Microsoft on Wednesday released Lync, the "next generation" of unified communications for businesses. The platform integrates instant messaging, presence, audio, video, web conferencing, and voice along with Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Exchange.
Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the company's Lync and speech group, said Lync will help IT departments "enhance or eliminate their traditional PBX systems" by unifying all modes of modern business communications and offering "a more collaborative, 'in person' experience with features like HD video, conference recording, and social features like status updates and activity feeds."
Rivals the PC as Most Important Advance
In short, Pall told news media, the "PBX era is over."
The new platform rolls up Microsoft Communications Server, Office Communications Online, and Office Communicator. The launch event was in New York, with a video-call appearance by Microsoft cofounder and Chairman Bill Gates. During his transmission, disrupted by what Microsoft said was the satellite feed and not Lync, Gates called Lync "probably the most important thing to happen for the office worker since the PC came along," according to news reports.
In its announcement, Microsoft noted that some large companies have already deployed Lync 2010. These include Nikon, which is using Lync with SharePoint and Exchange to increase employee productivity as much as 30 percent. A Nikon executive told news media that his company wants to move away from a specific communications tool, like e-mail, and allow people to "choose the best communications tool for each scenario they face."
Microsoft also said more than 70 Lync-optimized new devices from Polycom, Aastra Technologies, and others -- including IP phones, headsets, speakerphones and webcams -- are being announced.
Activity Feed, Outlook Integration
In addition, more than 30 partners, including Aspect Software, Convergent Media Systems, ProtonMedia and Wortell, are launching applications for the Lync platform, such as contact centers, call recording, accounting, performance monitoring services, and new apps that embed communications inside business processes. Additionally, British Telecom, Dell, Dimension Data, Hewlett-Packard, and Verizon Business are offering services to help customers manage the Lync platform.
Among other features, Microsoft is reportedly working on having Lync work with Kinect, the new hands-free controller for its Xbox 360 video-game console. This would allow game players to make video calls through Xboxes and TVs. The company is also expected to release versions for the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 devices.
Lync can be implemented as an on-site client-server deployment, or it can be partly hosted and partly on site. Other highlights touted by Microsoft include a variety of functions within contacts management, an Activity Feed that displays updates a la Facebook, highly versatile video conferencing, Outlook integration, and a business social-networking feature that allows users to search for employees with a given skill set.