Microsoft launches Lync: 70 new devices supported now, Kinect integration in 2011

Microsoft lines up HP, Polycom, Logitech and others to support its next-generation IP PBX

UPDATED 11/18/10: As expected, on Wednesday Microsoft officially launched its next generation audio/video conferencing "PBX replacement" dubbed Lync. The company lined up an impressive array of over 70 hardware devices certified to support Lync. It also promised that support for Lync on the iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox with Kinect would be coming later this year.

Previous versions of Microsoft's IP PBX were called Office Communications Server (OCS), but with the new Office 2010 version, the company came up with the new name of name Lync.  Trial versions of Lync are available today and the product will be available in December, with the cloud version available in 2011. That cloud version will be part of Microsoft's own SaaS offering built on Office 2010, Office 365 - the next generation of Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) suite.

The big news for the enterprise is that Lync now supports E911 with location detection. The lack of that feature in OCS kept many enterprises from adopting it (and certainly from yanking out their PBX in favor of Lync).

What I found most interesting in the news today is the over 70 devices optimized for Lync, many of them new. Among Lync's certified gear are Juniper's routers and switches. The list also included new cameras, IP phones and display devices introduced by Polycom designed for Lync. 

Once upon a time, Microsoft and Cisco were friends - no longer. Lync/Juniper/Polycom competes directly with Cisco/Tandberg. However, Cisco's network gear has also been certified to work with Lync. As is Microsoft's way, Microsoft claims to be the lower-cost option. The enterprise version of Lync lists for $4,000, with CAL licenses costing from $31 to $107 each. Add to that the costs of the rest of the Office 2010 suite -- needed for most of Lync's functionality -- plus hardware like SIP phones, video cameras and the like.

Among the 70 Lync certified devices are IP phones from mulitple vendors, touchscreen wall monitors used in today's launch demo, headsets, speakerphones and webcams. Some, like the new 720p HD Logitech B910 HD Webcam are affordable by business conferencing standards -- it costs $99 (pictured). HP said that nine of its PCs and laptops are certified for Lync. Dell also has PCs with the Lync nod of approval. A full list of the 70 devices is hard to come by, but Microsoft's device page offers a starting point.

Microsoft says Lync will support Firefox and Safari, can be run on Macs, and that it will eventually offer mobile clients for the iPhone and Windows Phone 7.  Those clients are due out sometime in 2011. Lync will immediately support Windows Live Messenger as a Web instant messaging client, so someone on Lync can connect to someone on the Web --  just as long as they use Live Messenger and not, say AOL or Google's IM service --  no mention of Facebook either.

 In a phone interview with Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Worker Product Management group, he explained how Lync will integrate with Kinect.

Kinect includes a feature used with Xbox Live called Video Connect. The software for Video Connect was in large part written by the Lync team, Capossela says. When Kinect adds support for Lync, Video Connect will list Lync users, as well as Windows Live Messenger users, as an option for video chat. That option will show up as "a seamless update," to the Video Connect service, Capossela describes.

UPDATE 11/18/2010: The System Center management pack for Lync is already available. Here's the link. Lync requires Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008. It doesn't require Office 2010, though most of its differentiating features involve integrating with Office apps, Exchange and Outlook. That is, why pay a Microsoft premium for Lync to use without MS Office when less expensive software-based IP PBX options exist?

Pricing is complicated, to say the least, even for Software Assurance customers. Microsoft sent me a chart from an entire whitepaper [PDF] that dealt with how much Lync will cost you. Factors include if it is on-premises, in the cloud with Microsoft, hybrid or in the cloud from a Microsoft partner. Capossela confirmed that it is possible to run Lync from a hypervisor, but this is unlikely to reduce license costs. The issue is that the required WS2008 and SQL Server servers require CAL licenses as well as the Lync server. Here is an excellent summary that explains how best to negotate and choose a Microsoft license.

Network World will be conducting product tests of Lync, so we'll have all the inside skinny on how well it works soon.  The new version of OCS is loaded with new features - which I'll cover by linking to some of the overwhelming number of resources Microsoft has available:

Lync 2010 What's New Videos from Microsoft

Free trial version of Lync

Devices such as phones, headsets and PCs certified to work with Lync

Microsoft Lync Datasheet

Lync Pricing Details

Also, treat yourself to reading this as a background before you make another Microsoft purchase of any kind. An Independent View of Microsoft Software License Agreements

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