A preview of Skype for Business, set to replace Lync, is now available for organizations that want to get an early jump on preparing for its release, which is currently scheduled for next month.
"I am thrilled to announce that the technical preview of the Skype for Business client starts today, and that the new client, server and online service will become generally available starting in April," announced Giovanni Mezgec, general manager, Skype for Business, in a March 16 blog post. "The tech preview gives current Lync customers a chance to trial Skype for Business and get ready to upgrade."
Skype for Business is a product at least two years in the making.
In early 2013, Mezgec announced some of the first steps that the Redmond, Wash.-based technology company was taking in integrating Skype, the company's massively popular chat, voice over IP (VOIP) and video calling software, with its more corporate cousin, Lync. "By bringing the assets that we have on the consumer front with Skype and on the enterprise front with Lync, we can have a unified platform that really brings communications from the living room to the boardroom in a way that makes sense and is rationalized and connected rather than having disconnected islands," he told eWEEK during a February 2013 interview.
As part of Skype's transformation into a major enterprise app, Microsoft began chipping away at the technical barriers between Skype and Lync. In December, after the company announced Lync's days were numbered, the company finally enabled video calling between both platforms, eliminating one of the last remaining barriers between Skype-Lync communications.
Next month, customers will finally see the fruits of Microsoft's efforts, including more seamless access to Skype functionality for Office users.
"Based on the familiar Skype experience that more than 300 million people use every month to connect with friends and family, Skype for Business delivers an expanded Lync feature set and enterprise-grade security, compliance and control to IT," stated Mezgec. "It also enables people to search for and connect with anyone in the Skype network—inside or outside their organization. And Skype for Business is built right into Office, so features like presence, IM [instant messaging], voice and video calls, and online meetings are an integrated part of the Office experience."
Expectedly, Microsoft's cloud-first product strategy has exerted its influence on the solution. "We have seen a fivefold increase in partners deploying Lync in the cloud over the past year, and over 80 percent of the channel have been trained on Skype for Business," said Mezgec. Overall, the switch should be a smooth one as most current Lync 2013-qualified "will also be compatible with Skype for Business," he added.
Although Skype for Business is included in the Office 16 for Windows preview, which was also released today, the early version of Office is intended for IT professionals and developers, according to Microsoft. Current Lync customers should "download the Skype for Business technical preview so they can prepare their organization for the changes that are only a few weeks away," advised the company in a FAQ.