Microsoft formally launched Lync 2010, the rebranding of its Office Communications software suite, with a New York City event Nov. 17. In addition to providing business users with a software platform for 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 to the consumer segment.
Research firm Forrester estimates that the overall unified-communications 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. Lync also operates in conjunction with software platforms such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and Exchange; users can collectively input on a PowerPoint document while engaged in a conference call, for instance.
Microsoft's Lync Website offers a free trial of the software, which will be available Dec. 1. Mobile clients for the Apple iPhone, Nokia phones and Windows Phone 7 are expected within the year, although Microsoft executives have been reluctant to discuss about clients for other platforms such as Research In Motion'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.
Capossela then ran through some of Lync's basic functions, demonstrating in a particularly splashy way how the software dashboard allows for video conferencing-by 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 unified communications 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, unified communications 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-collaborating within the same client experience. Integration with services such as Exchange means that Lync will auto-update its users' statuses if they're in a meeting, for instance, or otherwise away from their desk.
Lync also interfaces with Windows Live Messenger and even Kinect, with users able to activate a video conference through gestures.
"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 recognizes 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' possible transition 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.