Microsoft Targets Enterprise Comms With Lync 2010

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Microsoft has formally launched its Lync 2010 unified communications platform for large or small businesses

Microsoft has formally launched Lync 2010, the rebranding of its Office Communications software suite.

In addition to providing business users with a software platform – enterprise telephony, instant messaging, and video and audio conferencing – Lync can also interface with Microsoft products such as Windows Live Messenger and its new Kinect hands-free game controller, potentially expanding the platform’s viability in the consumer market.

Lync also operates in conjunction with software platforms such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and Exchange. This allows users to collectively input on a PowerPoint document, for example, while engaged in a conference call.

Communications Strategy Linchpin

Forrester Research estimates that the overall unified communications (UC) market will be worth $14.5 billion by 2015, making it a ripe target for tech giants like Microsoft looking to expand their workplace reach.

Microsoft’s Lync Website offers a free trial of the software, which will be available on December 1. Mobile clients for the Apple iPhone, Nokia phones and Windows Phone 7 are expected within a year, although Microsoft executives have been reluctant to discuss about clients for other platforms such as RIM’s BlackBerry.

“Lync is the linchpin to our communications strategy,” Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management group, said during his keynote at the event.

He then ran through some of Lync’s basic functions by demonstrating, in a particularly splashy way, how the software dashboard controls video conferencing – launching a conversation with former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, sitting in his office in Seattle.

Gates took it from there, describing his own push for a Microsoft UC platform around five or six years ago. “When you looked at PBX, it sort of just sat there by itself,” he said, referring to the traditional telephone exchanges servicing an office or business. “That isolation meant it wasn’t an available platform [for software development].”

The shift to a software-driven, UC platform “is probably the most important thing to happen for the office worker since the PC came along,” Gates added. From now on, “when you see somebody’s desk in a movie, and a separate phone, you’ll think, ‘Wow, that was before this happened’.”

Lync’s other features include the ability to select multiple people from a contact list to make a group call; test a network connection before initiating a video call; and flipping through instant messenger, video and document-collaboration within the same client display. Integration with services such as Exchange means that Lync will auto-update each user’s status – if, for instance, they are in a meeting or otherwise away from their desk.

Lync also interfaces with Windows Live Messenger and even allows users to activate a video conference through gestures using Kinect.

“The way people work has really dramatically shifted and the blending of the home life and the work life has been really quite extreme,” Capossela said in a conversation with eWEEK following the press conference. “We felt we wanted [Lync] to scale all the way down, so people could use that one system to connect with their friends and family who aren’t connected with that software.”

That being said, Microsoft recognises that companies have made a substantial legacy investment in PBX systems. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Capossela said about those companies’ possibly transitioning to Lync. “But if you or I were starting a small business from scratch today, there’s no way we’d invest [in a traditional telephone system].”

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