This should come as no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to Microsoft's evolution of Lync over the past two years. But when the next version hits in early 2015, it will be rebranded as Skype for Business, and will include new client and server experiences and of course an update to Office 365.
This transformation was essentially telegraphed way back in February 2013, when Microsoft revealed that it had moved Lync into the Skype organization, not Office. I wrote about this change in 2013 Promises To Be a Big Year for Lync, but the basic gist is that Microsoft had established a timeline for moving the products closer together.
This included Skype IM and presence features in Lync by mid-2013 and then video chat integration by mid-2014. And of course a slew of mobile apps and updates on that front as well. Lync Online, which is part of Office 365, was originally on a quarterly update schedule, but with Microsoft moving to a more rapid release schedule, that's been sped up too.
The coming Lync update is a big one. There will be new versions of the client—or, I should say clients, since there are desktop and mobile clients now—the server and Lync Online. The product will be rebranded to Skype for Business—shades of OneDrive for Business—but don't let the name fool you: The coming Lync versions are indeed updates to Lync, offering all the functionality you've come to expect.
What's different is that those clients will take on the Skype look and feel, with Microsoft aligning the user experience across its consumer and business offerings to the one that most people are familiar with.
"Skype is used by over 300 million people every month," Lync product marketing general manager Giovanni Mezgec told me during a recent briefing. "We are betting on the Skype brand with its global reach and providing a product that is truly the best of both worlds, with the Skype user experience and Lync underpinnings."
From a usage perspective, this means a Skype-like application in both desktop and mobile forms, with familiar Skype button for calling, using audio and video, and so on. It means that Lync will gain the Skype call monitor window so that you can always access call features even when you're using other applications.
The new Skype for Business will be compatible with previous Lync versions—and of course with Skype—and will improve on all of the federation work that Microsoft created over the past year and a half. The search capabilities now take advantage of Bing technology so that you can very quickly find people in the Skype user directory as well as your own corporate Lync directory. And if you're currently using Lync Server, you can upgrade in place from Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business Server to gain the new functionality on the backend.
This change isn't surprising, but I think the important thing to remember is that no Lync functionality is sacrificed by the upgrade. I'm no fan of Skype per se, though I do use it every day. With this change, I'm hoping to drop the consumer client and switch to Skype for Business. I'm looking forward to checking it out in early 2015.