Lync 2010: the review

It’s time to make a review of the Lync 2010 client, even after I already made a detail comparison with Cisco.

Like CUPC, this is a very complete UC client with active directory integrated contact, rich presence and can perform instant messaging, voice and video communications. You can also initiate web meetings, access conversation history, voice mail and integrate with Outlook, Office and browser applications.

What servers do you need (the first is mandatory for user access and functionality)?:
• Lync 2010 Server – 1 for Standard edition, 2 or more for Enterprise edition (redundancy), but you can install more to separate roles;
• Lync Edge Server – to provide remote user access, federation with public IM (MSN, Yahoo, …) and external Lync/OCS domains;
• Forefront TMG – to allow external GAL access and presentation content download;
• Exchange Server – to keep conversation history, access voice mail, user agenda integration (presence), schedule web meetings (you can use Lync Web Scheduler instead);
• OCS XMPP server – allow federation with other IM services (Google Talk, Jabber,…);
• OCS Communicator Web Access – To allow access using a browser and 3rd party clients (internal/external), like SIPE, and non-windows mobile clients.

Lync 2010 is a Windows client and can run on XP, Vista and 7 on both 32 and 64 bit version. It can also run on Windows servers 😉 and can be used on virtual desktop environments, but those have some limited support.

With the right configured Windows Domain, an user just has to log on on the computer and Lync will automatically get the configuration, server address and signs in. This capacity is also supported with a non-domain user – he only needs to enter the sign-in address (usually is the same as the email address) and credentials.

The interface is very friendly and self learn-paced. On the main screen you can organize your contacts, manually add or search the directory by name. Users experienced with the previous version (MOC 2007 R2) will notice the contact pictures more details including the person business hierarchy. The main interface has also new tabs that include update feeds about contacts, and the conversation history (which is still stored on the users mailbox) that includes the voice mail that you can listen directly or read (thanks to the Exchange 2010 text to speech engine). And you still have have that nice ‘right-click’ context interface to communicate with someone.
. . .
                    Feeds Tab                                    Conversation records                       Communication Context

Call notification Toast

When someone starts a communication the caller is notified by a popup box (toast), with the photo, caller name and communication type. The user can accept, decline and redirect the call (to other contact or voice-mail). If not answered, a missed call notification is logged and the call is redirected to Exchange UM (voice-mail).

There are many interesting features to talk about, but the most important is that Lync is now a complete communication tool. With the OCS version you needed two clients: MOC and LiveMeeting (for web conferencing). After a communication is established you can use the same window interface to control the call with mouse clicks, add (drag-and-drop) and remove participants, escalate and switch between all type of communications:

  • One particular fact about Instant Messages on MOC/Lync is that you can include rich text, like part of a spreadsheet;
  • The voice call has now a visual color bar with the sound you hear, and you can switch between media input devices without disconnecting;
  • Lync supports high-definition video calls (RTvideo and H.264) in peer-to-peer calls. Remember if you add more than two participants the quality drops, but imagine that with a 1080p webcam you can make quality executive videoconference with presentations.
    One of the limitation of Microsoft videoconferencing is that you can only visualize one participant at a time automatically the active speaker). Continuous presence (multiple participant in arranged windows) is only possible using a 3rd party hardware MCU that integrates with Lync… I’ll show you on a future post.
    If you didn’t knew it, you can drag and move the secondary video pane to any corner.
  • Content sharing is the major improvement of Microsoft. You can now share your desktop, applications or documents  from Lync. You can conduct a powerpoint presentation with demonstrations with great voice, video quality and instant messaging.

The integration with Outlook is much similar to previous versions. Like Lync, Outlook 2010 displays now the Domain directory contact pictures and  the ‘people pane’ (on the lower right corner) which shows the personal contacts available on the running OCS/Lync desktop client.
OWA 2010 integrates presence and IM with OCS and there’s nothing new with Lync server, except that you can have click to call near contacts and phone numbers (but that’s because of an installed browser plugin, unrelated to any Exchange<>Lync integration).

Lync installs on Outlook a plugin to schedule Web conferencing. Like the previous Live Meeting 2007 conferencing add-in, it composes an e-mail with an URL so you can invite internal and external participants (if authorized). You don’t receive now additional links to download a client to attend to the meeting. Participants will open the link invitation using a browser and it will download and install the required plugins to view the presentation, voice and video.
One important note about this new Conferencing: Live meeting clients and Lync clients cannot participate on the same meeting. If a Lync user invites an OCS contact, it will need to use the Lync web/atendee client, and if an OCS user invites a Lync user he needs to download and install Live Meeting 2007. This is an important reminder for IT administrators that plan to perform a phased upgrade from OCS to Lync.

My Opinion: Impressive

If you are looking for an ‘all-in-one’ solution, that allows you to perform/receive almost any type of communication with a simple mouse click, you must deploy and evaluate Lync. There are demos available, lots of partners and even Microsoft eager to deploy a proof of concept.
If you don’t have any planned budget, avoid a large pilot or things will be as difficult as taking out a candy from a kid… there will be a lots of cries during the next months 🙂

If you want to watch all the capabilities and the Lync client in action, watch this Tech.ed 2011 session video (~54 minutes)

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