Gates Makes Plug for Microsoft Lync

Looking to underscore the emphasis Microsoft is placing on its new Lync 2010 unified communications platform, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made a surprise cameo at today's launch event. Microsoft officially debuted Lync at a press conference in New York saying it will be available Dec. 1.

It was a rare appearance for Gates, who left Microsoft full time more than two years ago to devote his time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates piped in via videoconference from his Seattle office at the beginning of the presentation, moderated by Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group.

"This is probably the most important thing to happen to the office worker since the PC came along," Gates said. "The importance of unified communications is far stronger today than when we started down this path." Uniting telephony and data systems has been an effort long championed by Gates. 

Lync is the successor to Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007R2. Microsoft officially started talking about Lync, code-named Communications Server 14, earlier this year. Microsoft released Lync manufacturing late last month. It's a major upgrade in that provides a common client for telephony, instant messaging, presence and conferencing and a server that Microsoft claims can replace traditional PBXes supporting such features as branch survivability and Enhanced 911 services.

"The era of the PBX, folks, is over," said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office Communications Group. But for many, the jury is still out on whether customers will use Lync to replace their PBXes or whether they will use Lync to co-exist with their existing telephone systems.

"They've been saying that for a long time, now the question is will the customers say they are ready," said Jim Burton, CEO of Unified Communications Strategies, a longtime follower of UC technologies based in St. Helena, Calif.

One customer that Microsoft showcased at the launch, Estee Lauder Companies, intends to roll out Lync to 15,000 employees by next June, but hasn't made a decision on whether it will be used to replace its existing PBXes, provided by Siemens, NorTel (now part of Avaya) and others.

"Once we're convinced that Lync can give us dial tone then we can begin to start to look at it as a replacement to the PBX," said Earl Newsone, Estee Lauder's VP of global IT services, in an interview. "The jury is still out, because of bandwidth considerations and because of idiosyncrasies that you can see when calls are being made."

Despite questions whether customers will use Lync to displace their PBXes, observers believe even those that don't plan to go that route will find it appealing, particularly existing shops that have standardized on Exchange Server, Office and SharePoint.

"Microsoft has more implementations [of OCS] around the world than people are aware of," Burton said. "It's almost like they've kept it a secret but they've got thousands of people are installing this stuff. Now some have not installed the voice component yet, and I think they are waiting for Lync to come out and take that step, but most of those people we talk to say that's where they are going to go -- with the voice component eventually."

Microsoft is offering free 180-day trials of the Lync Server 2010 as well as the client. The downloads are available here.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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