Microsoft Lync: What you need to know

Microsoft set to launch Lync unified communications and collaboration platform

Microsoft this week will launch Lync, the latest version of its unified communications and collaboration platform that, like competitive products, promises to change the way businesses do business by integrating a range of existing communications and collaboration technologies.

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Here are some questions and answers about this much anticipated release.

What is Lync?

It's Microsoft's replacement for Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2.

What does Lync include?

It's a compilation of Microsoft Lync Server 2010, Lync 2010 client, Lync Web App client and Lync Online, which is a hosted UC service.

How does Lync match up with OCS?

Components of Lync match up directly with components of OCS. So Lync as a family name replaces Office Communications. Lync Server 2010 replaces OCS Server 2007. On the client side, Lync 2010 replaces Office Communicator 2007 R2. The Web client is now known as Lync Web App vs. the former Office Communicator Web Access. And the Microsoft communications service is now known as Lync Online, replacing Office Communications Online.

How is the compatibility between OCS and Lync?

Lync Server 2010 can talk to OCS 2007 clients but OCS Server 2007 R2 cannot talk to Lync clients, so customers could adopt Lync Server 2010 and continue to use OCS 2007 clients. But if they try to use the new clients with the older OCS 2007 R2 server, they won't interoperate.

What are the major management differences in features between Lync and OCS?

Lync introduces a new management server for Microsoft's UC and collaboration platform. The server is called Central Management Server, and it removes settings for Live Communications Server and Office Communications Server from Active Directory so customers don't have to change the AD schema. The new server is meant to make deployment less daunting.

Are there new administrative tools?

Yes, including Lync Server Control Panel, used to administer Lync server, that replaces Microsoft Management Console for this task.

Also included is role-based access control, which includes 11 preset roles that define and limit administrative rights for specific, routine tasks.

What new productivity tools does Lync offer?

Lync supports searching for experts with particular qualifications within SharePoint. So if an expert in a given area is needed to address questions during a SharePoint session, Lync could track one down.

Are there improved tools for managing contacts?

Yes. There is a unified contact store as well as a feature called "contact cards" that display a contacts picture and presence status through Outlook and SharePoint. A Conversation View displays a history of all communications --  voice, video, instant messaging, etc. -- that a user has had with the contact.

How does Lync improve on 911 capabilities?

Lync supports E911 so emergency responders can fix the location of callers using Lync. OCS did not support E911.

What is a Survivable Branch Appliance?

Lync Server 2010 has the capability to switch the WAN links used to carry communications among branches of a business. If the primary IP link fails, the Survivable Branch Appliance reconnects the branch with the outer world via the traditional public switched phone network. These gateways are made by third parties.

Is there support for legacy analog phones and fax machines?

Yes, Lync supports both, something OCS did not.

Why the name Lync?

Microsoft says it wanted a new name because this is a major release. The name itself comes from a blending of the words sync and link, chosen to emphasize its ability to connect people.

What are the alternatives?

Microsoft competes with  the likes of Avaya, Cisco and IBM in unified communications.

When is Lync available?

Nov. 17, but a preview version has been available for two months.

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