My history with Microsoft telephony goes back to the early 1990’s when Microsoft and Intel jointly created and released the Telephony Services Applications Programming Interface or TAPI. TAPI allowed Windows programs to write applications that could directly control a telephone. A TAPI application could instruct a telephone to do anything that a user of that phone could. I personally worked on developing the underlying telephony drivers that TAPI used, but I also had a close relationship with the folks that wrote TAPI user applications.
I recall a long ago conversation with a Microsoft employee where he informed me that his team was working on a software PBX that would very soon dominate the market. I probably laughed at him and for the past 20 years that laughter has been valid and warranted. However, Microsoft hasn’t been idle all those years and starting with Net Meeting they’ve been working on plans to make that employee’s prediction come true.
Net Meeting was followed by Live Communications Sever (LCS) which was followed by Office Communications Server (OCS) which has now been replaced by Microsoft Lync. I installed LCS on my PC shortly after it came out and even went through the effort to obtain my LCS certification. LCS was a pretty cool application for presence, instant message, and desktop sharing, but I was not about to replace my Nortel CS1000 with one. The same could be said for OCS. The voice aspects of OCS were interesting and showed promise, but it was still more of a toy than a replacement for a PBX. I am now running Lync on my PC and feel that it’s finally time that I stopped laughing.
So, what exactly is Microsoft Lync? In a nutshell, it’s a collection of services, applications, and integrations that form a fairly complete unified communications system. It still has the instant messaging and presence aspects of LCS, but with the addition of audio and video conferencing, enterprise voice functionality, E-911, connection to the PSTN (Private Switched Telephone Network), and support for branch offices and mobile users, it finally is the PBX replacement that was predicted all those years ago. Additionally, an enterprise has the option of installing Lync as an on-premise solution or it can utilize Microsoft’s cloud version, Office 365.
For me, one of the most exciting aspects about Lync is how it has been integrated into all aspects of Microsoft applications and Windows. User presence is everywhere. Whether it’s inside an email or a SharePoint document, I am always aware of the presence of my coworkers. I hate typing phone numbers and with Lync’s click-to-call functionality, I can contact anyone with a simple click of my mouse. It doesn’t matter if I am in an email or a Word document. Access to Lync functionality seems to be everywhere.
Conferencing was first introduced in OCS, but an OCS conference was clunky and difficult to use. The same cannot be said for Lync conference which is easily understood and very well behaved. The addition of quality video makes a Lync conference stand out from a lot of the competition.
So, what’s missing? From the standpoint of a knowledge worker like me, nothing. I can have all the telephony I want on my PC, mobile device, or if I choose, physical telephone. There isn’t a single unified communications feature that I regularly use that Lync doesn’t support. This holds true for enterprise applications. If a particular functionality isn’t native to Lync, there is a Lync partner that can provide it.
As the weeks and month go by I will be writing a lot more about Microsoft Lync. It is becoming a significant part of my life and there is much I have to say. Stay tuned for deeper dives and a better understanding of all of Lync’s moving parts.