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Microsoft to link Lync voice and IM to Skype by June

Mobile apps with voice and video over IP coming soon(ish)

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Microsoft kicked off its first-ever Lync Conference in San Diego, California, on Tuesday by announcing a series of planned upgrades for its Lync unified communications platform, including new mobile apps and interoperability with Skype.

In a statement, Tony Bates, president of Microsoft's Skype division, said that all Lync users would be able to share presence, IM, and voice communications with Skype users by June, with Lync-to-Skype video connectivity planned for some time in the next 18 months.

"This move will begin to enable what we call B2X," Bates said. "B2X places the focus of business communication on enabling human interactions. B2X puts people first and looks at communications in a unified way, not as disparate technology silos focused on one task or protocol."

In addition, Redmond announced Lync Room System (LRS), a meeting-room conferencing system that features large, high-definition touch displays, high-def cameras, wideband audio, and table-top touch meeting controls, all managed by new client software called Lync Room System Edition.

Bates said hardware partners including Cestron, Lifesize, Polycom, and SMART had already signed on to bring LRS products to market, although no timeframe for availability was announced.

In the nearer term, Bates said that Microsoft will release Lync 2013 mobile apps for iOS and Windows Phone 8 in early March, and that an app for Android will arrive "roughly a month later." All of the new apps will include support for voice and video over IP, and the iPad version will allow users to view shared desktop and application content.

Bates said Redmond will also roll out additional features to its Lync Online hosted service in quarterly updates over the next 18 months, including support for enterprise voice calling and structured meeting support to help Live Meeting customers transition to Lync.

Lync is a relatively new product line for Microsoft, having been launched in November 2010 as a replacement for Office Communicator and Office Communications Server. Nonetheless, Bates says that 90 of the Fortune 100 companies are now Lync customers, and that the software is used to deliver enterprise voice communications to some 5 million seats.

Not everyone is equally enamored of Lync, however. Most notably Cisco, which has long sought to dominate the unified communications market with a variety of hardware and software products. Cisco says that Microsoft's software-centric approach leaves out important elements of an enterprise collaboration strategy, such as phones, video endpoints, gateways, and networking connections.

"These components need to be procured, integrated and supported separately for those who choose to use Lync," Cisco's Rowan Trollope wrote in a blog post on Monday. "And, in our opinion, that could lead to increased complexity, cost and risk, not to mention the hours spent trying to figure out 'who’s on first' when troubleshooting is an issue."

Trollope also suggested that Microsoft, as a platforms vendor in both the desktop and mobile markets, may have a conflict of interest with vendors of non-Windows devices, making Lync incompatible with BYOD strategies.

"This conversation, which I’m confident will spark a lively and healthy debate, will last for weeks and will include input from a variety of Cisco Collaboration leaders," Trollope wrote.

Microsoft's inaugural Lync Conference continues through February 21. ®

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