Category: Instant Messaging (IM)

The 5 Most Useful Skype4B / Teams Posts in 2018

Let’s start 2019 with a refresher. 2018 was a busy year, with new content and updates for older, more evergreen content.

In today’s post I’ve listed our the 5 most popular posts in 2018, by number of unique visits.

If you’re a new reader, welcome! I hope these posts help start you on the road to broadening your Skype for Business/Teams expertise. If you’ve been here a while, glad you’re here. There’s plenty more to come in 2019.

The 5 Most Popular Skype for Business Insider Posts in 2018 (in order)

Can You Turn Off Skype for Business New Message Alerts?
This one definitely struck a chord. Many readers commented about their desire to turn off New Message alerts entirely, or control their appearance. Short version: You have some control over notifications when on mobile. But on desktop, you’re kind of stuck.

Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: The 2017 Update
In 2015, the original pricing post had thousands of visits within 7 days of publication. When I did this 2017 update, it too garnered thousands of visits up front, and then maintained a streak of traffic all through 2018.

It seems like Microsoft’s pricing shifts keep accelerating…and obfuscating. The post remains accurate, though I’ll put up another pricing post soon to incorporate Skype for Business Server 2019 and current Teams costs.

Working Dog on Hay Bale

Always good to take pride in your work.
Photo by Aitor Romero on Unsplash.

Making Sure You See Skype for Business Notifications – No Matter What!
This post talked about SuperToast as a method of guaranteeing you’d see Skype for Business notifications. It has limitations—no Mac version, no guarantee of Teams compatibility—but it does prove useful. Commenters did point out that some businesses ban third-party add-ons as a precaution (and a valid one), which can hamper SuperToast’s usability.

3 Ways to Make Sure Contact Photos Display in Skype for Business
Essentially, this is me documenting a troubleshooting progress I didn’t need to undertake. I explored a couple of options for making contact photos appear…both of which can indeed resolve a display issue. Just not in my case.

However, I want to note: in April or May of 2018, we had a customer with the same issue. Troubleshooting Point 1, purging an old local cache file & forcing a server refresh, DID resolve the issue. So my meandering helped!

Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers / How to Access Skype for Business and Teams Services on Linux Computers
Yes, this is two posts. The second is a follow-up on the same topic…accessing Skype for Business/Teams services on a Linux device. If you use an Android device, you’re in the best shape possible. A few more options do exist, in varying stages of usability.

Some of these date back as far as 2014. It’s rather heartening to see older posts still helping users!

Where the Blog Is As Of Now – Some Post Updating, Planning Out a Strong Year

I’ve gone through and made updates to each of these posts. A little additional content, including information from reader comments or emails, etc. New readers will get the most benefit…but if you read one of these posts in the past, it wouldn’t hurt to give it another look!

Refresher on Skype for Business

Ahhh, refreshing.
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash.

To give you a peek into my 2019 plans, here are some post titles on the roster:

  • Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: 2019 Version
  • How the Mediation Server Fits into Skype for Business
  • The Path to Deploying Skype for Business Server 2019 (Series)
  • The ChatOps War: The Battles Raging
  • How to Preserve Unified Messaging

Have a topic you want to see covered? Leave it in a comment below, or drop me a DM on Twitter at @PlanetMagpieIT!

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How to Access Skype for Business and Teams Services on Linux Computers

Want to access Skype for Business or Teams on Linux? You’re not alone. I wrote a post back in 2014 titled, “Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services on Linux Computers.” It remains one of the most-read posts on this blog today, almost 4 years later.

I decided to revisit the topic after seeing that in my analytics. What kind of Linux-based tools did we get (if any) since then? I’ll include Teams in this post too, since that’s where Skype for Business is (mostly) heading. Let’s see what the Linux landscape holds, shall we?

The Big Question: Did Microsoft Make a Skype for Business for Linux? Will They?

First, the bad news: We still don’t have a Linux version of the Skype for Business app.
Installing Skype for Business on Linux – Microsoft Community

A check on the Office 365 roadmap confirms zero items related to Linux. People definitely want it though, according to this SkypeFeedback.com thread:
Linux Desktop Client for Skype for Business – SkypeFeedback.com

Given the dearth of results, I don’t think we’ll ever get a full-version Skype for Business Linux client. But that doesn’t mean we close the door. Other options do exist, in varying categories of usability.

What kind of tools are out there? Desktop clients do exist. Web apps as well, in case those don’t work or have too few features. Let’s not forget the Android platform as well…more people use Android than iOS worldwide.

Linux-Based Skype for Business Tools, and How Usable They Are

1. Skype for Business Web App
Can you use the ‘official’ Skype for Business Web App on a Linux computer? Not…really.

The Web App installs a browser plugin to work. Said plugin, unfortunately, only works on Windows. You can install a Windows VM and use the Web App. But at that point, you might as well install the desktop client! As such, this is a ‘just barely’ option.

Skype for Business Web App Under Linux – Reddit

Skype for Business Video

“What do you mean you can’t turn on video? They must see my cuteness!”
Photo by Pete Bellis on Unsplash

2. Tel.Red Sky Linux App
Tel.Red has built & maintained a Linux client for Skype for Business for several years. They call it Sky Linux. There’s a free version with call limits. Full versions costs $49/year per user…quite reasonable.

I put this in the “not bad” category. It DOES work, in most cases. It’s missing some meetings-related and call-related features though, such as delegates and video-based screen sharing.

3. Pidgin+SIPE Plugin
This solution lands in the “OK, a bit clunky” category. As I mentioned in the 2014 article, the Pidgin IM client has a Linux version.

It does not natively support Skype for Business communications. For that, you’ll need the SIPE plugin.

With the two working in tandem, you can connect to Skype for Business servers and chat. One caveat though…the SIPE plugin hasn’t received an update since February of last year. Which means it may not like working with the newest sharing & meeting features. Your mileage may vary, depending on configuration.

Still, it’s a good effort, and I want to commend the SIPE developers for their work. Add-ons like these can fuel huge growth in software capabilities—something very worth our support!

Linux Skype for Business

The Code of Linux grows…
Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

4. Android App
This goes in the “Best Option” category. You’ll get the most features and the easiest install/configuration.

Yes, Skype for Business does have an Android app! Skype for Business – Google Play

The app does have limitations of course…you can’t present a program from Android, do Consultative Transfer, or use meeting tools like the whiteboard. (In fairness, the iOS app has most of the same limitations.)

Feature Comparison between Skype for Business Desktop Client and Mobile Devices – MS Docs

Its latest version seems plagued by login troubles though. Frustrating, but the app still beats other options for native Linux functionality.

What About Teams on Linux? Much More Accessible

When it comes to Linux, Microsoft Teams is another matter. Because Teams runs in the Azure cloud, you can get to it in a browser on Linux. You may not have full feature access though; our good friend Tom Arbuthnot reports that Teams doesn’t have audio/video support on Linux. You may get audio if you use Chrome, according to Tom’s comments.

Microsoft says a native Linux client for Teams is “on the backlog.” Which explains why it doesn’t show on the O365 roadmap either.

UPDATE 10-17-18: Aaaand Microsoft pulled the plug on a Linux client for Teams. Sorry folks. Wish they hadn’t done that. But they did.

UPDATE 11-1-18: Microsoft updated their plans to put a Linux Teams client back ‘on the backlog.’ So far, that’s all they’ve done. No more progress reports since.

However, the Teams Android app is going strong. It just got an upgrade in fact: Microsoft Teams for Android Updated with New Call-Related Features – MS Power User

While I’m glad Teams works on Linux, it appears the Android app carries even more functionality. So your best bet for Teams on Linux is to use that!

Teams Made Further Linux Progress Than Skype for Business

In the 2014 post I joked that more Skype-related development would come…mostly from the Linux community. Now, I wasn’t wrong! But with Teams eventually supplanting Skype for Business, and Android apps getting more focus, Microsoft’s definitely paying SOME attention to the Linux side of things.

Linux Lemons

Linux gets some lemons. But it’s good at making lemonade!
Photo by Ernest Porzi on Unsplash

That said, we have a Windows desktop client for Skype for Business and Teams. We have iOS and Android apps for Skype for Business and Teams. We do not have a native Linux client for Skype for Business or Teams. Will we get one? Maybe for Teams. For Skype for Business? Probably not.

What’s your Linux/Skype for Business/Teams situation?

UPDATE 3: A commenter pointed out a Github project: Teams for Linux (Unofficial). Essentially, a wrapper for the Teams Web app. It has several known issues, but does provide a desktop alternative for Linux users. Thanks developers!

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Software Add-on Review: SuperToast V3

Never Miss a Skype for Business Notification Again

In early 2016 I wrote a post titled, Making Sure You See Skype for Business Notifications—No Matter What!.

In said post I reviewed a notification app called SuperToast, made by Modality Systems. It remains one of the blog’s most-read posts today. Evidently lots of Skype for Business users miss notifications…

The other day, Louise at Modality asked if I’d like to review the new, redeveloped SuperToast V3. Of course I was happy to do so!

What is SuperToast?

The SuperToast app sits in your taskbar. Every time you miss a Skype for Business call or Instant Message, SuperToast displays a notification popup with details about the missed event.

Chat Notification

Someone is chatting with me!

SuperToast notifies you of missed Instant Messages, incoming audio/video calls, and missed audio/video calls.

Missed Call Notification

Can’t talk now, writing this post.

The notification windows only displays the first message someone sends. If for example you receive 4 messages in succession from one person (as my co-workers sometimes do), you’ll only see one SuperToast notification. Which is smart—nobody wants a stream of popup windows blocking other work!

The SuperToast settings could not be simpler. Here’s the entire settings window.

SuperToast Settings

The SuperToast Options window. Five settings. Nothing else needed.

You choose which communication types for which you want to receive SuperToast notifications via checkboxes. That’s it.

What’s New in V3

The new SuperToast has two main improvements over old versions.

  1. Full support for the latest Skype for Business clients.
  2. Bug Fixes:
    1. Notifications appearing despite you being active in the conversation window
    2. Not bringing the conversation window to the front when clicking on a notification

The UI is largely the same as before. Which helped it fold back into my day-to-day routine almost immediately. But after a few weeks’ testing, I can say V3 is more stable now.

Two Versions: Single-Use and Business-Wide

SuperToast comes in two versions:

  • SuperToast One is a single-user version.
  • SuperToast for Business is a business version with central management.

SuperToast One has a few limitations the Business version doesn’t. You can’t customize SuperToast One’s look & feel, no central admin, etc. Pretty much what you’d expect for a single-user.

SuperToast One costs $7/year. SuperToast for Business costs $7/year for 5-99 users, $5/year for 100-999 users, $2.50/year for 1000-2499 users, and $1/year for 2500+ users. So no matter which version you buy, or how many, you’re only paying a few dollars a user per year. You even get 24-hour support with this too.

They used to have a free version. Now there’s a free 30-day trial.

Incoming Call Notification

Hold on, better take this. Be right back.

Who Can/Should Use SuperToast?

Modality developed this app to support Skype for Business users. Like us, they didn’t like missing notifications from co-workers or customers. The app works with Skype for Business Server and Online (O365) deployments.

Lync 2013 users still hanging on? SuperToast will work for you too.

That said, here’s a brief mention of SuperToast’s limits. It has 3 that I can determine:

  1. No Mac version yet.
  2. I am not certain if SuperToast will work with the Teams desktop client.
  3. As many commenters pointed out on my 2016 post, this IS a third-party app. Some organizations block third-party apps from user’s devices on security grounds. That is perfectly valid—we see malware apps all the time on customer PCs!
    In such cases, I’d recommend using SuperToast for Business. Its central management and Modality’s reputation should dissuade any security concerns.

I do know that Modality continues to work on SuperToast. We may see these limits resolved fairly soon. If I hear of timetables for such, I’ll update this post accordingly.

SuperToast in Taskbar

Runs in the taskbar. Quiet. Unobtrusive.

Super for Putting Missed Calls/Conversations in Front of Your Eyes

SuperToast is a single-purpose app. It does one job…and it does it well. Plus it’s cheap to buy. I always like simple apps like this; they don’t require a high learning curve, and provide an immediate benefit.

For those who miss a lot of notifications in the course of a workday, SuperToast makes for a quick, valuable solution.

SuperToast Page – Modality Systems

Used SuperToast before? How was your experience?

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Scenes from the ChatOps War

Group Messaging/Chat continues to expand, as each challenger battles its competitors. Here’s where we stand.

Slack and Teams Stay Neck-and-Neck

These two are ‘the’ names when it comes to ChatOps (business-grade chat/messaging platforms).

Slack VS Teams

“En garde, Slack!” “I say, Teams!”

Teams continues to expand its user base. It’s up to 200,000 organizations as of March 2018. But we don’t know how many individual users that is; Microsoft hasn’t said. It has huge potential to grow further, especially once it’s finished absorbing Skype for Business by end of year (give or take).

Conversely, Slack has more than 6 million daily active users! 2 million of these are paying customers. Even without the free tier, Slack stomps all over Teams in terms of business usage.

Two heavyweights battling it out encourages good competition and ultimately benefits the user. However, the market has more contenders…and they aren’t sitting idle either.

Integration Comes to Workplace (though Slack and Teams are Well Ahead)

Facebook’s Workplace just added an integration feature with a bunch of potential add-ons. Thanks to the integration, Workplace users can now connect services like Microsoft SharePoint, Hubspot, Jira (project management), and so on.

Workplace by Facebook LogoThe full list is here: Workplace Integrations.

While this is a welcome move, it’s also a catch-up move. Slack and Teams have had third-party integration capabilities almost since inception. They also have many more integrations available.

Looks like Facebook wants to keep Workplace as a separate, work-friendly brand. If so, they’ll continue to face an uphill battle, due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and ongoing privacy concerns. Because of these concerns, my Workplace trial ended with the question of whether businesses would try Workplace out.

So far, it would appear they have. At least 30,000 businesses now use Workplace. Still in third place, and they’ll have to keep pushing. But the user count does put Workplace in striking range of Teams. A new theater has opened up in Facebook vs. Microsoft.

Other Competitors Nipping at the Big Dogs’ Heels

There’s more than just Workplace to watch out for though. I’ve mentioned Atlassian Stride and Google Hangouts on this blog before. What’s going on with them?

Atlassian StrideStride (formerly HipChat) hit General Availability in March. As it’s so new, user numbers aren’t readily available. I’m curious to see how this one goes…it looks near-identical to Teams, although some beta users complained about audio/video quality.

Google split Hangouts in two last year, creating Hangouts Meet (video meetings) and Hangouts Chat (group chats, like Slack/Teams). Not sure why they split them, but hey, I don’t work at Google.Google Hangouts Icon

This strikes me as an after-the-fact change…after Slack roared past Hangouts, they had to race to keep up. However, there are two smart moves within the split:

  1. Voice is part of Meet only. Google restricted Chat to…chat. Meet focuses on video calls, of which voice is just a part, but it centralizes the audio/video experience into one app. Makes it easy to know which app to use.
  2. Google integrated Hangouts Meet/Chat into the G-Suite. Like Teams is part of Office 365, Hangouts Meet & Chat are there for G-Suite business users. The tactic worked for Teams; I bet Google’s hoping this will work for Hangouts.

The Reason Behind the Battle: Chat’s Multi-Generational Appeal

Why is chat so popular all of a sudden? I think it’s because chat is an intergenerational medium. It’s something the past few generations have grown up using. It’s also something that’s ‘grown up’ through successive generations of the technology.

In the Internet’s early days you had BBSes and IRC.
Then along came AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger.
Next came Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Now we have Slack, Stride, Teams, Fuze, Hangouts, and several more.

Each generation had a chat platform for communication. Chat itself went through generations, advancing in capability, expanding in reach. Now we have a generation of chat platforms that can handle almost any form of communication.

arm wrestling photo

Hey hey, no cheating!
Photo by mcgrayjr

But it’s all centered around the oldest, simplest, and most familiar communication method most of us have ever known…plain, direct, text-to-text messaging.

Where the Battle Goes Next: Long-Term Teamwork Value

ChatOps have one mission: to facilitate teamwork. You can generally tell how well they do this by adoption and frequency of use.

However, short-term numbers aren’t the best indication of value to a team. Long-term adoption rates, after the novelty wears off and the team becomes accustomed to using the platform, determine who will win the “ChatOps War.”

So far, Slack and Hangouts have been around the longest. Between those two, people obviously prefer Slack. It has greater long-term teamwork value. Teams and Workplace are coming up, and Stride is a wildcard. By this time next year, we may see the triumph of Teams, the emergence of Stride, or another challenger rise.

Which ChatOps platform does your workplace use? What are your thoughts on it?

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What to Do When Skype4B Conversations Take Weeks to Appear in Outlook

You have a normal conversation in Skype for Business via Instant Messaging. The next day, you need to check the status of a task. You recall you mentioned this task in yesterday’s conversation. Better go check it in Conversation History.

Outlook is already open. You click the Conversation History folder and…wait, where’s the conversation? The last one you see is dated 2 weeks ago!

We ran up against this issue with a customer’s Skype for Business deployment. They had a server deployment, up and running since 2016. The Conversation History “delayed appearance” only started this past fall. Even more confusing, it didn’t occur for all users.

Work Conversation in Skype4B

“I KNOW I talked to Beth yesterday…”
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

The Cause: A Low Threshold for Conversation File Size

We checked all the obvious things, of course. But those were all clear. Only after testing & reviewing the Conversation History logs that did appear, followed by some MS research, did we find the cause.

Lync Server 2013 had an issue with long conversations. If a conversation’s history file ended up over 1MB in size, Lync Server could not upload the file to Exchange Server. This bug persisted into Skype for Business Server.

So if you end up having a long conversation with co-workers, plus a few images & documents shared around, your conversation grew past the server’s (tiny) 1MB limit!

The Solution: A Fix for Lync/Skype for Business Server, Then an Exchange Server Workaround

Microsoft did release a fix for this: KB3101496. It’s a security update issued November 10, 2015. Link to the update below.

This isn’t the only fix though. In fact, it might not even work for you. Not to worry…if it doesn’t, we have an alternative! The clever engineers posting on this thread determined it:
Lync 2013 Conversation History not taken from History Spooler by Outlook 2013 when bigger than 1 MB – TechNet

It’s an edit to an Exchange web.config file. Though from the thread and our own experience, we advise approaching the problem in this order:

  1. Apply the update first. Wait a few hours to determine if it took effect.
  2. If the update doesn’t work, use the following workaround.

Conversation History Bug Fix (KB3101496):

Security Update MS15-116 and MS15-123 for Lync 2013 (Skype for Business)
If your Skype for Business Server doesn’t already have this through Microsoft Update, you can download it here.

If Conversation History in Outlook doesn’t start updating within a few hours (happened for us after Hour 3), then try the web.config workaround.

Exchange Server Web.Config Workaround:

  1. Access your Exchange Server. Make sure you have write permissions.
  2. Navigate to the Exchange installation directory, e.g. C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server.
  3. Open the version folder.
  4. Open the ClientAccess folder.
  5. Open the exchweb folder.
  6. Open the EWS folder.
  7. Edit the web.config file found here.
  8. Within the <appSettings> node, add the following line:
    <add key=”XmlMaxBytesPerRead” value=”1000000″ />
  9. Restart your IIS server.

Again, wait a few hours. The conversations should start trickling into Conversation History, in groups of 10 or so. You may need to restart Outlook & the Skype for Business client a few times to get everything.

Sometimes Conversation Logs Delay Their Appearance. Call Them Out on Stage with These Fixes!

This is an issue which can fly under the radar. Our customer saw no error messages, and had no Outlook crashes related to it. They only noticed when someone did exactly what I portrayed earlier—tried to check a previous Skype4B conversation via their Outlook Conversation History.

Take a second to review your Outlook Conversation History. Hopefully this bug doesn’t affect you…but it doesn’t hurt to check!

Have you experienced a Conversation History “delayed appearance” in Outlook, or something similar?

 

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Troubleshooting Reference for Skype for Business File Transfer Issues

In my last post, I mentioned a co-worker alerted me to problems with file transfers in Skype for Business failing.

I did promise to do a post on her situation once we resolved the issue. Well, we resolved it!

I documented the troubleshooting steps we took. Many didn’t help our problem, but they might help yours. Like most technical issues, what fixes one instance may not fix another.

The Problem: Skype for Business Locks Up When Files Sent to the User

From the co-worker’s original email:

“Almost every time someone sends me a document through Skype [for Business], it locks up. I have to shut it down through Task Manager. It’s happened since Lync, and was never fixed. Not sure what it is, but maybe you could find something on it?”

A very specific circumstance. What happens if she sends files through Skype4B? According to her, it would work sometimes, but not always.

File Transfer Troubleshooting Steps

First, make sure file transfers are enabled for the user! I covered this in the last post, under the “When to Turn File Transfer Off” section. All the troubleshooting in the world won’t help if your user has file transfers disabled.

Now, assuming file transfer is enabled (it was for the co-worker), let’s proceed with troubleshooting.

Step 1: Check the Logs for Errors

On a Windows system, you’ll find system logs in the Settings (Windows 10)/Control Panel (Windows 7/8).

The Skype for Business client also records logs, if you have it set up to do so. Here’s how to check that.

  1. In the Skype for Business client, click Tools –> Options.
  2. The Options window will open, showing the General Options. In the third box, titled, “Help your support team help you,” you’ll see two logging options. One is a dropdown menu titled, “Logging in Skype for Business” with three choices: Off, Light, and Full.
    • This was pre-set upon install, but you can change it with a click. We set all customers to Full by default.
  3. Where do you find these logs? In the Tracing folder. You’ll find this at “C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\[16.0 or 15.0]\[Skype for Business or Lync]\Tracing.
  4. The other logging option is a checkbox for, “Also collect troubleshooting info using Windows Event Logging.” This tells Skype for Business to feed logging data to Windows’ event logs.

Turn on Logging in Skype for Business

Event Logs for Skype for Business

We pored through these logs. I found several instances of Skype4B starting properly, closing properly, one or two “Error: Improper Shutdown” messages…but no explicit file transfer issue. The shutdown errors could have been the file transfer freezing Skype—but they could also have come from my co-worker force-quitting after the freeze.

Once we knew her logs were running, we tried a test. I sent her two files via Skype4B Conversation – a simple image, and a big Word document. Of course, Murphy’s Law being what it is, they worked perfectly!

While we waited for another instance of the error, we tried the next step.

Step 2: Run Diagnostics

Next, we ran DirectX Diagnostics (dxdiag.exe).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This has nothing to do with Skype for Business. Why even try? Normally I wouldn’t have…but my co-worker said something that prompted us to. She said she recalled the screen flickering when the freeze occurred. Not always, but often enough that she remembered.

That could indicate a video issue. Quick, easy (and built-in) way to check for those is DirectX Diagnostics.

Running DirectX Diagnostics is simple on any Windows PC. Click Start, and enter “dxdiag” (no quotes) into the search box. Click the “dxdiag.exe” result.

The DirectX Diagnostics tool opens up, and runs a scan on your video and sound components. If all’s well, you’ll see results like this:

DXDiag Screen

Which we did. On to the next idea.

Step 3: Third-Party Block

If file transfer is enabled, and the client appears not to have any serious problems…was something ELSE blocking Skype for Business file transfers?

I turned to Almighty Google to check. Soon enough I found a possibility—Malwarebytes. If Malwarebytes Home or Premium is running, it could see Skype for Business file transfers as a malware vector, and block them.

The solution? Updating the Skype for Business client. More on that in a moment.

There’s also a workaround: adding Skype for Business as a “Web Exclusion” within Malwarebytes*.

  • Open Malwarebytes.
  • Click the Web Exclusions tab.
  • Click the “Add Process” button.
  • Enter the Skype for Business .EXE file path.
  • Save, and restart the computer.
Malwarebytes Web Exclusion

Web Exclusion set for Skype for Business in Malwarebytes Premium.

Skype for Business 2016 freezes on a computer that has Malwarebytes is installed – Microsoft Support

*IMPORTANT: This does NOT work on all versions of Malwarebytes. Check your version.

We use a corporate site license for our Malwarebytes, so users don’t have admin control on their local machines. Including my co-worker’s. Next!

Step 4: Video-Based Screen Sharing Getting in the Way?

I came across this troubleshooting idea in a very roundabout manner. Several support threads and some comment-sifting brought me to a comment on a Jeff Schertz blog post from 2015. The post is on Video-Based Screen Sharing (VBSS), an improvement to Skype for Business’ screen sharing capabilities.

The post itself is stellar. But how does it relate to file transfer freezes? That comes from a comment left by “Tsuyoshi” in March 2016. They gave a way to disable VBSS via two registry edits. Jeff added them to the post under an update at the bottom.

For 64-bit Skype for Business on a 64-bit Windows OS:
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Lync]
“EnableP2PScreenSharingOverVideo”=dword:00000000

For 32-bit Skype for Business on a 64-bit Windows OS:
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Lync]
“EnableP2PScreenSharingOverVideo”=dword:00000000

Value must be set to zero.

According to some other commenters, VBSS had interfered with file transfers on their computers. Disabling it, as with this registry edit, fixed the problem.

We tried it. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. But we did finally get an error message related to the file transfer freeze!

When we saw that? Well, we knew what to do then.

Step 5: Does the Skype for Business Client Have All its Updates?

Spoiler: This is what solved the problem.

As with pretty much all software these days, you need to keep Skype for Business up-to-date. Windows as well (as we’re unfortunately seeing with the WannaCry ransomware attack).

surprised dog photo

OH NO! Photo by mdalmuld

We have Group Policies in place to control updates & patches. But it turned out that this co-worker had recently replaced her computer with a new one. We’d imaged her last computer, and loaded the image onto the new one.

In the process, she somehow missed out on the latest updates.

Once we found that out, we quickly applied all available updates related to Skype for Business. I don’t know which of these two updates fixed the file transfer issue…but one of them did!

  1. Skype for Business Update KB3115087 (June 2016)
  2. Security Update for Skype for Business KB3191858 (April 2017)

Full List of Recent Skype for Business Updates (in case you need them!)

After a reboot, we repeated the tests. Every file, from Word to PDF, came through without a trace of freezing. We have a very happy co-worker right now.

Step 6: Uninstall/Reinstall

When all else fails, try uninstalling the Skype app entirely & reinstalling fresh. Tedious and frustrating, but like updates, sometimes it’s critical.

We did not need to uninstall/reinstall Skype for Business in this case. But I’m putting it in as the last step, because that’s where it should be in troubleshooting efforts. If a simpler option is available, take it.

Supporting Skype for Business is complex. This should make it a little easier.

I wrote these in steps for easy reference. They aren’t necessarily linear, or even necessary to all troubleshooting cases. For instance, about a year back we had a customer with a consistent error—every time he left a Skype Meeting, the client would crash. Checking the system logs immediately told us the cause: severe delays in the client’s responses. Which led straight to an uninstall/reinstall.

Whether you’re a frequent reader or you just dropped by from Google, I hope these steps help speed up your support process!

What Skype for Business support issue did you have the hardest time with? Please comment or email. (Venting is OK…so long as you fixed it!)

By the way, I’m still testing the third-party app I mentioned in the last post. A review post is forthcoming, but I want to run the app through its paces first.

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What’s Involved in a Skype for Business File Transfer

File Transfer in Skype for Business

Skype for Business on Mac finally got file transfer capability in April. Then, just last week, a co-worker asked me about a thorny issue they’ve had with file transfers intermittently failing. (I’ll cover this in its own post once we’ve fully diagnosed and fixed the problem.)

Both these items led me on a stroll through the technology behind file transfer in Skype for Business. I consider the ability to send/receive files a fundamental function…and I’m certainly not the only one. Comments on SkypeFeedback.com and Office 365′ Feedback Forums echo its importance among my fellow Skype4B users.

Let’s take a dive into what goes into file transfer, shall we? It doesn’t need much configuration…but like air, you notice when it’s not there!

Where Can You Transfer Files in Skype for Business?

File Transfer is a basic part of Skype for Business, both Server and Online. As the Skype admin, you control whether users can or cannot send files to one another, and through which tools.

The most common file transfer method is through Instant Messaging (or “P2P File Transfer”). However, you can also share files in a Skype Meeting.

File Transfer is enabled by default. But in case yours is turned off and you want it on, here’s how.

How to Enable File Transfer

What’s the fastest way to enable Skype for Business file transfer is…use a PowerShell cmdlet! Specifically, this one: Set-CsFileTransferFilterConfiguration – TechNet

Conferencing Policy OptionsOnce enabled, you can customize file transfer options through PowerShell, or through the Control Panel. I like the Control Panel myself.

File transfer in Skype Meetings is enabled by default, as part of the Conferencing Policy with the Set-CsConferencingPolicy cmdlet. If you want to turn it off, run the cmdlet with the “-EnableFileTransfer $False” parameter.
Set-CsConferencingPolicy – TechNet

Going back to IM file transfers, the main option you have in the Control Panel is whether to block all files (essentially disabling file transfer) or block specific file types. Predictably, you find this option under “IM and Presence” in Skype for Business Server.

Skype for Business won’t let you send certain file types, due to malware risk. Here’s the full list of files Skype for Business (Server and Online) blocks:

.ade, .adp, .app, .asp, .bas, .bat, .cer, .chm, .cmd, .com, .cpl, .crt, .csh, .exe, .fxp, .grp, .hlp, .hta, .inf, .ins, .isp, .its, .js, .jse, .ksh, .lnk, .mad, .maf, .mag, .mam, .maq, .mar, .mas, .mat, .mau, .mav, .maw, .mda, .mdb, .mde, .mdt, .mdw, .mdz, .msc, .msi, .msp, .mst, .ocx, .ops, .pcd, .pif, .pl, .pnp, .prf, .prg, .pst, .reg, .scf, .scr, .sct, .shb, .shs, .tmp, .url, .vb, .vbe, .vbs, .vsd, .vsmacros, .vss, .vst, .vsw, .ws, .wsc, .wsf, .wsh

IM File Transfer Options

Note the bolded examples. Nobody can send .exe files? That’s because they’re blocked by default! (Don’t try to ZIP it up either; Skype will see into the ZIP and refuse to send.)

Once file transfer is enabled and blocked file types are set, you’ll need to make sure the appropriate ports are open on the firewall. Standard configurations will open the ports necessary (but it’s always good to test!).

The default ports used by Skype for Business file transfers are:
(Server)
1024-65535 TCP
6891-6901 TCP

(Online)
443 TCP [Destination]
50040 – 50059 UDP and TCP [Source]
443 TCP, 50000 – 59999 TCP [Destination]
Allow:
*.infra.lync.com
*.online.lync.com
*.resources.lync.com
Office 365 URLs and IP Address Ranges

When to Turn File Transfer Off: When Compliance Demands

Surprisingly, there IS a situation where you would want to turn File Transfer off, and leave it off. When you have to maintain a regulatory compliance standard.

In Skype for Business Online, file transfers within Instant Messaging are considered a “non-archived feature.” That means the feature isn’t captured when you have an In-Place Hold set up in Exchange. Thus the data you would send via file transfer doesn’t get recorded…which can jeopardize compliance.

(Shared OneNote pages and PowerPoint annotations are also non-archived features.)

This option is controlled at the user level. In the Skype for Business Admin Center, under Users, you’ll find the option for turning off non-archived features. You’re supposed to “select this option if you’re legally required to preserve electronically stored information.”

Configure Settings for Individual Users – Office 365 Support

A more detailed explanation for this setting is at: Demystifying a User Compliance setting in Skype for Business Online – Curtis J..

File Transfers Take Some Consideration, But Carry High Value to Users

In most deployments, file transfer is “just another part of the process.” Given the pieces involved though, file transfers do merit a little extra thought during setup. Mostly to make sure they function correctly for all users. Because when they don’t, it doesn’t matter if it’s 50 users or one…you’ll hear about it!

The next post may be a little delayed. I have a special review in the works…a popular third-party app got an upgrade, and I get to test it out!

What’s your File Transfer story? Did you run into a strange problem, or need to change its default setup? Please comment or email. And join us again next time!

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3 Ways to Start Conversations With Skype for Business Auto-Contact Links

A reader comment drew my attention to this post from way back in 2011: 3 Ways to Start Conversations With Lync Auto-Contact URLs

They asked a simple question: “Could you do this (set auto-contact URLs) with a Skype for Business ID?”

Yes, you can! What’s more, you have more parameters to work with in Skype for Business. I found several sources to help us out here, with lots of good detail. Links at the end of the post.

I’ll follow the same format as my original post. If you’re curious about adding Skype for Business links in places like emails, on a webpage, etc., this is how you do it.

#1 – Call a Skype for Business Number From Your Browser or Email

In the previous post, I mentioned the “TEL:+12223334444” link format. You use “TEL:” plus the country code (1 for the U.S.), plus the area code, plus the number. No spaces and no quote marks. The HTML structure look like this:
<a href=”tel:+12223334444″>Call 222-333-4444</a>

This format still works! In fact it’s near-universal; almost every app that can facilitate VoIP calls will recognize it, including Outlook. The TEL: link works on mobile as well.

(You might see a popup window asking you which app you want to open the TEL: link.)

Open Link in Skype for Business from Auto-Contact Link

Though we do have a caveat here. The sheer number of VoIP-enabled apps – Skype for Business, Skype (Consumer), WhatsApp, Viber, Google Hangouts, Facebook – means your computer may not associate TEL: links with Skype for Business by default. If not, and you want it to, you may need to reset the association. Here’s how to do that.

On Windows 10, this is done in Settings, under System. Click “Default Apps”, scroll down, and click “Choose Default Apps By Protocol.” Scroll until you see the “TEL” protocol. If Skype for Business isn’t the default already, click the app that is and choose it in the popup menu.

On Windows 7/8, go to the Control Panel. Choose Default Programs, and then Set Default Programs. Locate Skype for Business in the list (it may be under “Lync (desktop)”). Click the “Choose Defaults for This Program” and check TEL:.
Reference: Changing the default app used to open tel: links on Windows – MarkWilson.co.uk

#2 – Auto-Contact Link to a Skype for Business Account Name

Now we come to the reader’s original question…initiating a call using a Skype for Business ID instead of a phone number.

Can you do this with a Skype for Business user account name? Yep! But not with the TEL: link format. And the IM: format doesn’t work too well anymore (I think it’s deprecated).

Instead, we’ll use “SIP:”.

You’d code the link like a regular email link. SIP: goes in place of the MAILTO:. Other than that, it’s exactly the same.

<a href=”sip:buddymike@yourdomain.com″>Call Mike with Skype4B</a>

NOTE: Skype for Business’ default response to SIP: links is NOT to start a call. It’s to initiate a new Conversation. Starting a call only takes one click from there, of course. But I don’t want to mislead anyone.

This is the best way to use Skype for Business account names on websites or in emails. From the Conversation window you can start voice, video, sharing, etc.

But when it comes to meetings, there’s an even simpler way.

#3 – Auto-Contact Link for Conversations or Meetings

Links using SIP: work to start a Skype for Business Conversation. If you want to post/share a link to a Skype Meeting though, you don’t even need a special link format. You just need the meeting’s URL. To get that…

  1. In Outlook, click New Items > Skype Meeting.
  2. The New Skype Meeting window opens. Enter whatever details & attendees you want. Before clicking Send, copy the “Join Skype Meeting” link from the meeting invite.
  3. Paste the link into any email, chat, or webpage you want. Meeting links normally look like this:
    https://meet.yourdomain.com/skype.accountname/2394FS3J
    (I inserted random numbers at the end; they’re normally an auto-generated meeting ID number.)

When clicked, the computer will either open a Skype Meeting window, or take you to this message:

Open Skype Meeting Page from Auto-Contact Link

One click to the Skype for Business Web App. Either way, you’re able to access the Skype Meeting.

Auto-Contact Links Help You Get More Use out of Skype for Business

As promised, here are the sources for this post.

Depending on your computer and Skype for Business configuration, your TEL: and SIP: links may respond slightly differently. You should still get the same result; Skype for Business spawning calls and Conversation windows. I’m giving you a just-in-case warning.

This one capability illustrates a lot of how much the communications world has changed since I wrote that 2011 post. In less than 6 years, the pace of Technology exploded Voice over IP across millions of devices. Almost every computing platform out there can click one of these links and make a call.

With links in TEL: and SIP: format, you’re extending Skype for Business out even further. Customers can click a link on your website and talk to a support rep or VP in seconds. Pretty handy for a link, isn’t it?

Do you use TEL: and SIP: links with Skype for Business? In what capacity? Please comment, email, or tweet us at @PlanetMagpieIT.

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Skype for Business vs. Workplace by Facebook

Time to continue our “VS.” series! This time, let’s do a comparison of Workplace by Facebook to Skype for Business.

(Previous post: Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts)

I was introduced to Workplace during research for The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business). Here’s an excerpt from that post, talking about Workplace:

The Workplace app does almost exactly the same things as Microsoft Teams and Slack: chat rooms, groups, external users, video, etc. It’s just made by the Facebook team. Pricing is cheaper than Slack, which makes sense if Workplace wants to grab users from other platforms.

Some good (and bad) points:

  • Workplace accounts are different from Facebook accounts. That’s good; separating work and play means better privacy overall.
  • Workplace has a Trust Center posted, like Office 365: Workplace Trust Principles. Good for you guys!
  • Workplace debuts with a handicap though—Facebook’s dubious privacy practices. It’s a separate system, but Workplace does run off Facebook’s servers. Some businesses will shy away on reputation alone (and I can’t honestly blame them).

I requested a trial. Curiously, I was prompted to select a time for a Live Demo, instead of a download link or registration page. Which gave me a nice overview of the platform before sending me a link to my new Workplace. After playing with it for a few days (and bugging my co-workers with random “Just testing!” calls), I think it’s time for my review.

So what kind of experience does Workplace give us? Is a “Facebook for Work” app what we need? What kind of pricing are we getting? Features? Let’s find out!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Skype for Business Workplace By FB
Instant Messaging Work Chat (Messenger on Steroids)
Voice Calls Voice Calls within Work Chat
Video Calls Video Calls within Work Chat
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Federation Multi-Company Groups
Presence Status  Presence Indicator
Response Groups Groups
Persistent Chat Work Chat
Runs On-Prem (Server)
or SaaS Option  (Office 365)
Runs as Cloud Service
with Mobile Apps

 

Workplace setup assistance

A Workplace post to help you with setup.

Before we get into the details on similarities & differences though, there’s an elephant in the (chat) room. Privacy.

The Privacy Question

Workplace does come from Facebook. And Facebook is famous for its, shall we say, cavalier attitude about user privacy.

You Should Go Check Facebook’s New Privacy Settings – WIRED (06-02-16)

The question is, does Workplace protect users’ privacy? As a business product, it does have a legal obligation. So far, I’ve seen no indication that it will gamble with user privacy. But given its creator, we must still wonder.

In the Workplace FAQs, we find several questions devoted to privacy and confidentiality. Like this one.

Who owns the information that employees create?
Like other cloud-based enterprise software, the employer does.

Pretty straightforward answer. Only time will tell what changes may appear in Workplace’s approach to privacy. As well as what the market believes about Workplace privacy.

The Similarities: Features, Familiar UI

In terms of features, both platforms are very similar. Workplace’s Work Chat mirrors Skype4B’s Instant Messaging. From there, you can add voice, video, or other people with a few clicks. Just like in Skype for Business.

I was able to test the calling function, but not video (think my cam’s broken). Calls in Workplace came through as clear as any Skype for Business call.

Familiarity is a big factor in both platforms. Workplace feels & acts almost identically to Facebook. Skype for Business feels & acts a lot like Skype (in some respects!). I must credit both Facebook and Microsoft on this. Familiarity is a big part of good user experience—it helps adoption, shortens the learning curve, and improves overall satisfaction.

Workplace by Facebook screen

Looks like Facebook. Is actually Workplace.

As you can see from the screenshot, Workplace’s interface is feed-based. Skype for Business’ interface is contact-based. So long as the user knows where to go for communications, the interface works. In this respect, Workplace has a leg up over other chat competitors, like Slack and HipChat.

The Differences: Pricing, On-Prem vs. Cloud, Apps

The biggest difference I see (at least right now) is that Workplace is cloud-only. No local deployment option exists. Not surprising, but for those who prefer deploying servers on-prem…Workplace is a no-go.

The pricing difference stems from this same disparity.

Workplace charges only by active users. Skype for Business Online does something similar through Office 365 user accounts. But Skype for Business Server does not. The server pricing is up-front, in the form of licenses and implementation costs.
Workplace just turns on and charges you for X users each month.

Their price point is lower than Microsoft’s Office 365. In fact, even considering Slack’s pricing, Workplace is the cheapest per month:

  • Office 365 Business plans run from $5/user/month to $12.50/user/month. The Enterprise plans run from $8/user/month to $35/user/month.
  • Slack charges $8/user/month for Standard, and $15/user/month for Plus.
  • Workplace starts at $3/user/month for the first 1,000 users ($2/user for the next 1,000, and $1/user after that).

Seems pretty obvious that Facebook wants to compete on price as well as features. Using such a low per-user pricing model is an attempt to leapfrog both Slack and Microsoft. Like its other platforms, the company may aim to grow Workplace at break-even (or even at a small loss) until it reaches juggernaut status. Then they can raise prices all they want.

It’s worked for them before; I must admit that. But only time will tell us if this pays off for Workplace’s adoption.

Finally, Workplace features third-party app integration. Facebook learned from its ecosystem of consumer apps & games, and built an API that will let developers build add-ons for Workplace too.

Apps & Permissions – Workplace Docs

You can do this with Skype for Business as well, to some degree. There are many third-party apps which extend the Skype for Business system. (We’ve reviewed a few here on the blog – search around!)

Microsoft even maintains a registry: Skype for Business Apps, though it is incomplete. In terms of third-party integration, Workplace has a bit of an edge here. Like Slack, it appears designed to work with other apps from the start.


Final Words: Workplace Has the Chops, But Will Businesses Bite?

Facebook is moving into an already-populated space, where competitors have had years to build up their audiences, and trying to take it over. Nothing inherently wrong with such a practice—disruption feeds innovation.

But I can’t help thinking Workplace will never get out from under Facebook’s privacy question. If there’s a data leak, or Workplace data “accidentally” shows up in Facebook ad deployments? Then Workplace is DOA…and thousands of businesses are in serious trouble.

A final note: Workplace is still the new kid on the block. I will revisit this topic again later, after the market’s had time to chew through Workplace more, and we see what kind of management path Facebook takes with it.

Which do you prefer using—Workplace by FB or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other?  Please comment or email me what you think.

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3 Ways to Make Sure Contact Photos Display in Skype for Business

Today, let’s tackle a tiny-but-frustrating issue…Skype for Business contact photos.

User images, Skype avatars, we have several names for them. They’re the little circular image that shows up in Skype for Business next to your name in the Contacts List.

Skype4B Contacts List

Contact photos also show up in Outlook and Office 365. There’s a reason for this: Contact photos are stored within Active Directory accounts. AD then populates the photos out to other Office properties, like Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office apps.

We had one employee whose Skype for Business contact didn’t show his photo. We’ll call him Mike. Now, we knew Mike had one, because we saw it in Outlook all the time. So why wouldn’t it show up in Skype?

(Backend information for reference: Exchange Server and AD on-prem, Skype for Business Server on-prem.)

Now, the solution for this wound up being something VERY simple.  If you want to just see the fix that worked for us, skip to “Troubleshooting Point 3” below. But I’m documenting the missteps as well, because you CAN fix contact photo issues using those methods, under different circumstances.

Troubleshooting Point 1: Is My Local Cache Not Working?

My co-worker confirmed that a contact photo did exist in Active Directory for Mike. I could see it in Outlook, but not Skype for Business. Was this a local issue?

We’ve blogged about local contact issues in the past:
Updating Lync Contacts: Using Active Directory to Store and Push Contact Photos (Part 1 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Sync Error Fixes (Part 2 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Server-Side Checks to Repair Contact Photo Display (Part 3 of 3)
How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Maybe my local client’s files were out of date, or corrupt somehow. Would that prevent Mike’s contact photo from displaying?

Some Google searches brought me to: QuickTip: Missing Pictures in Lync – SkypeAdmin.com. Mr. Caragol mentioned the local photo cache directory, typically located at:

\Users\your.username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\15.0 [or 16.0]\Lync\sip_yourusername@yourdomain.com\Photo

In it you should see a list of .cache files. Like this!

Skype4B Photo Cache Files

Each of these .cache files is actually a photo. Rename them to a .jpg and you’ll see…a contact photo.

Now, Mike’s .cache file didn’t show up on my computer. That meant either his contact photo didn’t exist, or it wasn’t reaching me. So I tried a sneaky tactic—grabbing a random image, sizing it to 96x96px, naming it sip_mikeXXX@planetmagpie.com.cache, and putting it in the Photo directory.

No luck.

Next I tried shutting down Skype for Business, renaming the UCSGroupsContacts.cache file (it’s one level up from Photo), and reopening Skype.  Thereby forcing a fresh download from the Skype for Business Server.  No change to Mike’s contact photo though.

Troubleshooting Point 2: Is the Contact Photo the Wrong Size?

In another search, I came across this app: Exclaimer Outlook Photos

The Exclaimer app helps you get people’s photos into “Outlook, SharePoint and Skype Easily,” according to their site. Plus it’s free. Why not give it a shot?

I installed Exclaimer and opened the app. It accessed our Active Directory and found Mike’s account. It asked me if I wanted to replace its contact photo with another photo. But then I noticed something – Mike’s photo in AD was listed at 64x64px. The other Skype for Business contact photos in my local cache were all 96x96px.

Did the photo’s size make a difference?

Nope. My co-worker accessed AD directly and confirmed that the photo Mike’s account contained was 96x96px. I don’t know if Exclaimer saw the wrong photo, or if we had a miscommunication. Either way, the size didn’t appear to prevent Mike’s contact photo from showing up.
 

Troubleshooting Point 3: Oh Wait, is the Contact Photo Enabled?

Here’s the forehead-smacking moment. After things looked fine on AD, we got a hold of Mike and asked him to verify that his options were all set correctly.

Mike uses a Mac, and didn’t have the new Skype4B client on it yet. He still used Lync for Mac 2011. He checked his Options. Guess what he found in the Photos Settings?

Lync Mac Photo Settings Off

That’s right. His client had defaulted to “Do not show my picture” in Options. One click to select “Show default picture,” and boom.

Lync Mac Photo Settings On

Ta daaa!

Only a moment later I checked my Skype for Business client. Sure enough, Mike’s contact photo displayed. I checked my local Photo cache directory (from Point 1), and a .cache file now existed for him.

Sometimes the Simplest Solution is the Right One (but we must check everything else first!)

I’m 100% certain some of you reading this post have done this too. The obvious solution is far too obvious, so we must cover the less-obvious causes first. Afterward…oh. Well, darn, the obvious solution worked after all.

I’m still glad we covered the bases we did. It meant finding that some issues were not there. Plus it made for a nice blog post, in case you run into this particular issue!

What frustrates you about Skype for Business contacts the most? Please comment or email.

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