Tag: Voice over IP

A Week with the Skype for Business Client

It has now been 1 week since I installed the Skype for Business Technical Preview client. Here’s what I learned.

Services Tested

I’m using a Lenovo Ultrabook Helix. Prior to installing Skype for Business I used Lync 2013 on this machine. The upgrade went through with no errors and a single reboot.

In the past week I’ve conducted:

  • 9 IM conversations
  • 4 Enterprise Voice calls
  • 1 Lync Meeting/Skype Meeting
  • 2 Persistent Chat sessions
  • 2 file transfers
  • 1 Video chat/call (as a test)

Overall, I’m surprised at just how similar to Lync 2013 this client is. Aside from the UI change, this operates so closely to Lync that I’m tempted to call it just a cosmetic update.

But that’s not entirely the case. True, we’ve talked more about backend changes than client-based on the blog (and I look forward to examining those in detail later on!). But the Skype for Business client has a few changes of its own.

Improvements over Lync, & What’s the Same

The following is a list of observations recorded throughout the week. Every time Skype4B 2015 did something different from Lync, or I caught myself performing a task exactly as I did in Lync, I made a note.

  1. IM windows are saving their sizes & screen positions now! This always bugged me with Lync; it kept forgetting my window sizes.
  2. The main client window stretched to a full-screen vertical column on load. I prefer a smaller “floating” window, but this isn’t much of an irritation. Adjustable anytime.
  3. Moving the Presence indicator to a circle at bottom-right is growing on me. I liked the left-side vertical bar, but the circle provides a slightly-faster recognition of Presence status.
  4. The custom Presence statuses I set back when I did this post: Lync Add-Ons: Lync Custom Status Tool
    were preserved in the update! I still have “Wrestling a Wolverine” and “Assisting a Customer” (those ARE two separate things, I assure you…) among my Presence choices.
  5. There is a brief hesitation between clicking the Skype taskbar icon and the window popping up. Lync did the same thing. (I think it’s system-related.) No change in behavior here.
  6. File transfers to Lync 2013 users will break sometimes. It’s not consistent, and likely caused by the Technical Preview interfacing with a previous version (Lync 2013), but I’m noting it here.
  7. I like how quick in-window file transfers are to initiate.
  8. Options menus are almost exactly the same. (Seriously, I’m not finding any differences aside from the name “Skype for Business” where “Lync” was.)

Skype for Business Client

Crashes/Hangs/”Not Responding”

I only experienced two instances of crashes, hangs or the dreaded “Not Responding” error.

  1. In Options, when clicking from “Video Devices” menu to “Audio Devices” menu (this temporarily enabled my webcam until closing Options).
  2. When adding video to my test video chat/call. The call froze and I had to reconnect. Once I did, it worked fine.

This suggests that the video portion of Skype for Business still has a few bugs.

Frankly, I expected MORE bugs in a Technical Preview. The fact that I only had these 2 issues was both perplexing and encouraging. My thought process went like this: “Okay, there’s one issue. Same issue from another angle too. Wait, is that it? Everything else is working fine. It’s a beta, there has to be…nope, that works too!”

DELAYS: Occasionally I did notice a slight delay in conversations. They only occurred when adding services (e.g. file transfers, video) to an existing IM conversation. Most likely a result of network hiccups, possibly sprinkled with a bit of inter-version communications. It was not significant enough to frustrate me or cause me to note them as a bug.

Final Impression: Can I Keep Skype for Business?

I’m impressed by how smooth the Skype for Business client has been. The Technical Preview is scheduled to end April 30 (Skype for Business 2015 is slated for release sometime in April). I will be sad if I have to switch back to Lync 2013, even if it’s only temporary.

In fact, let me make a recommendation. If you do use Lync Server 2013 now, and you plan to upgrade to Skype for Business? Transition the clients first. This client app will work with Lync Server, and it gives you time to familiarize users to the new UI.

Have you tested the Skype for Business Technical Preview yet? What were your observations? Please comment or email.

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Prepare to Support Skype for Business with a New Lync/Skype Troubleshooting Guide

Okay! Back to talking about Skype for Business 2015.

I attended a Lync Users Group Meetup 2 weeks ago, where we discussed Skype for Business Server 2015. I’m not able to share specifics yet, but I can talk about the Meetup itself. It was very well-attended–Lync partners, third-party vendors like Sonus, and UC industry experts.

The preparatory process for Skype for Business has clearly begun.

It was in this same vein – preparing for Skype for Business’ arrival – that I wrote today’s post. Last month Thomas Poett, a Microsoft Lync MVP, released a troubleshooting guide (free download). Both for Lync Server 2013…and for Skype for Business 2015!

Troubleshooting Guide, Skype for Business and Lync – Thomas.Poett@UC

Who’s the Guide For?

ThSupporting Lync Servere guide is meant for systems administrators, Lync Server administrators and Exchange Server administrators. It isn’t spelled out exactly, but the subject matter clearly delineates admins for its target audience.

As you’d expect from the title, Thomas’ guide covers troubleshooting methods for resolving issues within Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business 2015. It addresses topics like the following.

  • Support tools to use, such as Snooper and OCSLogger
  • Testing configurations for IM, Voice/VoIP, Conferencing
  • Analyzing calls for session problems
  • SIP troubleshooting
  • And much more

Things to Consider

–This guide is focused on troubleshooting, NOT on setup. Please read it with that in mind.
For instance: 21 pages are devoted to analyzing SIP data from one Lync call!

–This is a low-level technical guide. Expect to see Snooper logs, PowerShell cmdlets and session diagrams. If you are not already familiar with the Lync Server infrastructure, I suggest saving this for later. (May I suggest previous posts on this blog instead?)

–More attention is paid to Lync than Skype. No surprise here – Thomas does have access to the TAP, but there are strict privacy controls on Skype for Business information right now. And will be for a few more months.

Thomas was clever; he wrote a “universal” Troubleshooting Approach on pages 7-8 which can be applied to Lync, Skype for Business, Exchange Server, and even Office 365. I do not want to take away from his guide, so I will only quote a small part of the Troubleshooting Approach:

4 Major Quality Issue Areas:

  1. Network
  2. Core Performance
  3. Gateway
  4. Devices

Configuration/Environment Setup Regions to Check When Troubleshooting (in order):

  • Voice Setup (Dial Plans, Normalization, Routes)
  • Gateway Configuration
  • Exchange Unified Messaging Integration

Speaking from our Lync experience, this approach holds up. Network issues affect Lync more often than its own Server Roles hitting a snag. Which happens more often than a gateway failing to communicate. Which happens more than a device outright failing (only had that happen a couple times).

Why You Should Read the Troubleshooting Guide

I’m reading this for one reason: Identifying similarities between Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business Server 2015’s support processes.

Thomas has done some good work here. He’s provided details for troubleshooting a software platform, before it’s commercially available, using its currently-running predecessor. It’s a document intended to help you transition from one to the other.

I’m sure in time we’ll have more documentation, both for setup and for support. But right now, we have a Skype for Business 2015 resource available. Avail yourselves of it – after all, it’s free!

Here’s the direct PDF download link at TechNet.

What steps are you taking to prepare for Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email your thoughts. And join us back here next week for more!

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Skype on iPad vs. Lync 2013 on iPad: Dual App Reviews

Continuing the reviews today, we move to the iPad!

Today I’m reviewing 2 client apps – Skype (latest version) and Lync 2013. I don’t use Skype much on here; I have a webcam on my main system for that. But it’s still fully capable. So is Lync.

In fact, my overall results of these tests were higher-quality than the iPhone. Let’s see.

(FYI: These tests were conducted on an iPad 2.)

Skype on iPad – The Facts & Features

Skype on the iPad does pretty much exactly what Skype on the PC does: Make Calls and Video Chats. The interface is more stripped-down than the PC version (not surprising for an iPad app).

Skype Profile Window

MAKING CALLS: I only have a few people on Skype – mostly friends, as we don’t use this for work. (Yet!) So I called two of them & explained why.

If you’ve ever used Skype, you know it has its own protocol for voice: the SILK codec. Skype for Business will take advantage of this codec too. I don’t have any exact measurement tool for sound quality – just a good headset (see my previous Device Review) and my ears.

To these tools, Skype’s audio sounds just as clear as Lync’s. Depending on the other party’s connection, even clearer.

Skype Number Pad

VIDEO CHAT: I tested video chat with a co-worker who worked from home yesterday. Now, Skype is well-known for making video chats easy. Easier than Lync 2013 in some respects.

That said, having mostly used Lync for video calls, the lag time and jitter in my Skype video chat was disappointing. Neither of us was on a VPN, or a low-bandwidth connection. Yet my co-worker’s face kept jerking & going out of sync with his own words.

USER IMPRESSIONS: Perhaps my video sync issue was isolated. When I talked with other Skype users and read reviews on the App Store, it was not among the chief issues reported.

The most frequent complaints were Dropped Calls and Lack of Three-Way Calling. The latter is partly understandable (see “Limitations” for why). Dropped calls is partially explained by the varying connection speeds in use at the consumer level. The same issue affects some of our clients’ remote Lync users. It’s annoying, and there’s only so much compensation you can do with your network bandwidth.

LIMITATIONS: Skype’s Group Video chats are not accessible on mobile devices like iPads. Three-Way Calling (audio only) is possible on mobiles, but you can’t start one from an iPad. A Skype user on a PC or Mac must start it. Hence why user frustration is understandable – you have to message someone from your iPad and ask them to start a three-way call with you!

The Question of Skype Subscriptions

I followed a link from the Skype app to their Rates page: http://www.skype.com/en/rates/

For years now, people have paid for Skype to call non-Skype numbers. It’s a cheap and good-quality way to keep in touch with everybody.

But I saw nothing on the page about the impending changes wrought by Skype for Business 2015.

Which makes me wonder – WILL there be any changes on this side? Will Microsoft dare to poke the beast that is Skype’s Worldwide Market?

We’ll find out soon.
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Lync 2013 on iPad – The Facts & Features

Lync 2013 on the iPad is almost identical to Lync 2013 on iPhone. Though it benefits greatly from the iPad’s larger screen. Much easier to navigate its functions and carry on conversations.

I’d argue that using Lync 2013 on an iPad is even easier than on a desktop. This is one instance where Microsoft took full advantage of a mobile device’s size.

Lync iPad Contacts

The Lync 2013 screen has 5 main windows available: Contacts, Chats, Meetings, Phone, and Profile. These correspond to the desktop client exactly.

  • Make calls & review voicemails from the Phone window (these are synced from the Lync Server)
  • View contacts’ Presence and initiate conversations from the Contacts window
  • Review Meetings scheduled in your Outlook calendar in the Meetings window
  • View Conversation History (local to iPad) under the Chats window
  • Update your own Presence and Lync options in the Profile window

CALLS AND MEETINGS: IM conversations on the iPad go smoothly, and have for months. I initiated a Lync Call to two co-workers (one the remote worker I mentioned earlier). Both calls were comparable to the Skype Call. I used the same Jabra headset.

Lync Calls

To test Meetings, I scheduled a meeting on my laptop, and joined it on my iPad. The two co-workers invited joined as well, one from their laptop, and one from their phone. We had a bit of tinny background noise for the first 2 minutes. But it cleared up. I did not notice any other jitter or lag.

USER IMPRESSIONS: There’s a notable user impression in the Lync 2013 Reviews pane I should mention. This user says that, if the device runs iOS 8, Lync 2013 becomes unstable and will crash.

Now, this iPad has NOT been updated to iOS 8 yet – it’s old enough that the update would lead to a serious performance slowdown – so I don’t see this error. (In fact, Lync didn’t give me any trouble at all.) But a stability question, possibly dependent on the OS involved, merits mentioning.

Otherwise, impressions indicate a few complaints on connection issues adding people to Meetings. I didn’t find much on poor call quality or dropped calls. Given that Lync is more often used while on a corporate network, this isn’t surprising.

LIMITATIONS: Lync 2013 has the same limitation on the iPad it does on the iPhone – Conversation History is limited to conversations using the iPad.

Lync Conversation History

I hold out hope that this will be resolved, eventually!

Verdict: Lync Slightly Ahead of Skype, Integration Should Favor Lync Usability

Microsoft’s claim for Skype for Business 2015 is that Lync Server will take on more of the Skype UI. Thus making it more appealing to a wide audience, simpler to navigate, and consistent across all devices.

In the iPad/tablet sphere, I think Microsoft should reverse this script. Here Lync is the more intuitive UI, with the more responsive controls. Building Skype look & feel into the interface, go for it. But keep as much of Lync’s app-level functionality as possible. It does the job very well.

What’s your experience using Lync 2013 and/or Skype on the iPad? Please comment or email your thoughts.

Next week I have another Device Review…and you’re definitely going to love this one. See you then!

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Device Review: Jabra Evolve 80 MS Lync Stereo Headset

In the past, we’ve reviewed a couple Jabra products here on the Lync Insider. I try to avoid all bias when reviewing hardware – the Jabra equipment just keeps delivering high quality.

This week, I received the Jabra Evolve 80 headset (MS Lync Stereo model). Well, I couldn’t pass that up for a review, now could I?

Jabra Evolve Series Page on Jabra.com

Initial Impression

The Evolve 80 MS Lync model has full over-the-ear headphones with an attached mic arm. The earpieces and headband are well-padded. The headset comes in a neoprene case. Easy to store & travel with.
jabra-case

Jabra Evolve 80 Lync Headset

The Controller

The headset comes with a detachable controller. Connect via USB to a PC, or headphone jack to a mobile device (without the controller). The controller buttons gives you these options: Answer Call/End Call, Volume Up/Down, Mute. The center ring/Busylight lights up in red as a “Busy” indicator.

Jabra Evolve 80 Controller

Charging

The headset needs to charge for full use of its functions. It will do so automatically when plugged into a PC. Or you can connect a micro-USB cable directly to the left earpiece to charge. The built-in battery powers these functions:

  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Listen-In
  • Busylight

Noise Cancelling

The right earpiece has a switch to turn on Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). These are already quite muffling of outside sound, but with noise cancellation built-in? I made a call, and couldn’t even hear my co-worker talking less than 10 feet from me.

Making Calls

The controller reminds me of the Jabra SPEAK 410 Speakerphone. Same kind of circular design, and a light indicating calls in progress.

Call quality is superb. Better than my previous headset (the Jabra BIZ 620 from my last review!). No latency on either Lync-to-Lync or Lync-to-Cell calls noticeable.

One thing to point out: The Evolve headset intelligently took over my sound output. Calls came through the headset right away. But music didn’t. It only assigned itself as default for Lync 2013, not the whole computer. I found that valuable–this headset knows not to overextend its reach!

(Of course I switched default devices under Sound, and music played through the headset too. The test song came through nuanced and with clear balance.)

Multiple Call Handling

Now this is fancy. The Jabra Evolve 80 can manage multiple calls at once!

Here’s how it works: If you’re on a call and another call comes in, hold down the Answer/End button for 2 seconds. It puts the current call on hold and answers the incoming call.

To switch between the calls, hold down Answer/End for 2 seconds again.
You don’t want to answer the incoming call? Double-press Answer/End and it’ll stop bothering you.

Listen-In Button

If you’re using ANC, hearing something other than the call you’re on is pretty difficult. But if you press the Listen-In button on the right earpiece, it mutes music and/or calls.

Calls are NOT paused though–and your mic is still on when in Listen-In Mode. Don’t use Listen-In as a Pause button!

The One Snag I Found

One caveat to this headset. Both earpieces will fold flat. Makes it easy to lay flat on your desk. However, when they’re folded flat, the mic arm sticks out away from the headband. It cannot move flush with the headband; just doesn’t go that far.

Now this isn’t much of a big deal. But it is something to keep in mind. I can see someone catching their sleeve or a cable on the jutting-out mic arm, and sending the whole headset flying by accident.

With a headset this high-quality, that’s definitely not something you want to do!

mic-arm

Verdict: Impressive Piece of Lync Hardware!

Jabra continues to make top-tier devices. This headset is comfortable, with sharp call quality and more useful features. Finally, I don’t see any reason why this won’t work with Skype for Business 2015 as well as it does with Lync 2013.

out-of-box3

Next week we’ll be back to our software reviews. Up next: Lync 2013 and Skype on the iPad, point-by-point comparison.

What headset do you use with Lync?

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The State of Lync Users Heading into 2015

I apologize for anyone who was confused by last week’s post. Seems a few of you were confused – and not without cause – on the steps involved.

I thought about removing it until I can make 100% sure I have the correct details. But I promised a results discussion on the Lync Insider Reader Survey polls for this week.

Soon, I *will* revisit the Remote PowerShell topic. I’ll leave last week’s post up for now and urge anyone who has issues to email me here.

For now, let’s go through the results of my 2-minute Reader Survey Polls posted last month.

We had 80 responses to our polls, with another 7 people emailing or tweeting their thoughts. (Not quite 100, but closer!)

The Most Useful Lync Service

According to all of you, the most useful Lync service is Instant Messaging/IM (15 votes), followed closely by Enterprise Voice/VoIP (13 votes).

For some reason Persistent Chat had zero votes. I just felt like pointing that out.

What I find interesting about this result is that these are the most “immediate” services. ‘Instant’ Messages and Phone Calls are right-away communication. Those Lync services which usually involve a bit of planning, like scheduling a Web conference, weren’t as highly rated.

This strikes me as people incorporating Lync into their pre-Lync routine, instead of adapting the routine to take advantage of Lync. No big surprise (who has time to learn new workday routines?).

Lync Plans for 2015

The #1 response to what your Lync plans are for this year was, Migrate to Skype for Business Server 2015 (from existing Lync setup) at 15 votes.

The same plan PlanetMagpie has (after testing of course). We’ll be sure to post on our testing & upgrade progress, to help you out with yours.

Those of you planning to stay on Lync Server 2013, don’t worry. I’m still planning plenty of Lync 2013 posts this year. Many businesses will move to or stay on Lync Server 2013 due to its maturity and stability. It will remain a fully viable platform for at least until 2016, possibly 2017 too.

What Does This Mean for Skype for Business?

This sort of user feedback is “the bar” by which Skype for Business 2015 should be judged. The newest version must meet the needs described by its current user base.

-Integration with daily communications choices, like IM, phones, and texting.
-Absolute minimal disruption of workday routines.
-Simplifying the VoIP setup/operations process to what I’d call “Skype-level”.

The new Skype-like interface will help for these. Some users will merely continue their familiarity. Regular Lync users will adapt.

How quickly they adapt depends on two as-yet-unknown factors:

  1. What kinds of phones are in use at your office. Lync Phones should have patches ready by the time Skype for Business is released (if they don’t, they’re in trouble). Re-using Lync 2013 Phones would be the smart business play, at least at first.
  2. The robustness of the Skype for Business mobile/tablet apps. Both Skype and Lync for the iPad are reportedly unstable and missing features. Skype on the iPhone is better-rated, but Lync is not. Microsoft needs some serious work to make these platforms appealing to business users.

Honestly, it’s been a little while since I used the iPad app. Think I’ll do some reviews in a future post.

What service are you most looking forward to (or are anxious about) in Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email. And join us again next week!

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2014 Reader Survey: What are Your 2015 Lync Plans?

It’s the last Lync Insider post of 2014! Hope everyone’s Christmas shopping is done and the workload is light.

It’s been quite a year for the blog. Add-ons coming out. Big announcements. Lots of updates & fixes. Lync is out there in a big way and getting bigger. Each month, over 20,000 readers visit the Lync Insider, and we’re grateful for all the conversations we’ve had.

Here’s a few of our most popular 2014 posts (in case you missed them!):

2 Surveys in 2 Minutes – Please Tell Us Your Lync Plans!

We’ll return to our regular posting schedule in early January. But what should we start with? What directions should we go next year?

Well, why not ask our readers these questions! If you’ll spare 2 minutes, please answer the following 2 surveys about your Lync plans. The results will inform our 2015 posting schedule.

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[yop_poll id=”4″]

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[yop_poll id=”5″]

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We had 67 votes on our last poll…can we make it to 100 for these two?

As always, if you have a question or want to share a Lync story, please comment on a post or email me. PlanetMagpie is always happy to help business users with their Lync (or other!) support issues.

I just received a comment about Chat inside an add-on, in fact. (Paul, I’ll answer your question as soon as I’m able!)

The Blog Name Change – Decision Made

Thank you again, to all of our readers. We asked you what you thought this blog should be named, since Lync itself will change its name in 2015.

After reviewing the poll results and talking it over amongst ourselves, we decided that the blog’s name will be…

The Lync Insider.

We will stay with the name you already know. But! We’ll have other changes coming to reflect the Skype for Business changes.

What will they be? Well, you’ll have to come back to find out!

Subscribe via email with the signup box at top right, for weekly post emails. Many of you already have this year…and we hope many more will join us next year!

Until then, Happy Holidays to all, and have a safe New Year.

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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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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

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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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On the Lync Radar: “Lync-in-a-Box” Appliance Down Under, 802.11ac is Lync-Certified

Uh oh! I attempted to install a third-party add-on for testing today. But the add-on didn’t want to cooperate. While I contact the developer for assistance, let’s see what’s on the Lync radar for the week.

Audiocode Releases “Lync in a Box”

“Lync-in-a-Box” Released in Australia – CRN.com.au
Audiocodes, a VoIP vendor, has released a new product in Australia. It’s called “One Box 365”, and it combines a Lync Enterprise Voice Server with a session border controller. By combining these, Audiocodes claims they’ve reduced the cost of deploying Lync for smaller businesses (less than 200 computers).

A Session Border Controller (SBC), in case anyone needs a refresher, is a Voice over IP device which connects your Lync environment to SIP Trunk providers. Or another VoIP system if you choose to configure it that way. Essentially it’s an add-on which can provide additional functionality, like security or performance improvements, to Lync Enterprise Voice connectivity.

NextHop published a very good explanation of Session Border Controllers last year.

What does this mean for Lync Server Users?

One Box 365 is designed for use with Office 365. That will help with ease of setup, definitely. But from the specifications, I believe it could be used as a standalone Lync Server 2013 deployment as well.

Now that would be a useful package – anything intended to shorten deployment time for SMBs is a welcome option in my book.

Hope it’s released in the USA soon. I’d like to test-drive a Lync-in-a-box.

Aruba Networks Certifies Their 802.11ac Access Points for Lync Use

Aruba Networks Hopes to Make Rain With Microsoft Lync – NoJitter
Aruba Networks’ wireless 802.11ac access points (APs) have been certified under the Microsoft Lync Server Wi-Fi qualification program. The first APs to do so, according to this article.

This is BADLY needed. Wireless networks (when properly secured) are a major help to business productivity. And they’re a cost savings on top of that.

However, if you’ve made Lync calls over wireless, you’re aware that it doesn’t always work well. Using Lync over Wi-Fi can cause traffic slowdowns, collisions, jitter on calls, and various other not-so-good things.

Sometimes Lync calls work perfectly on Wi-Fi. If you have good-quality APs, odds are you won’t have more than the occasional hiccup. The big help with Aruba’s qualification is that we now have a standard available.

Other 802.11ac wireless vendors will surely follow suit, making sure their products meet the bandwidth requirements to fully support Lync Server 2013. The technology will continue to improve. Lync users will continue to benefit from wider service options.

Congratulations to Aruba for being the first! I might request we get one of these new APs to test in the office.

The Testing Continues

Speaking of testing, we have several demos in the works for Lync products & enhancements. If your company makes a Lync Server add-on of some kind, please comment or email me! I’d love to take a look.

And don’t forget to sign up for email updates!

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Third-Party Software for Lync Server: What are the Qualified Lync Applications?

The other day we went through a list of hardware approved for Lync use. (Lync Add-On Hardware for Client Enhancement and Server Capability: 10 Examples)

But third parties don’t just make hardware for Lync. There’s a whole host of third-party software too!

Thanks to Shaun, a reader, for sending me his Lync experience and this URL:
Qualified Lync Applications – Office TechCenter

On this page is a list of third-party software applications Microsoft has approved for use with Lync Server. They are designated as “Qualified Lync Applications”.

What do these applications provide?

  • New Attendant Consoles
  • Billing and/or better reporting tools
  • Extensions for Lync 2013 clients (including mobile)
  • A Contact Center
  • Persistent Chat enhancements (these particularly interest me)
  • Recording tools
  • Software-defined networking

And a few more. Let’s go through the list and see what we find.

Samroxx Attendant

A new attendant console for Lync. Very easy to install – I had a free trial downloaded and running in less than 5 minutes. Setup takes a little bit longer, as it appears (at least in the trial version) that you must enter contacts yourself, instead of relying on Active Directory. Samroxx did grab my account information from Active Directory though.

samroxx

As you see from this screenshot, the Samroxx interface is very clean, and options are clearly listed. If you opt to use a third-party attendant console with Lync Server 2013, this is a pretty good choice.

Zylinc Attendant Console

Another attendant console. This one seems beefier though – it has more features, like calendar updating and statistics.

Zylinc-Attendant-Console_EN

Image courtesy of Zylinc.com.

Plus it works for both Lync Server 2010 and 2013. This in itself could provide a useful transition from 2010 to 2013–the interface for reception wouldn’t change.

No demo option I saw. But they do offer a product sheet: Zylinc Attendant Console Product Sheet (PDF)

Verba Recording

Call Recording add-on for Lync Server. While Archiving Server does some of this, it does have its limits Extending recording capabilities is a huge benefit – not only does it protect against lost productivity from confusion, but it helps with legal & regulatory compliance.

Two things I particularly like about Verba:

  1. It records all calls, IM conversations, and videos – media Archiving Server doesn’t record.
  2. It’s a server-side solution. Nobody has to install software on their PCs, which means everyone is recorded by default.

I’ll book a Verba demo and report back on my findings soon.

MindLink Mobile Chat

Persistent Chat is one of my favorite Lync tools. However it suffers from one notable limitation – mobile access. Or lack thereof.

MindLink extends Persistent Chat onto mobile devices (phones and tablets). It also works on Mac and Linux computers, extending Lync’s chat capabilities across pretty much all platforms. MindLink even integrates with email and SharePoint.

I’m signing up for a MindLink demo too. Watch for a future post on this too.

Many More Third-Party Applications – Have You Tried One?

These are only a few of the 95 total “Qualified Lync Applications”. I’ll revisit the page later, go through more software, test the ones I can, and report back. Feel free to do the same (and let me know what you find)!

The idea that Lync Server 2013 would need “extending” might make some think the software is incomplete, or immature. Not so. One software application isn’t perfect for all situations. That’s why so many release APIs and work with third-party developers to create extensions. Firefox has its Add-Ons. WordPress has its Plugins and Themes.

Lync Server has Qualified Applications. Use them to make Lync run like you need it to.

Does your business use a Qualified Lync Application? Please comment or email me with the details. I’d like to hear about the application, what you use it for, and how well it works.

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