Lync Server 2013 Adds Skype Federation & Many Other New Features

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Lync Server 2013 Adds Skype Federation & Many Other New Features

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Lync Server 2013 can federate with Skype, which is huge new feature that greatly enhances Microsoft's UC portfolio and may explain the $8.5 billion premium Microsoft paid for Skype. You can now fully integrate Skype contacts into Lync and call or instant message anyone on Skype. Alas, only voice and no video support yet. smiley-cry In May I discussed how Xbox 360 integration with Skype was slow going, so Skype federation with Microsoft Lync is welcome news.

In April I mentioned how the Microsoft/Skype team was looking for HTML5 developers - no doubt with the intention of building a fully web-based Skype client. Well, one huge addition to Lync 2013 is the new Lync Web App adds both audio and video support enabling anyone who does not have a Lync client installed locally to participate. This is big news and will certainly cause larger organizations that pay for WebEx or GoToMeeting services on a monthly basis to consider Lync for their online meeting services due to the fixed licensing costs. Meeting participants have access to all collaboration and sharing features and presenter meeting controls.

'Though the Lync Web App doesn't leverage HTML5 - it requires an ActiveX control to be installed. However, tablets and mobile devices (iPad, iPhone, Android) can still use Lync Web App and participate in a meeting. They won't have audio or video, but they will see IMs, whiteboard, and polls. The new Web App Server known as WAC (Office Web App Companion) Server is essentially running Sharepoint and performing the HTML rendering. It uses standard DHTML and JavaScript supported on most mobile platforms. Perhaps once HTML5 and the WebRTC spec is finalized we'll see a full Lync client run within a browser without the need for an ActiveX control.

It's also worth mentioning that the new Office 2013 comes with Skype and when you subscribe (To Office via Office 365) you get 60 minutes of Skype world minutes every month.

Video improvements:

  • Video is enhanced with face detection and smart framing, so that a participant’s video moves to help keep him or her centered in the frame.
  • High-definition video (resolution 1280 x 720; aspect ratio 16:9) is now supported in conferences.
  • Participants can select from different meeting layouts: Gallery View shows all participants’ photos or videos; Speaker View shows the meeting content and only the presenter’s video or photo; Presentation View shows meeting content only; Compact View shows just the meeting controls.
  • With the new Gallery feature, participants can see multiple video feeds at the same time. If the conference has more than five participants, video feeds of only the most active participants appear in the top row, and photos appear for the other participants.
  • Participants can use video pinning to select one or more of the available video feeds to be visible at all times.
  • Presenters can use the “video spotlight” feature to select one person’s video feed so that every participant in the meeting sees that participant only.
  • With split audio and video, participants can add their video stream in a conference but dial into the meeting audio.
  • The H.264 video codec is now the default for encoding video on Lync 2013 Preview clients. H.264 video supports a greater range of resolutions and frame rates, and improves video scalability.
One nifty new feature in Lync 2013 is when Lync detects that a user is sharing, Lync automatically assigns the user a Presenting presence status. This status blocks all incoming communications unless the sender is assigned the Workgroup privacy relationship. If the user is using the sharing feature entirely on a secondary monitor, Lync does not assign a Presenting presence status. This feature ensures that if you are presenting (sales pitch, training, etc.) you aren't interrupted. thumbs_up

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They made some improvements to the conferencing features as well. Depending on the type of meeting, users can now mute the audience and allow or block video sharing when scheduling the meeting. These options are available on the Meeting Options page and are recommended for large meetings with more than 20 participants. The new version sports easy to use audio controls in the meeting room allow the user to control audio options, such as mute, unmute, change device, and so on. Lastly,when sharing programs, users can select multiple programs to share if they need to work with more than one program.

The Lync 2013 Preview client now supports audio and video in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment. A user can connect an audio or video device (for example, a headset or a webcam) to the local computer (for example, a thin client or repurposed computer). The user can connect to the virtual machine, sign into the Lync 2013 Preview client that is running on the virtual machine, and participate in real-time audio and video communication. In the past, you could have done USB redirection from the virtual guest to a Lync endpoint but it was more of a hack. Now with Lync 2013 it's fully supported. Thus, you can be working from home wearing your favorite USB headset, remote desktop into your work PC running Lync and have full audio/video over the RDP connection.

It does require the use of the Lync VDI Plugin, a standalone application that installs on the local computer and enables pairing with the Lync 2013 Preview client running on the virtual machine. The plugin does not require installation of Lync on the local computer. After the user signs in to the Lync 2013 Preview client that is running on the virtual machine, Lync prompts the user to re-enter his or her credentials to establish pairing with the Lync VDI Plugin that is running on the local computer. After this pairing is established, the user is ready to make and receive audio and video calls.

One last new feature worth mentioning is the "unified contact store", which allows users to keep all their contact information in Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Preview. After users' Lync contacts are migrated to Exchange 2013 Preview, the users can access and manage their contacts from Lync 2013 Preview, Outlook, or Outlook Web App, and it will stay synchronized. With all of these new features, Lync 2013 is a big step up from Lync 2010. Microsoft may have finally gotten UC right, though it isn't quite perfect yet, since I'd still like to see Skype video support, as well as full audio/video support on Apple iOS and Android.



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