks, including its own Windows Live Messenger. However, Skype client integration with Outlook and Skype federation with Lync Server and Lync Online were not available with the July 2012 Lync previews.
The Lync 2013 previews are at lync.microsoft.com/en-us/Pages/Lync-2013-Preview.aspx.
Preliminary IT documentation for Lync 2013 and Lync Server 2013 is at technet.microsoft.com/library/gg398616(v=ocs.15).
Lync Server voice capabilities are explained in "Lync Server Matures to PBX Alternative" on page 8 of the Mar. 2011 Update.
Lync technical documentation and other resources are previewed in "New Lync Server 2010 Resources Available" on page 10 of the Sept. 2011 Update.
Lync Web conferencing and the Lync 2010 client are outlined in more detail in "Lync 2010 Improves Conferencing, Client Management" on page 13 of the Mar. 2011 Update.
Live Meeting 2007 online service features and licensing are summarized in "Web Conferencing Service Updated" on page 14 of the Feb. 2008 Update.
Public IM Connectivity is explained in "IM, VoIP, Conferencing Roadmap Unveiled" on page 10 of the Apr. 2005 Update.
The end of Live Meeting for BPOS customers is summarized in "Live Meeting for BPOS Ends in 2013" on page 8 of the Feb. 2012 Update.