Category: Third-Party Skype for Business Products

Device Review: Poly EagleEye Cube USB Camera

Time for a new hardware review! This time we have an impressive little device – a new 4K USB camera from Poly (formerly Polycom/Plantronics).

Ben at Poly came out to demo some new hardware for us. He showed us two of Poly’s newer systems: the Studio X30 and Studio X50.

I’ll do a separate post on those. This one’s focused on another hardware item we saw in the same demo. Ben brought along a new camera: the EagleEye Cube USB camera.

I asked Ben if he’d lend me an EagleEye for review. He agreed, handing over his demo unit.

This is the EagleEye description from its overview & specs page:

The advanced HD camera with intelligent group framing, 5x zoom and legendary audio performance that turns passive meetings in small spaces into powerful experiences. This camera is the ideal visual complement to Poly G7500, Polycom Trio and Group Series conferencing systems.

  • HD camera with 4K sensor for better up-close views with 5x zoom
  • Automatic group framing or speaker tracking with a 120-degree field of view so people can sit where they want
  • Simple single-cable connection to Polycom video solutions
  • Two built-in microphones for crystal-clear pickup
  • Premium optics and accurate color reproduction deliver true-to-life visuals
  • Flexible, easy installation and centralized management make this camera a breeze for IT

Let’s see how well this bears out!

Initial Impressions – Boxy, Big Aperture, Built-In Balancing Stand

Sorry, no breathless unboxing video here. Since I had Ben’s demo model, he’d already unwrapped it. Still, he kept it in the same box, so I have all components you’d receive with a new purchase.

The EagleEye comes with the camera, a power/data cable, manual, and a wall mounting plate with screws. The power/data cable is USB-C, and includes a screw-in clamp like the old VGA cables for monitors. Good to keep the camera connected, even if it falls!

Poly EagleEye Cube USB Camera

The camera itself has two connections in its back, USB-C and Ethernet. As you’ll see from the photos, it has a big aperture – much larger than most webcams.

EagleEye Cube on Desk

Cube USB and Ethernet Connections

The camera itself’s bigger than most webcams. About 2.5″ cubed. It’s a little big for my hand, but not as heavy as you’d think.

EagleEye in Hand

You can see the microphones in these photos. They’re almost invisible. That doesn’t diminish their effectiveness though, as we’ll see during testing.

Cube Microphone 1 (Right) Cube Microphone 2 (Left)

The bottom folds out to create a balancing stand. This way you can balance it on a laptop screen. Ben did so during our demo. I did it as well. Little on the rickety side with my laptop, but it works much better on a TV.

EagleEye Balancing Stand

The EagleEye can output video at:

  • 1080p60 – 1080p display, from USB or Ethernet.
  • 720p60 – 720p display, from USB or Ethernet.
  • 4K30 – You do get 4K from this, but it’s through USB only.

Test 1: Compatibility

Poly clearly meant the EagleEye Cube for use with its conferencing products. However, it’s also Certified for Skype for Business, Teams, Teams Rooms, and Zoom. So let’s do a few compatibility tests.

First, direct compatibility with Windows. I plugged the camera into my laptop. It recognized the EagleEye immediately. However, when I checked my Settings, I found a ‘no driver’ error. Uh oh!

EagleEye Driver Error Win10 Settings

Luckily, I knew how to fix this. This camera has a companion app: the Polycom Companion App.

I downloaded & installed the app, and voila! Full recognition.

EagleEye Driver Fixed Win10 Settings

Test 2: Skype for Business Integration

Next, I changed the default Video Device in my Skype for Business client to use the EagleEye. Several self-viewings and video calls later, I’d say it’s far superior to my built-in camera in terms of color quality.

Poly Companion App Test

Behold, my hand in 4K!

However, at this point I have to give one caveat – don’t move the camera once it’s set! Whenever I moved it, I noticed a brief delay in the feed – about 1 second. Then the camera refocused and all was well.

EagleEye Skype for Business Test

After this I used it on my normal meetings for a couple days (Skype Meetings and GoToMeetings). While your experience may differ from mine, I will say that no meeting had a video issue.

Smooth playback. No audio trouble. My avatar window looked as sharp as a high-class TV.

Notable Camera Feature: Speaker Tracking

At this stage, I should point out one of this camera’s impressive features. The EagleEye incorporates smart sensing technology called “Speaker Tracking.”

Just like you’d expect, this allows it to automatically focus on the speaker in a room, adjusting the video feed to show them. The tracking zeroes in on a person talking, the most recent movement…even scuffing a shoe can draw its gaze.

EagleEye Speaking Tracking LED

Note the green LED along the top. It’s indicating where the focus is right now.

If no one speaks, or multiple people talk at the same time, the EagleEye refocuses on the overall group in its field of view.

Test 3: Conferencing Platforms

I saw during the demo that the EagleEye worked natively with the Poly Studio X30 and X50. No surprise there.

I also wanted to test it on other conferencing platforms – like our in-house RealPresence Trio. The EagleEye is newer than the Trio…would they cooperate? The specs say they will. Time to confirm!

When I plugged it into our Trio directly, I received an ‘Overcurrent Failure Detected’ error. Searches indicated a problem with the USB port, which I tested with my laptop and discounted. Maybe just improper choice of connection on my part. Still, worth nothing.

Overcurrent Error Cube

Plugging the EagleEye into the Trio’s Visual+ unit instead worked perfectly. Our current camera is a Logitech C930e. I don’t know if you can see the difference, but I’m posting some photos of our picture-in-picture.

 

Skype for Business Logitech Cam

Picture-in-Picture with our Logitech Cam…

Skype for Business EagleEye Cam

…and with the EagleEye Cube.

The 4K resolution activates by default. I didn’t have to tell the EagleEye, or our Trio, anything.

This is a screenshot taken on my phone, of me on the video in a Skype Meeting. Very meta, wouldn’t you say?

Screenshot Skype for Business Video

Now that it worked with our Trio, the test changes to behavior. Specifically, stress testing. How well would this fancy 4K, auto-tracking camera work under load? Will it slow down? Go pixelated? Crash on me?

I didn’t see any of that. During the demo, we had a presenter join us from New Jersey. Can’t get more ‘cross country’ than that. The video-to-audio connection went as smoothly as if he stood in the room with us.

As a second test, I invited contacts from two other locations into a Skype Meeting in our conference room. One was down in Southern California, while the other’s in Las Vegas.

Results were the same. We chatted for a few minutes, and found each of us saw zero jitter or lag time.

(I recognize that this is partly an issue of bandwidth, not just the camera. We have plenty of bandwidth here…but the Las Vegas contact didn’t. Standard cable connection. Still, no issues.)

The Verdict: One of the Best Cameras You Can Use for Online Meetings

Overall, I came away quite impressed with the EagleEye Cube. It’s a lot of camera in a small box. It’s “smart” enough to make conferencing more engaging, but not overly complicated or buggy.

The EagleEye Cube is compatible with these conferencing platforms:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Poly G7500 2.1 or above
  • Poly Trio 8500/8800
  • RealPresence Group Series 6.2.1 or above
  • Skype for Business
  • Teams Rooms
  • Zoom

Here’s a data sheet for your quick reference: EagleEye Cube Datasheet (PDF)

If you have the bandwidth to run your meetings on these platforms, you’re well-served with an EagleEye Cube. Everyone will appreciate the 4K clarity too.

We received no compensation for this review – other than the loan of the camera, of course. We are a Poly Partner though, so if you’re interested in the EagleEye, drop us a line.

Does your office use Poly’s EagleEye cameras? Share your experience!

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Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business – Where to Find and How to Use Them

Dog on Skype for Business

Sorry buddy, these shortcuts require fingers.
Image by Keith Hanson on Unsplash.

I’ve blogged about Skype for Business all this time, and almost never touched on keyboard shortcuts! Shame on me.

As with most tech learning, this came up out of necessity. I wanted to learn two things in particular…shortcuts to:

  1. Accept conversation invites right away, and
  2. Change my Presence status.

Why two very simple processes? Due to a weird, inconsistent issue.

Some months back I began experiencing a strange delay when clicking “Accept” for conversation invites. I could click and click on the notification, but “Accept” just wouldn’t work for several seconds (up to 15!). Only if I waited a moment, THEN clicked, would the conversation window open.

We checked my system; no issues. Problem with Skype for Business? Possible, but we didn’t see anything weird in the system logs. I could deal with it, or find an alternative.

Well, what’s a good alternative? Keyboard shortcuts!

Dog on Skype for Business

Sorry buddy, these shortcuts require fingers.
Image by Keith Hanson on Unsplash.

A little searching found me the proper shortcut for one of my two needs. The other however, Skype for Business does NOT have a native keyboard shortcut for. Instead, I found an add-on that adds in the exact function.

Here’s what I found, and how you can use it too.

How to Accept a Conversation Invite: Use Built-In Keyboard Shortcuts

First place to look, of course, is Microsoft’s knowledgebase. There must be some existing shortcuts.

Sure enough, Microsoft has a whole list. Some are pretty standard, having come from the Office universe.

Where’s the shortcut for accepting invites…ah ha! There it is!

Accept an incoming invite notification
(also works for accepting an incoming call)
  WINDOWS KEY + SHIFT + O

That’s not the only useful-right-away shortcut for Skype for Business, of course. Here’s a few more:

Mute/unmute yourself in a call   WINDOWS KEY + F4
Start Meet Now   ALT + M
Put a call on hold   CTRL + SHIFT + H

And of course *ahem*…

Decline an incoming call or chat   WINDOWS KEY + ESC

The full list is here: Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business – Office Support

NOTE: The above shortcuts are for Windows. The Mac version does have its own keyboard shortcuts…but they’re a much shorter list. Mac Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business

The most useful I can see:

Start a call   SHIFT + ⌘ + R
Restore the active window   ⌘ + 1
Mute microphone   UP ARROW + ⌘ + M
Start video   UP ARROW + ⌘ + V
Share your screen   UP ARROW + ⌘ + S
Transfer call   ALT + ⌘ + T

One shortcut covered. Yet I don’t see one for changing Presence status. I wanted a Presence-changing shortcut to, shall we say, maintain focus on my work. Taking advantage of “Do Not Disturb” works wonders for productivity.

Alas. More searching says that, gasp! No native keyboard shortcut exists for changing Presence status. Am I doomed to keep changing my Presence manually, day in, day out?

How to Change Presence Status with the Keyboard: Use StatusKey

Nope! The same searches also revealed the existence of StatusKey. It’s a mini-app/add-on written by Randy Chapman over at Lynciverse:
StatusKey for Skype for Business – Lynciverse Blog

Created in 2016, with updates done in 2018. It does one job and one job only – give you a group of keyboard shortcuts to change Skype for Business Presence status.

I installed StatusKey to test it. The add-on runs in the taskbar, though consumes only a tiny amount of memory.

NOTE: Even though Randy wrote it in Visual Studio and hosts it on TechNet, my computer still threw up a warning.

WIndows Protection Screen StatusKey

If you click the “More Info” link you’ll see the Run Anyway button.
(It’s perfectly safe. Windows is just being, well, Windows.)

StatusKey does exactly what it says. I tested each given shortcut in my Skype for Business client, with a Conversation window open. Immediate and in-sync Presence status change.

If you forget the shortcuts, Randy put them in the app itself. Just right-click it in the taskbar, and click “Open.” This is what you’ll see.

StatusKey Shortcuts Skype for Business

Can’t get much simpler than that.

After I’d confirmed StatusKey did what I wanted, I thought, “This is the sort of work Microsoft should fold into newer versions. Did they?”

So I checked. While the Office Support page above appears updated for Skype for Business Server 2019, it doesn’t include any Presence status changers.

I even checked an alternate source: ShortCutWorld.com’s Skype for Business page. No luck there either.
If you want the ability to switch Presence status via keyboard, Randy’s StatusKey is the way to go.

What about Teams? Will StatusKey work with that?

It appears not. I tried loading Teams, but it kept crashing while I had StatusKey enabled. Once I turned it off, Teams could load. Turned it back on, and…nothing. No shortcut activity.

That’s okay though; in Teams, you can use slash commands instead.

(The StatusKey TechNet discussion has a question on whether Randy will update the app to work with Teams in the same way. No response yet.)

Skype for Business Has Many Keyboard Shortcuts – But Could Use More

Keyboard shortcuts are one of those things we rarely think about. They’re always waiting for use, but we don’t realize it until another factor throws them in front of us. In this case, it was a strange notification issue. (That still hasn’t gone away…might be a post on it later.)

I hope this post has been that other factor for you!

That said, I’m a little surprised at the relatively few shortcuts Skype for Business has. Some of its major functions don’t have any associated shortcuts. Randy’s done a great job with StatusKey…but if Microsoft had Presence-related shortcuts, he wouldn’t have had to develop it in the first place. What gives, Microsoft?

What’s your everyday go-to keyboard shortcut?

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3 RealPresence Trio Updates Beef Up its “Communications Hub” Power

“Alexa, start the Skype Meeting.”

Sounds like an easy way to kick off a meeting, doesn’t it? If you’re using a RealPresence Trio, you have this functionality available.

Poly (formerly Polycom) has made several updates to their Trio conference systems since introduction. Not only have they helped with stability and audio/video clarity, they’d added third-party integrations. Lots of them.

Trio 8800 Skype for Business

Image provided by Newsroom.poly.com.

In this post we’re talking about three of the latest—three that enhance a Skype Meeting’s usability. Alexa, AirPlay, and Zoom.

Alexa for Business Integration: “Alexa, please schedule a meeting for 10:30…”

The latest RealPresence Trio 8800 firmware includes an integration for Amazon’s Alexa for Business. You know what that does—adds voice commands into the Trio. To use it for business though, you’ll have to connect Alexa for Business to a “conferencing provider” of your choice: Cisco WebEx, BlueJeans…or Skype for Business.

The setup for connect a conferencing provider only takes a few steps. Not unlike a Skype for Business voice route. Here’s how: Managing Conferencing Providers – Alexa for Business Guide

Once you’ve set up Alexa, you can take advantage of everything voice-related you’d do with an Echo:

  • Make & receive phone calls
  • Join meetings
  • Start or end meetings
  • Book the conference room
  • Bonus – Access private Alexa Skills. Make your own company-specific Skills!

(I have not tried asking Alexa for random quotations or a joke. If you do, let us know what she says!)

Full Alexa integration does take a few steps. Amazon has documented those steps for us: Use Polycom Trio with Alexa for Business – Alexa for Business Guide

Business Case for Alexa Integration: I see this as a primary convenience improvement. Too often we’ve seen customers start their Skype Meetings like this:

  1. Team members enter conference room.
  2. Someone taps a button on the Trio.
  3. Loud dial tone as it connects, because someone forgot to turn down the volume after the last meeting.
  4. Then a conversation somewhat like this happens:
    “Did it connect?”
    “I don’t know, I don’t hear anything.”
    “Are they muted?”
    “I think it failed. I’ll try again.”
    [After 2-3 other attempts taking up to 10 minutes…]
    “Hello?”
    “Oh! You can hear us now?”
    “Yes, can you hear us okay?”
    “Yes. All right, we can get started.”

Let’s avoid all that wasted time, shall we? Just ask Alexa to start your next meeting.

AirPlay Integration: Extra Screen Sharing Power

If you’re an Apple fan, you already know AirPlay. Good news for you—the Trio 8800 now lets you use it for AirPlay too!

This integration does one thing and one thing only: Screen mirroring. Once the Trio’s configured to activate its AirPlay integration, anyone in the meeting can share content on-the-fly.

We tested this one on-site too, using a MacBook Pro (it also works with iPhones and iPads). Worked flawlessly. Interestingly, I found that AirPlay content supersedes any Skype for Business shared content (a PowerPoint file, for instance). When the person sharing via AirPlay stops, the Skype for Business shared content reappears.

Screen Sharing AirPlay Trio

You could screen share from either device in this photo.
Photo by Headway on Unsplash.

You configure AirPlay on the Trio the same way you do Alexa for Business: Adding a features.cfg file to the device’s Trio Web Interface. Parameters listed in the documentation below.

Screen Mirroring with AirPlay Certified Devices – Polycom Documentation Library

Business Case for AirPlay Integration: Participation boost! This integration makes it easy for attendees to share content off their phones or tablets. People don’t have to lug their computers into the meeting. Just a couple taps and you’re the one presenting.

Zoom Integration: Control a “Zoom Room” with Your Trio

Last year, we had a customer request a Trio 8800. We asked if they planned to use it with Skype for Business, as they were on Office 365 already. They said no. They’d just started using Zoom…and they wanted to use the Trio with it.

This took a little configuration finesse on our end. Thankfully, you don’t have to go through the same process. Zoom and Poly partnered to integrate the Zoom Rooms software into the Trio.

A “Zoom Room” is their version of a fully media-enabled conference room. It does require a computer, but otherwise gives the same functionality as a Skype for Business-enabled conference room: audio/video conferencing, screen sharing, and a simple control system.

The integration allows you to use a Trio as a controller in a Zoom Room. In other words, you’d use the Trio much as you would in a Skype for Business setup. Start/end meetings, use its speakers, & control the screen sharing.

NOTE: If you bought a Trio 8800 separately from the Zoom Rooms hardware, you will need to provision it. See the setup notes posted below for the steps.

Setting Up the Polycom Trio as a Zoom Rooms Controller – Zoom Help Center

Business Case for Zoom Integration: Options. Prefer Zoom over Skype for Business? You can still use a Trio. Configuration’s a much easier process now than it was when we first tried it, too!

Conference Trio 8800

Pssst, Alexa, order gift bags for everyone!
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash.

Beef Up Your Trio into a Convenient Communications Hub

Important note: Remember the Trio posts I did a while back (Review Part 1, Review Part 2)?

We did these new integration tests on the very same Trio. It’s still in our conference room, subjected to all sorts of firmware mangling. (It’s all in the name of testing, honest.) Which means if these integrations work on our battle-worn Trio 8800, they will work on your latest-model Trio 8800 too.

How do you use your RealPresence Trio? Leave a comment, or message me to share.

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How the Video Interop Server Fits into Skype for Business

Entry #6 into the “How it Fits” series is…the Video Interop Server, or VIS!

Of all the Server Roles, I have the least experience with this one. We’ve only done one install of it, for a customer with an older Cisco conferencing setup. It did the job, and made the customer happy.

Newly-introduced in Skype for Business Server 2015, VIS made a bit of a splash on debut. Because it leveraged existing video conferencing hardware, you didn’t need to spend extra on new hardware when deploying Skype for Business. You could reuse what’s already in place. We all love cost-saving!

This post, like the other “How it Fits” series, will give an overarching take on the Video Interop Server’s function and use case. It has not markedly changed since introduction, and ships with both Skype for Business Server 2015 and 2019. You may never need to use one…but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there!

The Video Interop Server’s Primary Role

The VIS acts as an intermediary for Skype for Business and legacy Video Teleconferencing Systems (VTCs). These are older conferencing room systems businesses have used for years. Cisco, Polycom, and several other brands make VTCs. It appears Microsoft meant the VIS to work primarily with Cisco TelePresence VTCs.

Video Interop Server Diagram

There it is!
Photo courtesy of Microsoft Docs.

By creating the server, Microsoft helped many companies with older conferencing hardware extend its useful life. Remember all the money you sank into that conferencing room’s video setup? Big screen, high-quality (for the time) cameras, expensive phone/speaker equipment, wiring? With a VIS, you don’t have to scrap all of that for new hardware. The VIS allows those video systems to connect to & join Skype Meetings.

You can also use VIS for peer-to-peer calls on the same hardware, with some limitations.

VIS is primarily designed to interoperate with the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and its connecting endpoints. I’ve seen mentions of people connecting it to non-Cisco conferencing systems, but I don’t have a concrete example. (Do you? Please comment with the details!)

Main Components of the VIS

1. Video Converter. A VIS is almost single-purpose: it converts video streams between the formats used by Skype for Business and legacy VTCs.

Let me explain a little more about how this works. Skype for Business uses the H.264 video codec. However, it also maintains support for the RTVideo codec for interoperability. This allows legacy conferencing systems to transmit their video data into the system. But the Skype4B servers may not fully understand the legacy video transmissions.

Which is why we have Video Interop. It performs the conversion & translation functions necessary to make everyone see & talk to one another.

As you can imagine, this takes a little more bandwidth. When implementing Video Interop, it’s wise to make sure you have a comfortable amount of bandwidth available. Otherwise the VIS will bump streams down to a lower resolution, causing poor video quality & even attendee drops.

2. SIP Trunk. Not necessarily a Server Role, but the VIS needs a video SIP trunk to communicate between itself and a legacy VTC.

 

Skype for Business VIS

The guy on the far left: “Thanks to our VIS, everybody in Dallas sees this too. Now what is Mark holding again…?”
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

Other Servers a VIS Communicates With

Front End Server. VIS talks directly to the Front End Server. Please note, you cannot collocate VIS with a Front End Server; it must have its own server/pool.

Edge Server. Since VIS must venture outside of the internal network for some third-party VTCs, it needs to associate with an Edge Server/Edge Pool. This is set up within Topology Builder.

How a Video Interop Server Works in a Hybrid Environment

You implement the VIS as a standalone server, in on-prem topologies. As such, this is the only way it will work in a hybrid deployment. Microsoft may have reasoned that since larger companies are more likely to use (and want to keep) Cisco legacy VTCs, they’re opting for on-prem deployments anyway.

The VIS in Skype for Business Server 2019 & Teams

Skype for Business Server 2019 does include Video Interop Server. I expect that future Cumulative Updates (CUs) for Server 2019 will expand its interoperability to more legacy video platforms.

Teams however is a different story. Since it’s all cloud-based, and Microsoft built VIS as an on-prem Server Role only, we don’t have such an option for Teams users. Nor will we. Those companies with legacy VTCs still on-site are out of luck.

Or are they? You do have one option…a third-party Cloud Video Interop service. An add-on service that performs the same function as VIS, made by a Microsoft Partner like Polycom or BlueJeans. If you invested thousands into a now-older Cisco conferencing setup, and are looking at Teams, go with this option.

VIS Extends the Life of Your Video Conferencing Hardware

Personally, creating an entire Server Role to handle one use case seemed like overkill to me. At first.

However, since then I’ve come to understand the reasoning behind VIS. Given how bandwidth-intensive video is—not to mention how demanding older teleconferencing systems can be!—it does make sense to include a gateway devoted to it. In so doing you also make said hardware last longer, saving on costs. Which makes Management happy!

For additional documentation on Video Interop Server, consult Plan for Video Interop Server in Skype for Business Server.

Which legacy conferencing platform would you like to see VIS support next?

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How to Preserve Unified Messaging

3 Ways to Keep Voicemail & Auto Attendant when Upgrading to Skype for Business 2019

Those of us who use voicemail in Skype for Business face a quandary.

We did get a new Skype for Business Server, as well as a new Exchange Server. But we’re missing one component: the Unified Messaging service in Exchange Server 2013/2016. Exchange Server 2019 will NOT have Unified Messaging.

The sysadmins reading this already know what that means. They can feel it as a sudden clench in the chest. Skype for Business’ voicemail needs Unified Messaging. Without it you’ll end up upgrading a part of the office’s phone system away!

Two, actually…the Auto Attendant’s gone too. No more, “Press 1 for Customer Service. Press 2 for Sales…”

What do we do? If your offices use Skype for Business on-prem and employ Unified Messaging for voicemail and/or Auto Attendant, it’s time for some alternative thinking.

Fortunately, we’re all IT pros. We’re good at creative solutions. That’s what we’ll have to do here, to preserve Unified Messaging.

The Path to IT Solutions

The IT professional’s configuration thought process. (Sure feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it?)
Photo by Jaromír Kavan on Unsplash.

Right now we have 3 ‘preservation’ options, each with different levels of expense & usable time. Time to run some comparisons!

Voicemail/AA Preservation 1: Keep Your Exchange 2013/2016 Server On-Prem

This is a way to preserve UM within the Microsoft infrastructure. It involves juggling between different versions of Skype4B and Exchange. Essentially, you upgrade your Skype for Business Server to 2019…but not your Exchange Server. It stays at its current version. Accounts and configuration intact.

You’ll need to undertake several processes. Changing the UM dial plan, voice policies, etc. It all depends on your existing Exchange Server’s configuration. Here are resources to help you:

VERDICT: The most direct solution. With a critical flaw – it has a lifespan. Exchange 2016 will run out of mainstream support in October 2020. Extended Support runs until October 2025, which lets you stretch things more. You’re still faced with the potential of higher support costs the longer you go.

This is the option I prefer, frankly. Even with the lifespan boundary. You retain the most control, and it requires almost no new hardware.

If you don’t run Exchange 2016 already, or the lifespan boundary doesn’t work, then we have Option 2.

Voicemail/AA Preservation 2: Switch to Cloud Voicemail/Cloud Auto Attendant (Hybrid Deployment)

Cloud Voicemail is Microsoft’s response to yanking Unified Messaging out of Exchange. It’s (predictably) a part of Office 365, and requires a tenant to operate. Same with Auto Attendant—now it’s a cloud service too.

Cloud Server Ports

Setting up Cloud Voicemail isn’t that complicated. You must have hybrid connectivity enabled first, of course. I’d even recommend doing this a week in advance, so you can test & verify successful connectivity.

To configure Cloud Voicemail, you’ll need:

  • Your Office 365 tenant account login/password
  • The domain assigned to your tenant
  • Administrative access to your Skype for Business Front End and Edge Servers
  • Administrative permissions on PowerShell
  • At least one test user account

Once you have those together, follow the steps here. It’s basically a handful of cmdlets: How to Configure Cloud Voicemail – Microsoft Docs

If you already have a hybrid deployment, using Exchange Online, Microsoft will transition you to Cloud Voicemail in February 2020.

Cloud Voicemail is not a 100% drop-in replacement for Unified Messaging though. According to ExPTA.com, Cloud Voicemail doesn’t include Play on Phone, call answering rules, text notification, or Outlook Voice Access. Doesn’t mean those won’t show up down the line, but for now, Cloud Voicemail’s sticking to the basics.

VERDICT: If you want to move to Exchange Server 2019, you’ll have to switch either to Cloud Voicemail or Option 3. Exchange 2019 doesn’t have the Unified Messaging service. This might help to gradually introduce Office 365 tools to the company. You also get Teams this way, which could provide a transition path for all staff…if you’re going that way.

Voicemail/AA Preservation 3: Integrate a Third-Party Voicemail/Auto Attendant Service with Skype for Business

This option essentially abandons using Exchange Online, Cloud Voicemail, and Office 365. Instead, you add in a third-party service to provide your users voicemail and/or an Auto Attendant feature.

We have a curious reversal on this track. It’s relatively easy to add in Auto Attendant…several third-party providers exist to do just that.

However, voicemail’s a little harder to add in. I came across two solutions that appear to work with Skype for Business Server:

As far as I know, we haven’t worked with either of these solutions directly in a Skype for Business topology. If you have, please share your thoughts in the comments.

VERDICT: If you do want to upgrade to Exchange Server 2019, but don’t want anything to do with Office 365, this is your only option to preserve voicemail and/or Auto Attendant.

Preserving Unified Messaging: Unfortunate, but Necessary.

I can understand why Microsoft chose to remove Unified Messaging. It falls within their “cloud first” mission, consolidating things like voicemail & Auto Attendant into the Azure/O365 ecosystem. (Must have taken a LOT of coding…)

That said, those of us who appreciate on-prem control now have another instance of “technical gymnastics.” Trying to find a new solution for a resurgent problem.

Unless of course you want to drop Unified Messaging? I can’t think of a scenario when a business would voluntarily drop its voicemail/Auto Attendant…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Perhaps you’re considering the idea?

Auto Attendant Virtual Assistant

Maybe use a Virtual Assistant instead? “Hello, you have reached XYZ Corp. Press 1 for Sales…”
Photo by Fezbot2000 on Unsplash.

In terms of how these processes shake out…we do have a full Skype for Business Server 2019 installation planned this year. We’ll most likely use Preservation 1, maintaining our current Exchange 2016 server. (Exchange 2019 will have a separate test.) I will document EVERYthing as we go, and produce plenty of blog posts from that.

If you’re planning a Skype4B 2019 upgrade, which Unified Messaging preservation method will you use?

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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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Device Review: Yealink T58A Skype for Business Phone

Today I’m reviewing the Yealink SIP-T58A desk phone. Like its little brother (which we reviewed last time), this is a softphone designed for Skype for Business users. I put it through the same paces as the T56, within the same Skype for Business deployment.

Not surprisingly, it had very similar results. But they’re not identical phones…and they aren’t meant for identical uses.

As promised, I’ve included some use cases in this post. Instances where one phone works better than the other. Consider this post as a ‘Part 2’ to the previous post.

Ready? Let’s get to the T58A review!

Initial Impressions

The Yealink T58A is, like you’d expect, just a slightly more feature-rich iteration. It has the same dimensions as the T56A, the same desk footprint, and the same standardized phone layout with touch screen.

Here they are side-by-side. Can you spot the difference?

Yealink T56 and T58 Phones

Hint: Look at the touch screens.

Design-wise, the only notable difference between the T56 and T58 is that the T58’s screen is adjustable. In nearly every other aspect, they are identical.

Yealink T58 Adjustable Screen

Because they’re so similar, I took a little more time with this model. Just in case it had any quirks only prolonged use reveals.

(Impromptu test: I accidentally dropped the handset before I could connect it to the cord. Luckily, nothing bad happened! It didn’t even scratch on our concrete floors.)

I did face the same sign-in challenge on the T58A as I did the T56A. It’s set to accept only Trusted Certificates by default. My contact at Yealink says they do this as a security measure. So it’s not really an issue as I said before…I can certainly envision topologies where this makes sense.

The same change we used last time worked here. Here’s the documentation again: Phone Cannot Get Provisioned with Certificate Error – Yealink Support

Once I flipped that switch, zero problems signing in to Skype for Business.

The Major Difference: Video Call Capability

If the T56 and T58 are so similar, why make two different models?

The answer is on the T58’s back. It has a vertical slot in its back, above the USB port. You can remove the cover over this slot and reveal a second, upward-facing USB port.

Yealink T58A Back

From Yealink.com’s page on the T58A:

“You can easily turn your SIP-T58A smart media phone into a video phone ready with an optional removable two-megapixel HD camera CAM50.”

Yealink T58A Camera USB Port

The T56A doesn’t have this slot available. A co-worker commented on the camera slot’s use of USB. It meant you could also plug a USB cable in, moving the camera to a better angle if desired.

Yealink T58A Camera USB Port from Above

It is a USB 2.0 slot, by the way.

Now we know why they made two models. One can take a video expansion module; the other cannot. This makes for a huge difference in use cases. I’ll go over that in a moment.

Please note: This is the SIP-T58A model. That means its camera works with SIP…NOT Skype for Business. Another phone version does that.

That said, let’s go through some testing!

Using Skype for Business on the T58A

Like its brother, the T58A shows favorited Skype contacts on its Home screen. The options, and simplicity of use, are the same too.

I also discovered that both models preserve account details. I disconnected both the T56A and T58A from PoE. Left them idle for a day. Then plugged them both into another PoE cable at a co-worker’s desk.

Both models saved my Skype4B account login. I only had to unlock the phone, and poof, there’s my Presence status & contacts. Nice going on this one Yealink.

Call Quality: Almost an exact mirror to the T56A. One thing I did notice was that the “Noise Proof” technology came through a little better on the T58. That could be due to my listening for it, though.

Voicemail: In a stroke of good luck, I had several voicemails come in succession one day. (Murphy’s Law, you walk away from your desk, and everybody calls…) This gave me a chance to test out the voicemail controls more heavily than before.

You reach voicemail on the T58A through its “Menu” button.

Yealink T58A Menu

I tried both ways of dialing into voicemail:

  • Dial in, then pick up handset
  • Pick up handset, then dial in

No trouble either way.

Bluetooth: The Yealink team encouraged me to test out Bluetooth on the phone. I had to update the firmware in order to do this; the version shipped with the phone didn’t have Bluetooth enabled yet.

(NOTE: A new firmware just came out a few days prior to my review. If you buy a Yealink after reading this, your phone’s screen will look different.)

Updating the firmware took 5 minutes. Well, 10, if you count the download time.
Yealink Support – T58A Downloads

Once I’d updated, Bluetooth appeared as a rocker switch in Settings. You can enable Bluetooth and WiFi from the Web admin menu, or directly on the phone.

Yealink T58A Bluetooth Setting

From there it’s the typical pairing process: Open the Bluetooth screen on the phone, wait for BT devices to show up in the “Available Devices” list, and tap to pair.

I paired my Jabra Motion Office headset. I keep its base wired to my laptop dock. To test, I disconnected the base from my dock, so it couldn’t field calls coming from my laptop.

Shortly afterward, two calls came in. The Jabra started beeping right away, just like it normally does.

I did notice a slightly shorter ‘walking range’ while taking these calls though. When my Jabra takes a call from the laptop, I can walk clear across the office and still have a nice clear call. When my Jabra took the calls through the T58, I got a little crackle of static when I walked about ten feet away.

Nothing huge. All in all, the phone did a good job of working with my Bluetooth headset.

Issues: Security/Hacking Concern

A reader messaged me after the T56 post went up. “Yealink phones get hacked all the time. Don’t use them!”

I checked on this, and did find several reports from people dealing with hacked Yealinks. All older models though. I searched specifically for the T56A and T58A, but didn’t come across hacking reports on them.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Far from it! But the reader’s warning raises an extremely important point, not just about Yealink phones:

Whenever deploying a new VoIP phone, no matter the manufacturer, make sure it’s fully secured before issued to the user.

Default passwords changed. Firewall in place. Logging enabled. Ports closed. It’s another computer on the network…thus, a potential cyberattack vector. Treat it like one.

Use Cases for the T56A and T58A

Given how similar these phones are, it took me a while to determine separate use cases. They’re both solid phones, with an extremely useful Web administrative menu per device.

I did though! Here are some use cases where each of the Yealink T-Series phones would serve well.

T56A:

  • Run-of-the-mill desk workers.
  • Compliance-heavy workstations, if regulations prohibit display of certain materials in a video feed. Even accidentally.
  • Multiple branch offices, in a bulk deployment (especially if you manage the branch offices’ IT remotely).
  • Common Area Phone. Both models have a CAP function in their settings. I prefer the T56 here since it’s a simpler device with no video.

T58A: All of the above, as well as the following.

  • Branch Management phones, for frequent conferencing.
  • Sales/Marketing team phones, for quick video calls.
  • Customer Service phones…in case you really want to embody ‘customer-facing’!
  • Small-team conferencing phone (though Yealink does have a series of conferencing phones, called the “CP Series”).
  • Non-Skype for Business VoIP deployments. The camera add-on works with SIP video…but this version doesn’t work for Skype for Business video. That’s the Yealink T58A Skype for Business Edition.

Now, what are some use cases where Yealink makes a good choice, as opposed to other SIP phone brands (e.g. Polycom, AudioCodes)?

  • You run Skype for Business Server on-prem or hybrid.
  • Moving to Teams IS on your radar. Yealink has T56 and T58 models configured for Teams use.
  • You have multiple offices, but similar communications needs (which means you can standardize deployment & save time/money).

The Verdict: An Easy-to-Use, Expandable Desk Phone for Power Users

Now that I’ve completed my reviews, I handed the T58A over to the co-worker I mentioned last post. His turn to play. He’ll also put the phone through its interoperability paces, in our own network and at customer sites. It has to work within our security parameters before he’ll sign off on customer use.

Yealink T58A SIP Phone

I do like the T58A’s video expansion option. But I personally don’t use video much. It’s a nice-to-have for standard users. For power users though, it’s necessary. Which is why I say power users would get more value from the T58A than the T56A.

You can get the Yealink SIP-T58A from Jenne.com.

Does your office use Yealink SIP phones like these? Please share your impressions in the comments.

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Device Review: Yealink T56A Skype for Business Phone

Time for a new device to review! This time we have a new desk phone: the SIP-T56A from Yealink. Matt at Jenne.com kindly sent me this unit for review, after we expressed interest in the Yealink line.

The T56A is designed for Skype for Business use. It does support expansion modules, as well as Bluetooth & Wi-Fi connectivity, and plays nice with Office 365.

Would Yealinks serve as a good alternative to Polycom phones, if we couldn’t get a Polycom (or the customer didn’t like them)? Will they stand up to the daily grind? How well do they work with Skype for Business?

Let’s find out!

Initial Impressions

I unboxed the T56A as soon as it arrived. Pulling it out, I did a quick comparison to the Polycoms we have around the office. The T56A weighs about the same as those, but it’s wider. You’ll need a little desk space for it.

Yealink Phone Unboxing
Yealink T56A Unboxed

It’s a pretty straightforward phone console. Buttons for hold, transfer, volume, mute, etc. Build quality’s solid; nothing about this feels flimsy or loose.

Yealink T56A Dialpad

The phone comes with a big touch screen attached. You can’t adjust the touch screen on the T56, but at least it’s low-glare. You can lower its brightness too, under Settings > Basic > Display > Backlight.

Yealink T56 Phone Setup

The T56 doesn’t need a separate power adapter if you use PoE (but one is optional). I plugged this in to a PoE network cable.

Issues: Signing In

The phone booted as soon as I plugged in the PoE cable. It brought me to a nice simple start window within about 20 seconds.

Yealink T56A Boot

Once the phone finished startup, it brought me to a Sign In menu right away. I had three choices: An Extension/PIN sign-in, a Skype for Business sign-in, or a Web sign-in.

Yealink T56A Skype for Business

(Side note: Since the phone sent me straight into Sign In, I didn’t realize for several minutes that I could just hit Back a few times and reach the phone’s main menu!)

Now, here’s where I had the one issue. I had some difficulty getting signed in. It wanted me to use an extension and PIN at first, but I didn’t have those. (I did try my previous phone’s extension and PIN, but alas, no use.)

Next I opted for the Skype User Sign In. We run Skype for Business Server 2015 on-prem, and this phone used a PoE cable to connect. Should be no problem at all, right?

I entered my sign-in address (email), username (the same email), and my Skype4B password. Took me a couple tries to figure this out; the instructions didn’t specify the format.

When I did get the right combination, I saw the following error: “Cert web service not found.”

Hmmm. Did we have an issue with our on-prem Front End? I checked with the Consulting team. No, the Front End’s fine.

I checked online and found the solution: In default settings, the T56A only accepts Trusted Certificates. This can inhibit initial sign-ins, even on secured Skype for Business Front Ends.

Luckily, the fix is simple. Yealink has it documented on their Support site: Phone Cannot Get Provisioned with Certificate Error – Yealink Support

The phone also has a Web administrative menu. You access it by entering the phone’s assigned IP into your web browser, like most such devices (e.g. “http://192.168.1.1”). The instructions contain the default login & password for this admin menu.

The fix involves disabling the Trusted Certificate Only option in the admin menu, under the Security tab. Once I did this, I discovered a very handy shortcut. Instead of returning to the phone and re-entering my login, I could sign into Skype4B right from the admin menu!

All I had to do was click the Account tab, enter my login & password, and boom. The phone recognized the sign-in and displayed its main screen. Ready for testing!

Using Skype for Business on the T56A

The T56A main screen shows favorited Skype contacts. You have a bottom toolbar with four options: Favorites, History, Contacts, and Menu. Menu gives you the Calendar, Voice Mail, Status, Setting, and Meet Now buttons. All styled consistently with Skype for Business.

Yealink T56A Main Screen

The phone’s DEAD-simple to work with (heh heh). I replaced my normal desk phone, a Polycom CX300, with it to test out. I anticipated some learning curve, of course…it would take me a couple days to familiarize myself with the different ways to make & handle calls, right?

Nope! Within minutes I had this phone down. Unlock PIN set, favorites configured, and I know where & how to change my Presence status in two taps.

I connected my Jabra Motion Office headset to the T56A as well, using the headset port on the back. No configuration necessary.

Yealink T56 with Jabra Headset

T56A hanging out with my Jabra headset.

Now, the most important aspect of a phone: Call Quality.

Since I replaced my Polycom with the T56A, it handled all my calls for the past week. The handset is marked HD, and judging by call quality, it’s true. Everyone’s voices came through as clear as could be, whether co-worker (internal) or customer (external).

(Even the recorded spam message came through nice and clear. No idea how they got my number…)

To illustrate the call quality, let me draw a comparison. When you talk with your co-workers on one device, and then switch to another, you can tell which device is clearer, can’t you? You already know their voice. Your brain knows how they should sound. So when one device carries their voice sharper than the other, you notice.

That’s what happened during my T56A testing. Voices came through sharper on the T56A than on my prior phone (the Polycom CX300).

I found out afterward that this happens, at least in part, due to Yealink’s “Noise Proof” technology. The phone actually blocks out background noise while you’re on a call. I’ve seen this demonstrated on other phones before. The fact that I didn’t think of it until well after my calls says Yealink did a good job with their own version.

The Web Admin Menu: Yealink’s Secret Superpower

The Web administrative menu is incredible on these phones…I can configure every aspect of the phone from my browser. From changing ringtones to upgrading firmware.

Yealink Web Admin

Not only does that save a HUGE amount of provisioning time, it means I can totally avoid hunching over the phone, tapping out letters on the touch screen.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that the T56A has a touch screen in the first place. The screen has a good response rate, analogous to an Android smartphone. But if I can save a few minutes typing on my laptop’s keyboard, so much the better!

Having a comprehensive Web admin menu makes a big difference for IT professionals. It means we can provision devices remotely, with ease.

All we need is the phone’s IP address when it’s plugged into the network. The IP address is under Settings > Status. With that, we can take care of Skype for Business configuration, security updates, directory control, and so on. The user just has to plug the phone in!

The Verdict: An Excellent Desk Phone for Skype for Business Users

I showed the T56A to a colleague. He handles hardware deployment for most of our Skype for Business customers. Most of the time he deploys Polycom phones, with Jabra or Plantronics headsets.

He saw what this device can do and his eyes almost popped out of his head! “Why didn’t we have this before?!” He started throwing out names of customer sites where he could place them. I stopped him at #5. He could have kept going. Coming from him, an IT pro who’s worked with dozens of device manufacturers over the past 25 years, I consider that high praise.

You can get the Yealink SIP-T56A from Jenne.com.

Next up I’ll test the T56A’s brother, the Yealink T58A. I’ll include a comparison of the two models, and good use cases for both. See you back here next time!

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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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A Tour through the Teams AppSource (App Store)

Did you know you can add third-party add-ons to a Teams channel? Let’s see what happens when you do!

Microsoft calls these add-ons “Teams Apps.” They work like Chrome browser add-ons…a way to integrate third-party software into the Teams experience.

They even have their own app store: AppSource – Microsoft Teams
(You can also view Apps within Teams, by clicking the “Store” button in the left column.)

For this blog post, I installed some Teams Apps in our internal Teams channels and tested them out. I went with some fairly simple Apps, but you can find much more complex ones in AppSource.

I chose Asana and MailChimp for this test. Asana is a project management tool. We already use Asana in our office, so it’s a natural choice. We switched from MailChimp to Campaign Monitor years ago, but we know plenty of businesses who still use & love MailChimp. (Plus I still have a MailChimp account for testing!)

Teams AppSource CRM

The CRM Category in Teams AppSource. Kind of wish they had a Hubspot connector; would love to see how their CRM works within Teams. I’m sure it’s coming!

 

Installing Apps into Teams

Apps are connected to Teams channels, not the overall Team. Installation is pretty darn easy…just a few clicks to select, grant access, login to the third-party account, and voila!

Teams Apps Added

First, the steps for installing Asana.

Add Asana to Teams 1

The Install screen tells us what the Asana add-on will do.

 

Add Asana to Teams 2

Office 365 must have permission to grant third-party access through its Connectors. Click Allow.

 

Add Asana to Teams 3

You’ll need to sign into your Asana account on the next screen. Then select an Asana workspace & project to follow. Click OK and done!

Next, installing MailChimp.

Add MailChimp to Teams 1

Same as before; the Install screen tells us what MailChimp’s add-on will do.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 2

Some Apps will display an extra screen for permissions: one for the app/service, one for Office 365.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 3

Here’s the Office 365 Connector, requesting permission. Use your Office 365 account username & password.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 4

Fewer options for MailChimp, but the same process – select the appropriate MailChimp account, and report frequency.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 5

The MailChimp App is added! This screen shows in your Teams channel.

 

Now, the next big question—how do we USE these Apps?

It actually depends on the App. For Asana, we only need to configure the Asana projects the App will monitor. Whenever someone creates or comments on a task within those projects, we get a notification in Teams.

Asana Task Notifications

Two instances of Asana tasks appearing in my Teams channel flow. Note how easy it is to jump over to Asana if needed, or just mark tasks as Complete right from Teams.

 

Zero effort. Plus, getting notifications like this shaves one window off your daily checks.

MailChimp will display campaign performance reports, likewise eliminating a window to check. Connectors like these simplify the workday by consolidating information flow into the Teams channel.

Other connectors, like Help Scout (updates from customer support emails) or Pingdom (notifies you about website incidents) facilitate add-on services from within Teams. You may need additional configuration.

Caveat: Apps Can Overwhelm Your Channel

The old adage is true…you can have too much of a good thing. In this case, too many Teams Apps can blot out normal conversations.

Most Apps automatically notify the Teams channel when their event is triggered. Asana will report a new task, or MailChimp will pop up a new campaign performance report. The automatic setup lends convenience. But the more you use Asana and MailChimp, the more frequently you get notifications in Teams.

It’s easy to see the problem. One notification-clogged Teams channel, coming right up!

Of course, you could create a fresh Teams channel and assign App notifications to it. But then you’ve just created another checkpoint for yourself and your team. Instead, I recommend limiting the number of Teams Apps you’ll need. Only add the ones whose notifications add value to your conversations.

Use Teams Apps Whenever They Help You Stay Productive—And Don’t Disrupt Everyone Else

When deciding which Teams Apps to add, consider the whole team’s priorities & daily activities. Does everyone use Asana? Then chances are everyone will spend time in Asana anyway. You don’t need to add it to Teams. Conversely, if half the people on this particular Team use Asana, then adding the Teams App helps them save time and doesn’t cause too much disruption.

If you use many other online services, but only need to interact with them occasionally (e.g. Pingdom only sending alerts when a site’s down), then adding them as a Teams App makes sense. Provided they HAVE a Teams App, that is. Not everyone does yet.

Still, there’s plenty of choices in the AppSource already. Go take a look!

Which Teams Apps do you have installed?

 

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