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Lync to Become Skype for Business

Lync will become Skype for Business

Microsoft is rebranding it’s unified communication platform Microsoft Lync. Microsoft plans to retool their approach to unified communications, and launch under the name “Skype for Business” in 2015. Microsoft originally acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011.

The Redmond, WA based software giant made significant strides into the Unified Communications space, offering a cost-competitive unified communications platform which included Telephony, Chat, Collaboration and Video Conferencing all from the desktop, laptop or tablet.

Microsoft made a splash, albeit a light one, last summer in the audiovisual industry when they bought a booth to the InfoComm Tradeshow. It seemed to be the culmination of a few years of product development centered around integrating Lync into the classroom, conference room and board room. Manufacturers from Crestron to Vaddio and Polycom to SMART were all developing peripherals as well as room systems built around the Lync platform. While any talk of Skype at these shows were purely relegated to the consumer space, and a consumer grade of product associated with it.

Poised to make a deeper run in the professional av/uc space, Microsoft’s main purpose in attending the show, it seems, was to gather feedback from customers, and perhaps ideas for future products and platforms. With more and more manufacturers chomping at the bit to get a piece of the Microsoft Lync pie, as Microsoft themselves don’t manufacture hardware solutions, it seemed Lync was going to be influencing the products to be revealed at InfoComm 2015, slated for June 13-19 in Orlando, FL.

There was some debate yesterday, mostly on twitter, about what, if any, impact this announcement will have on the audiovisual industry. In short, it won’t be ground breaking, but it will have some effect on the industry. The most notable effect it has on the industry is blending professional and consumer platforms into one hybrid platform that some might argue does nothing well and everything poorly. Time will tell what functionality from the two drastically different platforms will make it into the Skype for Business release in 2015, but reports are already hinting at the user interface changing to look more like Skype and less like Lync 2010 or 2013. Reports also indicate H.264 encoding adoption so Lync will finally be able to directly federate with Skype.

Besides the blending of the “professional” vtc (professional in quotes because Lync wasn’t close to competing in quality or market share with Cisco/Polycom/LifeSize). It will be interesting to see how this will affect hardware manufacturers. Will there also be a hybrid-level set of hardware coming down the pipeline? Something that sits between the logitech table top webcam and a professional camera which connects via, or converts to, USB? Will there finally be a usable product between the $1000 and $3000 price points?

Time will tell, for all factors, how this decision will play out in our industry, and whether or not it will be a success for Microsoft. One thing that is for sure, Skype for Business is one step closer to bridging the comfort gap that prevents technophobes from adopting any modicum of videoconferencing. Also, it will be funny to think about all the telecom professionals now having the title of “Skype Administrator”

What do you think this will mean for the industry? For your users?

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My Take: InfoComm’s Big Winners

InfoComm this year was a blur. Last year I did UBTech and InfoComm and felt like I had way too much free time. This year, to correct this, I decided to load up on meetings and stay as busy as possible to make the most of the InfoComm experience. I wrote a little, last week  about my time in the CTS prep class and subsequent test; and the inherent value of continuing education. I feel the best approach to the InfoComm experience is to balance a little better between the Show Floor Only mentality, and the Load Up on Meetings stance. This year’s InfoComm was the largest show on the east coast, and it was massive. Here are my top winners from this years’ show.

  1. 4K
    We all remember the incredible consumer demand centered around the introduction of 3d displays and projectors a few years back; this year’s big staple for all manufacturers was 4k. Unlike 3d, I think 4K/8K will enjoy far more stable demand in both the consumer and professional AV markets, especially once content beyond digital signage and computer generated signals become more prevalent. The caveat is, if this content doesn’t become readily available, 4k/8k will wind up serving a very niche market. In my opinion, the two winners for 4K at this years’ show was LG’s 84″ 4K monitor, and Christie’s 4k 60hz projector. I would love to own both these pieces, but have to wait until the cost comes down.
  2. MS Lync Integration
    Shortly before last year’s show in Las Vegas we began implementing Microsoft Lync; and I went to InfoComm looking for all the AV I could possibly integrate with Lync to enable it to be a full UCS for our campus. I was incredibly disappointed, and almost frustrated to find out there were no real AV appliances ready to integrate with Lync. Around that time, Vaddio released the Easy USB line of professional USB peripherals for computer based web conferencing: Webex, Skype, Google +, MS Lync etc. This product line represented a solution to a few of our problems at an affordable price point. This year, however, I was blown out of the water by Vaddio’s Huddle Station and Group Station integrated approach to computer based Web Meetings. I look forward to implementing this product line to address a number of needs we have in conference room video conferencing capabilities.Additionally, Crestron was a big winner in this space. They debuted the Crestron RL system designed to integrate Lync for professional Video conferencing. With solutions for single and multiple displays, and system control and automation, Crestron as made incredible strides to reaching the those using Lync. I’m really interested in seeing this product in action in a live demo.
  3. Cloud Conferencing
    Two years ago I was hopping on an elevator in my hotel to head to my room after a long day at the show; I noticed the group standing next to me all had red badge holders (exhibitors) and saw them eyeing my green badge holder (education customer) and my heart sank. I really didn’t know if I could handle another sales pitch, especially on an elevator with no escape or distraction. As it turned out these fine people were from a startup called Blue Jeans Networks, allowing users of different VTC systems to meet seamlessly in the cloud. Cloud Interoperability Providers represent a tremendous benefit for organizations with different methods of VTC to be able to connect with each other. This year there were several other key companies in this market. I look forward to seeing how cloud interoperability grows and becomes more affordable.

There were lots of other great things that I would love to buy and use, but aren’t great fits for my particular application requirements: Projection/Display mapping technologies, waterproof speakers, speakers that looked more like art than actual speakers and a host of fantastic other products. Sometimes I wish I could win some sort of AV lottery and just have all this great technology.

What were the three best things you saw at InfoComm?

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