Microsoft Kicks Off 'Phased' Skype for Business Preview for Mac

A year after replacing Lync with Skype for Business on Windows, Mac users can finally take the updated software for a spin.

Skype for Business

Last year around this time, Microsoft launched Skype for Business as an update to Lync, the Redmond, Wash., software giant's enterprise communications software platform. Now, users stuck with Lync for Mac 2011 can get an early taste of what the software has in store for the platform when it finally launches later this year.

Skype for Business is the culmination of a multiyear effort to integrate Lync and Skype, blending the former's enterprise-grade capabilities with the latter's consumer-like ease of use. In 2014, the company announced that Skype for Business would replace Lync. Now, a year after Windows users have had time to get accustomed to the new experience, Mac users can share in it.

Microsoft has released the first phase of its Skype for Business Preview for Mac, announced Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office 365 Client Applications, yesterday. "The Skype for Business Mac Preview will release in three cumulative stages leading to public availability planned for Q3 of 2016. Today's initial release lets you see and join your meetings," he wrote in an April 26 blog post.

Business customers can request early access to the Mac client at Phase one of the preview displays Skype meetings for the day and the following day, based upon a user's Outlook calendar. Clicking on a meeting will launch the meeting workspace, along with content viewing, chat and full-screen video functionality.

Helping colleagues keep in touch is the point of the preview's second phase, according to Kaushal Mehta, a Microsoft Skype for Business senior program manager.

"We'll be adding instant messaging, presence and contacts in the next preview release coming in early summer," he said in a separate blog post. "You can continue to use Lync for Mac 2011 side-by-side with Skype for Mac Preview, giving you continued access to messaging and voice features."

Finally, the third and final phase, due out this summer will switch on the Mac client's telephony features. The software requires an Apple Mac system running at least OS X El Capitan.

Responding to criticisms about Microsoft's approach to releasing the software in the blog post's comments, Mehta revealed that the doling out the Mac client in bits and pieces was an intentional decision made to prevent disrupting the workstyles of current users with unfinished software. Enabling instant messaging and presence at this stage could have a negative impact on their productivity, he argued.

In other Mac-related software updates from Microsoft this month, the company announced a new feature in Excel and Word that improves the discoverability of Office extensions. The Insert menu will now display new add-ins published to the Office Store.

Also new is an archiving feature in Outlook that helps users declutter their inboxes without fear of permanently deleting important emails. "You can now quickly move an item stored in your Inbox or any other folder to an archive folder. Once moved, the archived items remain accessible and can easily be restored to their original location," stated Microsoft in an online support document.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...