Late this evening, Microsoft announced a significant update to the Lync product range, including rebranding the product as Skype for Business, bringing it closer to final convergence with the Skype platform and direction.
The changes are slated for the first half of 2015, apparently before the next releases of Exchange and SharePoint.
Aside from the name change, the client application has been redesigned to follow the look & feel of Skype, with the existing Lync functionality remaining in place. This is an important move in order to converge the platforms whilst maintaining consistency in terms of usability and features for existing customers.
Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Skype, announced: "In the first half of 2015, the next version of Lync will become Skype for Business with a new client experience, new server release, and updates to the service in Office 365," he wrote. "We believe that Skype for Business will again transform the way people communicate by giving organizations reach to hundreds of millions of Skype users outside the walls of their business." Microsoft estimates that over 300 million people use Skype to keep in touch and share content.
Whilst Skype and Skype for Business will focus on different pools of users, Skype for Business will include some elements of the consumer-Skype user interface (UI) and expand the current Lync-Skype interoperability. Skype for Business customers will be able to reach Skype users not only for instant messaging chats and audio calls, but also for video calls, Microsoft have confirmed.
Improvements to Lync and Skype integration continue at an increased pace – with additional video interoperability going live in December 2014, and federation between the two networks being simplified to support Skype usernames shortly thereafter. (Federation today only works for Skype accounts that use a Microsoft Account as opposed to traditional usernames).
Existing Lync Server customers will be able to take advantage of these capabilities simply by updating from Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business Server when it is released in 2015.