Category: Third-Party Lync Products

Device Review: Plantronics Voyager Focus UC Headset

Over the past 2 weeks I tested a new headset: the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC (B825-M). It’s an on-ear headset built for use with Unified Communications platforms.

Voyager Focus UC – Plantronics.com

Overall, it’s a comfortable, easy-to-use headset. Plenty of good features, and a simple experience in both setup and daily use.

Photo courtesy of Plantronics.com.

Photo courtesy of Plantronics.com.

Let’s start with the headset’s ins and outs.Focus UC Headset on Desk

The Ins and Outs

  • Stereo-earphone headset
  • The headband has a padded comfort strip with elastic inside it
  • Bluetooth connector, no cords to the headset
  • Mic arm rotates for right-ear or left-ear use
  • Active Noise Canceling (ANC) switch
  • Comes with charging cradle, Bluetooth adapter and case
  • On the mic-side earphone, you’ll find a volume control slider and play/pause buttons

The headset arrived fully charged. It recharges quickly as well. I didn’t run it until battery drain, but it easily went 4 hours on my head.

Focus UC with mic arm extended

Mic arm rotated out.

Setup: Zero configuration necessary. I connected the cradle to USB, set the headset on it, and plugged in the Bluetooth dongle. Skype for Business recognized and switched to the headset right away. No driver setup needed.

Normally I would put the device through its paces over the course of a day. Make a bunch of test calls, fiddle with its buttons, etc. But since I had no rush to return the device, I decided to replace my normal headset (Jabra Motion Office) for a week. See how the Focus UC performed in our everyday office environment.

Impressions from Day-to-Day Use

First impressions came from call quality. The Focus UC produces crystal-clear audio for calls, both hearing and speaking. I used it on regular voice calls, Skype Meetings, even a Pandora stream. Everything sounded great.

In terms of comfort, the Focus UC is extremely comfortable! Normally on-ear headphones hurt my ears after a while, but these did not.

The Bluetooth connection is very strong. Plantronics notes 98 feet of wireless range. Now, testing that limit would require me walking all the way across our office park! But I did wander across the office while on a call. Didn’t even hear static.

I found the headset’s controls quite intuitive. For one, it’s easy to switch the mic from one direction (left ear) to the other (right ear). Just rotate the arm around.

The mute button, as well as Play/Pause, respond to a light tap. The volume dial is a rocker – turn it forward to increase volume, turn it back to decrease.

Focus UC Play-Pause-Volume

Adjusting the Volume rocker

The headset does have online indicator lights as well. They’re blue LEDs which appear on the earphone exteriors, to tell others that you’re on a call. I didn’t see them at all while talking (which is exactly what should happen). You can just barely see the indicator light in the photo below.

The Active Noise Canceling worked well, dulling out noise around me. However I found I didn’t need to use it often. The earpieces are a soft, dense foam. They blocked out sound all on their own.

Desiree wearing the Focus UC

One more thing: Plantronics mentions “smart sensors” with the Focus UC. I observed the technology almost right away. Less than 5 minutes after installing the headset, an unexpected call came in. I grabbed the headset and threw it on. I was just about to click the “Accept” button on my screen…when the call suddenly activated. The headset picked up that it was on my head–time to start the call!

Drawbacks

While this is definitely a favorable review, the Focus UC isn’t perfect. I noticed a couple small drawbacks during the tests.

  1. The headset requires 2 USB ports. One for the Bluetooth adapter, one for the charging cradle. I tested it with just the charging cradle; the computer didn’t even see the headset.Not sure why they made the headset like this. It had no trouble working with an external USB hub. But not everyone has those. Why not just build the connector into the cradle?
  2. When seated on the charging cradle, the Headset leans to one side. This can cause the headset to swing around/knock into things, pull the charge connector out, or even fall out of its cradle.

Final Thoughts on the Focus UC

When my week of testing ended, I handed the Focus UC off to our office manager. She needed a new headset, and wanted something wireless so she could move around.

I don’t think anyone will dare taking it away from her now!

Plantronics has a long and deserved reputation for making good headsets. The Focus UC is yet another high-quality, Skype for Business-friendly headset. It’ll work very well for most business users (so long as they have enough USB ports!).

What kind of headset do you use with Skype for Business? Please comment or email your choice. Maybe you have one I haven’t tried yet!

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Hardware Review: Polycom RealPresence Trio 8800 (Part 1)

We have a new device to review! It’s the RealPresence Trio 8800 from Polycom.

I will do this in two parts. Today’s post will talk about the RealPresence Trio’s capabilities. Next post will cover our experience testing it in the office.

“RealPresence”? What’s That?

The RealPresence Trio is a conferencing system built for “amazing sound quality.” But it doesn’t just provide audio – you can add video, share content and link up devices like tablets.

The “Trio” part refers to its 3 products:

  1. A meeting console, or “smart hub.”
  2. A Logitech Webcam C390e. (Right now, this is the only camera with which RealPresence works.)
  3. And the Visual+ accessory unit. The Visual+ expands the RealPresence hub with content sharing & videoconferencing functionality.

RealPresence Trio from PolyCom

RealPresence works with Skype for Business and Lync Server 2013 at full capability. (RealPresence can work with a Lync 2010 server, but audio-only. Its video coding standard is too new for Lync 2010 to support.)

As you can see from the photo (credit to Polycom), the smart hub looks a lot like the “Three-legged Spider” (my own name for conference room speakers). The hub’s panels are touch-sensitive – not only for the LCD screen, but on each speaker “leg”. For instance, touch the mute corner on any of them (visible in green above), and the speaker is muted.

The webcam can operate standalone, or connected to a TV/monitor. We’ll test it using the Panasonic LCD TV in our conference room.

The Visual+ facilitates content sharing – presentations, spreadsheets, video.

RealPresence Trio 880 FAQ (PDF)

What’s so Special?

Why should a business consider using the RealPresence though? They do have audio/video conferencing options.

Well, first off, the RealPresence Trio is very new. Which means latest-and-greatest tech.

1080p video at 30fps. Good clear video from the Logitech.

Built-in Power over Ethernet (PoE). Fewer cords is always helpful!

Exchange Calendar integration. The other day, a customer reported a little difficulty with their conference room. They had Skype for Business running in the conference room (but not on a RealPresence Trio device). Audio worked all right, and they could get video. But actually joining Skype Meetings proved problematic.

This is in fact one of the reasons we started looking at the RealPresence product. Its calendar integration for meeting joins should prove much simpler than the older device this customer used.

Audio. The big one. The RealPresence Trio shows some serious devotion to audio quality.

  • USB and Bluetooth connectivity for audio. You can use it as a conferencing device, or a speakerphone. Not just with Skype for Business either.
  • NoiseBlock – an audio technology “which identifies non-speech noise and mutes all microphones automatically.”
  • From the FAQ: “RealPresence Trio also uses its own echo cancellation capabilities, regardless of its operating mode. Trio is recognized as a USB echo cancelling speakerphone.”

I’ll try as many tests of this as I can. But I admit a slight bias here – we’ve used PolyCom phones and conferencing devices for some years now. In terms of echo and noise, they generally work well.

I’ll know more after the testing. But right now, I’d say the RealPresence Trio is a good chance if you:

  • Have workers out in the field, and need to hear from them regularly.
  • Operate out of multiple offices.
  • Have teams spread out geographically, who need to collaborate often.
  • Are moving to Skype for Business Server and want an audio conferencing solution that ‘just works’ with it.

Elements to Test

These are the elements I plan to test on the RealPresence.

  1. Video quality. As high as the Panasonic TV will go.
  2. Audio quality. I’m honestly not sure how to test this, but one of our designers works with audio-visual, so I’ll ask him for input.
  3. Content sharing stream. I’ve done a lot of desktop/app/presentation sharing through Skype for Business. Bandwidth and device quality influence how smooth & clear the stream is. We have plenty of bandwidth in the office…let’s see how the device measures up.
  4. Ease of setup. I’m asking the rest of our Skype for Business team for their input too.
  5. Ease of use for meetings. How long does it take to set up a meeting using RealPresence? Is the meeting join really one-step?
  6. Integration with Skype for Business and Exchange. How complicated is this part to set up? Do we need to do anything not documented?
  7. Will it BLEND? (No, not really.)

Anything you’d like us to test on the Polycom RealPresence? If so, please comment or email the idea.

If you’re not already subscribed, don’t forget to sign up on the right. Otherwise you might miss Part 2 of this review, detailing our test results. Nobody wants to miss that!

 

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The SBC and Its Role in Skype for Business

Today let’s talk about the SBC.

I’ve mentioned SBCs here in the past, on the Lync Add-On Hardware post last year.

A new prospect reminded me of the SBC, as their situation will require one for interoperability reasons. They have several different types of VoIP phones scattered between 3 locations.

(Disclaimer: PlanetMagpie is a Sonus Partner. We use their SBCs for Skype for Business deployments, as well as our own Skype4B server. They didn’t ask me to write this though!)

That said, the reminder spurred me to a thought. “Have I gone into detail on what an SBC does yet? No, I don’t think so. Well, that’s this week’s topic then.”

What’s an SBC?

SBC stands for Session Border Controller. It’s a discrete hardware device which sits in the edge network. There, it

looks at each SIP packet going between your Skype for Business Enterprise Voice network and the external ISP. It determines which packets should be allowed through, and which route they should take.

Server Rack

What Does an SBC Do?

SBCs provide multiple security and mediation services within a VoIP environment.

Let’s say you have two phones – one onsite in your network, one offsite. Bob at Offsite picks up the phone & calls Jane at Onsite. This VoIP call is called a “session”. The SBC looks at Bob’s incoming call, determines that it’s legitimate, and lets it through to Jane. Hence, “Session Border Controller”.

Taking on this role helps stop a lot of bad things from happening. Within a Skype for Business deployment, SBCs can:

  • Protect the network from Denial of Service attacks, spoofing, and other outside attacks
  • Enable SIP trunking
  • Support interoperability between different endpoints (e.g., different VoIP phone types, as I mentioned in the opening above)
  • ‘Transcoding’ calls – Changing the codec used in a call, depending on the session type (audio, video), device type (tablets, laptops, phones), and bandwidth available

Why Would I Need an SBC in my Skype for Business Deployment?

Does your network suffer break-in attempts or DoS attacks? The attackers will target your Skype for Business network too. No question. It needs protection. SBCs are good for that.

Do your people ever call out? There’s no guarantee the SIP endpoints (VoIP phones) will talk to one another. Each phone can have a different bit rate. And if they do, they can’t connect to one another properly. Unless you use an SBC to bridge them (a process called ‘transrating’).

These are the two biggest reasons for an SBC. More exist, depending on your network configuration & security.

Okay then, what SBC should I use?

Right now, according to the Telephony Infrastructure for Skype for Business page on Office TechCenter, only two session border controllers are certified for Skype4B use.

Oracle Net-Net 3820
Sonus SBC 2000

(The Lync Server 2013-approved SBCs will work too. Here’s the full list.)

The Sonus SBC 1000 will also work for Skype for Business; we’ve tested it and the 2000 in small business deployments. Both of them do the job nicely. For Lync Server, we have several 1000s running at customer sites.

You CAN run Skype for Business (or Lync Server) without a Session Border Controller. It’s not mandatory. But it is helpful.

Want more? Sonus has kindly published a simple guide on using SBCs.
Ebook – Session Border Controllers for Dummies

I also like the Skype for Business guide: Ebook – Skype for Business for Dummies.

Both provide good overall explanations for Skype for Business and SBCs.

Do you use a Session Border Controller in your Skype for Business Deployment? What was the primary reason? Please comment or email your thoughts.  And join us again next week!

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Call Monitor Pro and Lync Monitoring Reports Decoder: Dual Tool Reviews

Two new Lync tools! But my birthday’s not until August.

Both of these new tools popped up on my radar today. You know I love doing reviews…couldn’t pass up the opportunity! So for this week’s Lync Insider post, I have a Dual Tool Review. A new mini-app for calls through Lync and Skype for Business, and a handy “cheat sheet” for navigating the information-flood we call Lync Monitoring Reports.

Call Monitor Pro

Matt Landis gives us another Lync tool! This one is called “Call Monitor Pro”.

It’s an always-on-top window which lets you hold/mute calls, switch between 2 calls, and locate an active conversation window.

Call Monitor Pro for Skype for Business & Lync – TechNet Downloads

Call Monitor Pro

I’m testing out the free version now. My thoughts:

  • The app only deals with calls through Lync. Narrow focus often translates to good-quality apps. This one is no exception.
  • Zero configuration required. Download, install and run. Call Monitor Pro even auto-recognized my Jabra Motion Office headset.
  • You can configure your own shortcut keys!
  • It is always on top, which sometimes bugs me. But you can minimize it.  (EDIT: Matt says you can in fact turn off Always on Top.  It’s a checkbox in Settings > General.)
  • No call quality degradation at all.

An Enterprise version is also available for sale:  Enterprise Inquiry Page – Call Monitor Pro. It has more features, such as 1-click Call Park and an advanced Extensibility Platform for Lync 2013 & Skype for Business 2015.

If you have to frequently switch between incoming calls, this is a nice snappy little tool. Try it out!

Might have to spring for the Enterprise version myself, so I can do a full review. But before that, let’s review Tool #2.

Lync Monitoring Reports Decoder

I’m doing research on Lync’s Quality of Experience (QoE) for upcoming posts. While searching, I came across this recent post from The UC Geek:  Lync Monitoring Reports Decoder – UC Geek

In it, you’ll find a download link for the Decoder spreadsheet in Excel format. At first I thought it contained a bunch of scripting to process QoE data. Some custom version of a Monitoring Report.

I was way off—but in a good way!

What the spreadsheet does is give a detailed explanation of each element you’d find in a Monitoring Report – e.g., the Peer-to-Peer Session Detail Report.

Monitoring Reports Decoder

I like that Andrew called it a ‘decoder’ – makes me think of a Decoder Ring. That’s exactly what it’s meant for too. Not sure what a “Device howling event count” is? Check the Decoder. Trying to find out what’s causing Low SNR? The Decoder will tell you.

Right now the Decoder covers two reports:

  1. Peer-to-Peer Session Detail Report, and
  2. Client Visual Feedback Triggers.

(I’ll bet more reports are forthcoming shortly.)

There’s also a Reference sheet with a stack of relevant links. Hmmm, wonder if I could get a Lync Insider URL added…

Conclusion: Both Call Monitor Pro and Lync Monitoring Reports Decoder tackle one aspect of Lync Server, and add a little extra convenience. Which I think is a great strategy. These are both going in the “Lync Apps” toolbox.

Do you use third-party apps to improve your Lync Server experience? Share them! Please comment or email.

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Device Review: Jabra Motion Office Headset

Today we have another Jabra headset to review. Not an over-the-ears devices like the Evolve 80 though – no, this is one of their Bluetooth headsets. The Jabra Motion Office unit.

Device Page: JABRA MOTION OFFICE – Jabra.com

I admit to a little reservation when starting the review. Bluetooth headsets and me don’t tend to get along.

Well, until now.

Initial Impressions

The Motion Office is more than just the headset. There’s also a charging/connectivity stand with a small touchscreen. And a headset case. And cables. And a Bluetooth adapter.

Jabra Motion Office Unit

This isn’t just a headset. It’s an extension to your Lync client. Irrespective of the platform on which you use Lync.

Setting Up the Unit

After the unboxing, you connect the headset to the base & plug it in. The touchscreen says the earpiece needs to charge for 20 minutes. And while you wait, why don’t you run through Setup?

motionofficesetup

The touchscreen provides instructions from then on. First it asks if you want to connect this headset to your desk phone. I did, connecting a given cable to the Polycom. It asked me to call a Jabra support number to complete the phone connection.

motionofficeinstructions

After that, it asked if I wanted to connect to a Softphone (PC)? Sure, why not? I plugged it into my laptop’s USB hub. The touchscreen suggested downloading the Jabra PC Suite for additional capabilities, at www.jabra.com/pcsuite. I did so.

PC Suite contains “Softphone Integration Modules” – these enable call control for third-party softphones. It’s a thorough list too – Skype, Cisco, NEC, Lync, ShoreTel and a couple more. I disabled a few that I know I’ll never use.

After the PC Suite installed, the touchscreen asked me, “Connect to mobile phone?” I said No to this one, for now. Didn’t need it, and I was curious when I’d see an option to connect it later.

Next up, Personal Preferences. Screen brightness, dimmer timeout, ringtones, volume controls. The touchscreen then kindly refers you back to the Quick Start Guide for Headset Use 101.

motionofficecalloptions

Making Calls

The headset/earpiece, when fully charged, has an 8-hour talk time. Enough for a full workday.

As I did with the last Jabra headset, I tested this one out by making some calls.
Test calls came:

  • From Lync
  • From cellphones
  • To Lync
  • To cellphones

Call quality was as clear as the Jabra Evolve 80 – which is impressive on its own, considering that had two wrap-around earpieces and the Motion Office only has one in-ear piece.

The calls are so sharp that, when I called a co-worker in the same workspace, the earpiece could pick up his voice through the phone AND spoken! (Which caused a funny echo effect in my ear. Moving away made it disappear.)

motionofficeheadset

Touchscreen

We’ve had touchscreens on our Polycom desk phones for a while now. The Motion Office’s touchscreen is smaller, and has one disadvantage: No ability to dial via touchscreen. However, that isn’t a requirement. Dialing through Lync or your phone works perfectly.

The touchscreen also lets you switch quickly between devices. Remember how I didn’t connect Motion Office to my cellphone at first? When I did (via the Call Options button on top-right), I could switch between it, my desk phone and my computer with a touch. They’re all represented by icons.

Which means I can choose from which location I take my call, within Lync. Forward calls to cell? Pick up with the earpiece. Simultaneous Ring? All devices will give the call to the earpiece.

Voice Commands

Using voice commands with a Lync headset…about time! To find out which voice commands are available, tap the Voice/Mute Mic button when you’re not on a call. When you hear “Say a Command,” say “What can I say?”

The headset will give you a list of voice commands. The ones I received were:

  1. Pair New Device
  2. Battery
  3. Cancel

Speak up; it needs clear instruction.  I had a few funny looks while I walked around shouting, “What can I say?  What can I say??”

The Bluetooth Adapter

The Motion Office headset will work without the base too. All you need is the Bluetooth adapter. Plug this little guy into your computer and poof, it pairs up. I took it and the headset out of the office for a test.

motionofficebluetooth

However, when I did, I encountered an issue.

Snags/Issues

ISSUE 1: When I plugged in the LINK 360 Bluetooth adapter, my computer saw the adapter just fine. But I couldn’t use the headset. I tried pairing, connecting to the headset, switching USB ports…nothing worked.

I tried using the Bluetooth adapter on another computer though, and it worked right away. There is a warning in the Jabra Get Started Guide – “The Jabra Link 360 and the base should not be plugged in at the same time.”

They weren’t plugged in, but I did install the base before I tried the Bluetooth adapter. I suspect this is what caused the issue.

ISSUE 2: Also, I did encounter a pause when the Motion Office base first connected to my laptop. It lasted long enough to make me think the installation had failed, and I eventually closed the window.

But a moment later the “Motion Office” icon showed up in my taskbar. All was well.

This was likely just my system taking its time on install. But I document it here in case others encounter it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve tried Bluetooth headsets in the past. None of them lasted. Either they were too flimsy & kept falling off my ear, or they had spotty call quality.

The Jabra Motion Office headset is much better on both counts. It takes me a second to get the thing on my ear, but once I do, it’s not going anywhere!

And neither is this headset. I really liked the comfort of the Evolve 80. (So did a co-worker, because he asked for it after reading my review!)

But the Motion Office? I’m keeping this one.

Next week we’ll return to Skype for Business 2015. But what will we cover? You’ll have to come back & find out.

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How to Record Calls in Lync and Skype – And Where Recording Should Go in 2015

In my recent news alerts, I saw mention of a new third-party Lync Server 2013 product. (You’ll see it below; it’s the one from Actiance.)

Reading the news article I thought, “They must be incredibly disappointed. All that work to add something to Lync Server, and Microsoft is changing it into Skype for Business in a few months!”

Which got me thinking more about one of the functions they added: Recording voice calls in Lync.

Recording Calls in Lync

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Recording conversations is nothing new – but it can be a pain to organize, depending on your platform. I’ve touched on the subject with Lync before–but not for a while. Now seems like a good time to revisit.

You Can Record Lync Meetings

First, the positive: Lync Server DOES allow you to record Lync Meetings natively. The “Start Recording” option is located under More Options in the Lync Meeting window.

Record and Play Back a Lync Meeting – Office.com

(For you Office 365 users, Recording is also available in Lync Online.)

Recording one-to-one voice calls however, is not a native Lync function. You can trick it with a little something Matt Landis wrote about in 2012:
Lync User Tip #20: How to Record Lync to PSTN Calls (With No Addon) – Windows UC Report

But otherwise, you’ll need to use an add-on.

How to Record Calls, in Lync 2013 or Skype

Developers have had years to build add-ons for voice recording. Now Lync Server has several robust third-party solutions available. For example, Verba Technologies’ Lync Call Recording (I mentioned this back in August).

A newer contender is Actiance’s Vantage for Lync. It’s a multi-platform solution, capable of recording conversations and much more. I’ve requested a demo & will report on my findings when it arrives.

Here’s an Actiance datasheet on Vantage for Lync.

Like Lync, Skype has multiple third-party methods of recording voice calls. More than Lync in fact. Skype.com even has a list of add-ons available!

How can I record my Skype calls? – Skype Help
CallNote and MP3 Skype Recorder are highly-reputed for PC; Mac users appear to like Vodburner.

Recording Should Go Native in 2015

Users of Lync 2013 and Skype have options for recording voice calls when businesses require it. Since both will experience an incorporation (at least partially) in next year’s Skype for Business, what should happen with recording?

I think most industry experts – not to mention millions of users – want recording built in.

It makes the most sense. Recording calls fulfills regulatory and recordkeeping requirements for corporations. Clearly the demand is there from everyday users of both Skype AND Lync. Plus, Skype for Business will “blend together” features such as Lync’s Contacts list and Skype’s Directory.

Microsoft, if you’re not already building recording into Skype for Business, here’s your opportunity. You have plenty of options:

  • Extend the Recording Manager’s functionality to include Lync Calls.
  • License or buy one of the available Skype third-party add-ons.
  • License recording technology from Verba, Actiance or another vendor with Lync call recording capability.

The technology is out there. People want to use it. You’re shaking things up with a new version anyway. Here’s a glaring chance to give users what they want.

Do you record calls through Lync or Skype? What do you think of your solution? Please comment or email your responses.

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Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers

In my post on MindLink Anywhere last week, I mentioned that one big value-add from the software was its ability to work on Linux. Options for accessing Lync services on Linux are limited. Though in the past couple years they’ve improved a lot, both in number and quality.

What else is available for “Lync on Linux”? Let’s take a look and see what’s out there.

Running Lync Server 2013 on a Linux Server? No. But you can access it from Linux computers.

Unless you install Windows Server in a VM, this isn’t happening. Lync Server 2013 is intended for Windows Servers. Which makes sense, honestly – Unified Communications hooks into Exchange and SharePoint, also Windows-platform servers. If Lync ran on Linux, it would do so in an underperforming state, users unable to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Fortunately, this does not mean Linux users are completely in the cold! There are ways to access Lync’s services on Linux desktops and mobile devices.

Linux Lync Clients

Sadly, there is no native Lync client for the Linux desktop. You must use third-party products to connect with Lync. Only a couple of them exist as yet.

Judging from my research, the most popular choice is Pidgin. Makes sense – one of the most reliable, full-featured IM platforms on Linux. Adding Lync to Pidgin? Just one more service.

Choose from any of the following blog posts to install Lync into Pidgin:

  1. Microsoft Lync on Linux – GeekySchmidt.com
  2. Configuring Pidgin to work with Lync server in Arch Linux – I Fix Therefore I Am
  3. Add a Lync/Office Communicator Account to Pidgin/Ubuntu – ITSwapShop.com
  4. Setting Pidgin Up for Lync 2013 – AskUbuntu.comWync-Logo

No matter the method, you may have to deal with limitations when using Lync through Pidgin. Commenters have claimed everything from having to manually add contacts, to voice and video chat not working.

Another third-party client usable for Lync on Linux is Wync, made by Fisil. Wync is actually designed to work with Lync, and Fisil does offer support. Most functions work – Voice, IM/Chat, Screen Sharing and File Transfer.

I was only able to test it out briefly, but Wync was stable and made clear calls. (Tested on Ubuntu 32-bit desktop.) It’s great to see an actual Lync client available on Linux systems!

Lync Web App

Works, but only for attending Lync Meetings by default. No voice, video or IM.

Important distinction here: If you’re running Lync Server 2010, you will need Silverlight to run the Lync Web App. Silverlight is Windows-only. But there is a Linux version of Silverlight, called Moonlight.

Here’s an AskUbuntu discussion to help you work out Lync 2010 Web App with Moonlight. You should find Moonlight in your repository of choice…but if it’s not there, try these direct downloads: Moonlight for Chrome & Firefox.

If you’re running Lync Server 2013, Lync Web App does not require Silverlight. However, expect a very limited experience on a Linux desktop (if it works at all).

Android

I’ve heard people say that the #1 operating system in the world is actually Android–a Linux distribution. If so, Microsoft really should spend more effort on its Lync Mobile client for Android. The reviews are full of problem reports!

That said, I’m glad the client at least exists and is supported directly by Microsoft. Android isn’t poised to go anywhere but up, and I want a good solid version of Lync available to its users.

Lync Online on Linux?

Using Lync Online? You’ll still face the same problems as above. Fortunately, the same solutions also work. If you use Lync Online in a Linux environment, I’d say try Wync first, and then Pidgin. See which one works better for your day-to-day.

Here’s a blog post on how to get Pidgin working with Lync, specifically focused on using Office 365: Configuring Pidgin Instant Messenger for Office 365 LYNC – VincentPassaro.com

What About Skype?

There is a version of Skype available for Linux, so at least our Skype brothers & sisters are OK. A little better off than Lync users…at least for now.

If anything, this could be a positive sign for future versions. Depending on the upgrade path Microsoft takes for Lync & Skype integration, we may have ourselves a Lync client (or at least a Lync-friendly client) on Linux soon.

Linux Alternatives to Lync Server

What’s that? You only use Linux on your company’s servers? Well, I’m afraid it could be a while before you can enjoy Lync Server’s capabilities (if ever). But fear not! Alternatives do exist. None are quite the same as Lync, but they can give you the necessary communications tools.

Here are 3 popular Linux/open-source alternatives:

  • Avaya: Avaya has the Aura Platform for a VoIP, chat & video offering.
  • Twilio: Twilio is a cloud-based voice and text product suite that’s quite highly reviewed. Useful on the phone side, though not as full-featured as Lync.
  • Asterisk: Asterisk is a framework for building powerful communications systems. As I understand it, several enterprises have used Asterisk to build their own custom phone systems.

Of these, if I had to recommend a Lync Server alternative to a Linux-using business, I’d recommend Asterisk. Then Avaya.e00cb7b29fc9f70724e906d87e4e4dbf-tux-penguin-clip-art

Lync is Making its Way Onto Linux

While PlanetMagpie is a Microsoft shop and supports all Microsoft servers (not just Lync Server), sometimes I like to see how Linux is doing in comparison. It’s encouraging that there’s this much development regarding Lync. More is sure to come, both within the Linux community and from official channels. (Okay, mostly from the Linux community.)

Does your office use Linux and Lync? How do you make it work for you? I’d like to hear your experiences.

Next week, more reader inquiries! Join us then.

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Lync Add-Ons: MindLink Anywhere Extends Persistent Chat’s Reach

Another third-party Lync app to test!

I signed up for a trial of MindLink Anywhere. MindLink describes the product like this:

“MindLink Anywhere brings the power of Microsoft Lync Persistent Chat, Presence and Instant Messaging through your web browser to Windows, Mac and Linux users.”

The trial runs on a hosted instance of Lync Server 2013. Ordinarily, MindLink installs alongside your on-premise Lync Server.

Overall, I found MindLink Anywhere an excellent app for conducting chat conversations. It gives the user a choice of two different views, starting a chat is as easy as Lync 2013, and you can use it anywhere – get it? – you have a Web browser.

Touring a Persistent Chat Extension, Accessible Anywhere

My trial started with logging in at an auto-generated URL. Your average login prompt, with one additional checkbox: “Disable IM”. I didn’t check this box when initially logging in (it does have an effect though, as you’ll see later).

MindLink Anywhere loads in what it calls “Streams View” by default. Chats are organized into streaming “Group” columns in the browser window. Think TweetDeck, if you’re a Twitter user.

The other possible view is called “Classic View”. To reach it you must re-login. Classic View has the advantage of showing you a detailed guide of the buttons and actions you can take within it, right away. Because of this, I suggest all users switch to Classic View at first, until you can familiarize yourself. Then you can switch back to Streams View (as I did) if you like.

(This “Quick Guide” is also available in Streams View. Just click the “i” button in the top right.)

Two elements I noticed immediately: MindLink ChatBuddy, and Social Connector. These act like users, showing up in your feeds. The ChatBuddy provides tips and tricks for using MindLink. Social Connector shows you what MindLink’s social media accounts are saying.

In Streams View, you have a left-hand column for navigation and starting up chats. It has 4 features:

  • LiveStream – snapshot of all activity, including Social Connector
  • Groups – a list of the chats to which you’re invited, with activity counts
  • Contacts – Your MindLink/Lync contacts
  • Presence – Presence status. You can set your Presence status with the exact same options as Lync 2013 by default.

In Classic View, the left-hand column is still there. But its features are in different places:

  • LiveStream – Click one of the chat rooms in the left-hand dock to see any chat activity.
  • Groups – Under “Chat Rooms” in the left-hand column.
  • Contacts – Under “Users” in the left-hand column.
  • Presence – In a dropdown menu at the very top left of the window. Not unlike Lync 2013’s Presence menu.

(If you do check “Disable IM” when logging in, the Contacts and Presence icons are not present.)

In the trial, MindLink provides some videos to help get you started using the software. I watched a couple. They’re good for giving you the basics. Recommended for new users.

MindLink Anywhere (and I suspect all other MindLink products) uses hashtags, just like Twitter, displayed under a chat room in Classic View. These function like page markers: click one and you’re shown where the hashtag was used in conversation.

The two Views mean you can view chats in 2 different ways.

In Classic View, chat rooms look like large open spaces for text. Going to date myself a bit here, but they are very similar to IRC chat rooms.

MindLink Classic View

In Streams View, chat rooms look like Twitter columns. This version is closer to Lync’s own Persistent Chat than the Classic View, with some social-media paint added.

MindLink Streams View
Honestly, I prefer the Classic View version. But it lacks one important value: You’re basically limited to chatting in one room at a time. Streams View lets you engage in multiple chat conversations at once (including IM), which will definitely appeal to younger/more social-friendly users.

To Chat: Writing a message is easy – just click the cloud icon and start typing. There are options along the top for designating the message as an Alert, adding emoticons, attaching a file or adding a link.

The Gears: When you see a gear in MindLink, it means you can either change settings or create something. The gear at top right in Streams View will bring up Notification Settings. The gear which appears when you click Groups in the LiveStream window however, will bring up the Add Group & Add Folder options.

MindLink’s Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages: MindLink’s web-based interface makes using Persistent Chat very easy. It’s simple to set up and to follow conversations.

A second advantage is the multiplatform support. Lync Server is very difficult to access on Linux–or at least it was. Since MindLink Anywhere is web-based, you’d have no trouble accessing IM and Persistent Chat on a Linux system. That’s a major value-add for Lync Server right there. I’m very glad MindLink built this cross-platform!

Disadvantages: It is an additional step. Extra login. Which takes you away from Lync itself. I see this as a minor disadvantage because if users are familiar with MindLink and not Lync, they may be confused if they must switch between them in the future.

EDIT: Mindlink Software has told me that the extra login is only for the Free Trial. Single sign-on is an option for on-premise Enterprise users. Mindlink Mobile also comes with a “Remember Me” option too.

A slightly larger disadvantage is that MindLink’s products are separated by platform. MindLink Anywhere is not the same as MindLink Mobile, nor MindLink Tablet. Anywhere works via web browsers; Mobile works on phones; Tablets on tablets. I’m sure they’ll interoperate, of course! But this division means higher cost if users want to keep using MindLink.

EDIT: Mindlink Software has clarified that Mindlink Mobile and Mindlink Tablet are essentially the same app; they only differ in form factor, showing slightly different interfaces for phones & tablets.  Mindlink Anywhere and Mindlink Mobile are also sold as a bundle, which cuts down the cost issue.

I must point however, that while Lync clients are available on mobile platforms, Persistent Chat is not. That’s the value Mindlink adds for mobile users.

——

As I said earlier, MindLink Anywhere is a well-developed and useful Lync add-on. One of the most responsive I’ve seen in fact. Given my already-stated favoritism for Persistent Chat, this is a welcome extension of its reach across platforms.

Learn more about MindLink’s Lync-related products, like MindLink Anywhere and MindLink Mobile: Applications – MindLink
Request a trial of MindLink Anywhere here: Free 30-Day Trial – MindLink

How would you use MindLink Anywhere to extend Persistent Chat? Support Chat on your site? Communication across offices/nations? Please comment or email your thoughts.

And join us again next week for more!

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MSPL: What It Is, and How to Use It with Lync Server

I mentioned last week that I’d explore MSPL more. While researching the Automatic Logout post, I came across a few MSPL-related websites with lots of good information. This week I’ve found a few more–so it’s time to blog!

MSPL – Scripting for Lync Call Routing

MSPL stands for “Microsoft SIP Processing Language”. It’s a scripting language you can use to customize how Lync Server routes SIP messages.
MSPL Scripting Reference – MSDN
Frustratingly, the MSPL Script Syntax has been moved out of the Scripting Reference at MSDN. You’ll find it here instead:
MSPL Script Syntax – MSDN

How Does MSPL Work

The process of creating and adding MSPL scripts to your Lync Server is actually quite simple:

  1. Generate MSPL scripting, either by hand-coding or using an application (see “How to Create MSPL Scripting” below).
  2. Scripting is imported into the Lync Server front end via PowerShell cmdlets
  3. The Lync Server routes SIP messages (like phone calls) where you have directed them.

There’s an excellent how-to writeup at the Code4Lync blog: MSPL SCRIPT HOW-TO – Code4Lync
It documents script structure, when to use MSPL over UCMA, and describes the basic scripting syntax. Worth a read.

MSPL formats as XML when it’s ready for importing. Commenting is included too, so feel free to note your processes.

What You Can Do with MSPL

You are limited in scope to addressing SIP messages within your Lync Server environment. However within that scope, there’s quite a few things you can do with MSPL.

Here are two examples at Channel9:
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Forward IM Calls
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Enforce Custom Privacy Settings

MSPL lets you control routing of calls, Instant Messages and even video from one SIP address to another. Roughly, the more SIP-enabled endpoints you have, the more MSPL routes you can make.

How to Create MSPL Scripting

Like I said before, you can hand-code MSPL, or have an application generate it for you. Last week I visited Matt Landis’ blog and found he’d posted on an MSPL application called SimpleRoute.
The Masses Can Now Make Microsoft Lync MSPL Scripts Via Free Tool from Colima – Microsoft UC Report

I tried this tool out myself. And it works exactly as Matt describes–very easily! I selected Audio/Video call and routed one SIP address to another (using a fake number of course). This only took 3 steps.

Generating MSPL in SimpleRoute

What’s especially valuable about SimpleRoute is that, once you create an MSPL script with it, SimpleRoute actually helps you install it. Remember Steps 2 & 3 above, about importing scripting into Lync Server 2013?

Well, take a look at this. This is what SimpleRoute displays after you click Save:

MSPL Import Instructions in SimpleRoute

==============================
Detailed instructions on how to import the saved script (in an .am file) into the Lync front end via PowerShell. How’s that for helpful?

Download SimpleRoute here: Colima – Customize Lync Routing

MSPL: Good for Basic, User-Level Call Routing

MSPL is a very specific scripting language. It’s pretty much designed to do one thing and one thing only–change SIP routing within Lync Server 2013. I’ve said in the past that I like tools which focus on one job and do it well. MSPL is another example of this.

Administrators should look to MSPL if they want to customize call routing down toward the user-level. Say an employee leaves and you want to route their calls to someone else, right away. Use SimpleRoute to generate some MSPL. It’ll take care of that for you.

Have you used MSPL in your Lync Server environment? What did you do with it? Please comment or email! We’d love to hear about it.

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Lync Add-Ons: Lync Custom Status Tool

Today on the Lync Insider, I’m reviewing a third-party add-on for Lync 2013. This is a client-focused add-on called the “Lync Custom Status” tool, or LCS for short. It was made by Mike Hudson at MikeSel.info.

The tool allows a Lync 2013 user to create custom Presence status messages, with accompanying notes & call rules. A full features list is here, along with trial and purchase options: Lync Custom Status – MikeSel.info

I downloaded a trial version – Mike has a 15-day free trial available with no software limitations – and tried it out!

Caveat: You must run LCS Setup as Administrator! It requires elevated privileges. This tripped me up at first, for a moment. Once you do though, it installs nice and smoothly.

Function #1 – Custom Presence Status Messages

Now, the main event. In LCS, you can set up to 4 custom statuses, plus a custom status for when the computer goes idle and Lync switches you to Away.

lcs01

As you see here, you have 3 IM handling options: what you Display Status As, what (if any) Personal Note to show, and where your Location is.

Then you select one of 3 Availability options: Online, Busy or Do Not Disturb. You have the option to send an automated response too.

Here’s what I entered for a custom Presence status. (Why “Wrestling a Wolverine”? Well, if you’re in IT, think of working on a stubborn server. It’s like that.)

lcs02

Save the Custom Status and you have it as a permanent option under your Lync’s Presence options.

Function #2 – Call Handling Options

Call handling is optional for each custom status. This, I think, is where Lync Custom Status has its true value. A custom Instant Messaging/Presence status is useful for identifying when you can (and cannot) respond to queries. But this can be bypassed by a phone call – unless you set yourself to Do Not Disturb, of course.

What LCS does with calls is allows the user to enforce a specific response to calls per custom status. You can reject incoming calls or forward them to another Lync contact. Again, for each 4 status options plus Away.

Let me illustrate. Say you want to automatically direct calls to Reception while you’re assisting a customer. This is possible to set up with call forwarding in Lync 2013, of course. But using LCS, you can forward the calls AND identify why you’re doing so via Presence. You’d do something like this:

lcs03

Make Sure to Save the Status!

Once you have a custom status set up, you must save it. Click the disk icon in the toolbar. You’ll see a prompt to restart the Lync client:

lcs04

Be sure you do this! While it does minimize to the taskbar, Lync Custom Status can be closed like any other application. If you close without saving, your custom Presence status will not appear in Lync 2013.

If you do save though, this is what you’ll see:

lcs05

I now have the choice of “Assisting a Customer” or “Wrestling a Wolverine.” Hmmm, which one should I choose…

Quick, Simple Tool for Custom Presence and Call Handling

In all, this is a very good Lync add-on. I like tools that focus on improving one area of an application, and don’t stuff in extras just because they can. Lync Custom Status does exactly that – focuses on improving Lync’s Presence function, and no more.

A single-install license for LCS is only £19.99 (or $32.45). Really quite reasonable for an add-on, especially since it includes support & updates. Probably pick up a copy myself shortly.

Again, you can find it at MikeSel.info.

EDIT:  Lync Custom Status does work with the Skype for Business 2015 client.  When I updated mine, it carried my custom statuses in with no problems.

Do you have a Lync-related add-on? Please comment or email me the information. I’d love to test it out.

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