Microsoft closing in on Skype for Business for Mac public preview 1

Microsoft has updated its Skype for Business for Mac preview timeline and feature-drop plans, but release to manufacturing is still looking like the third quarter of 2016.

Long-suffering Lync for Mac customers should get access to a first Skype for Business for Mac public preview "real soon now," according to new information shared by Microsoft with the IT pro community.

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A Microsoft Skype for Business for Mac broadcast and demonstration from late last week included some new tidbits and preview dates for the Skype for Business for Mac client. (The timeline above is from that presentation.)

Update (April 26): "Real soon now" did mean really soon. Today, April 26, Microsoft announced the start of the public preview of Skype for Business for Mac. As I wrote below, the preview will happen in three stages, with RTM happening in Q3 of this year.

From Microsoft's blog post announcing the kick off:

"Commercial customers can request an invite to test the Mac client at www.SkypePreview.com. We'll start by issuing invites to IT administrators to download the client, and gradually expand the preview to everyone in the coming weeks."

Back to my original blog post:

The projected release to manufacturing (RTM) date for Skype for Business for Mac remains Q3 2016, as Microsoft execs said earlier this year. (Microsoft's own Skype site says Skype for Business for Mac is coming "this summer.")

A first public preview drop of Skype for Business for Mac will happen soon. Four to six weeks after that, Microsoft is planning a second preview. A third preview will follow the second in another four to six weeks, officials said. (Microsoft may push back preview dates based on quality, officials on the broadcast stressed.)

Preview 1 will include meetings functionality -- meeting calendars, instant messaging in meetings, the ability to join meetings, meet now and share desktop content. Preview 2 will add onto this base support for people and messaging and contact lists. And preview 3 will add calling/voice support including telephony support, on top of the functionality delivered in the first two previews.

During at least preview 1 and maybe beyond (I'm not entirely sure), users will be able to use Lync for Mac 2011 side-by-side with the Skype for Business preview.

Microsoft execs noted that the company plans to continue to deliver new features and fixes in the form of regular, post-RTM updates. Among those cumulative updates for Mac users will be support for connectivity between consumer Skype and Skype for Business.

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The Skype for Business for Mac client will be at parity, or in some cases, beyond, with the Skype for Business for Windows client, officials said. (A screen shot from the demo of Preview 1 is above.) Microsoft isn't simply retrofitting the Lync for Mac product base, officials said. Instead the team has built the Skype for Business for Mac client from the ground up, they said.

On the day that Preview 1 is announced, Microsoft plans to allow interested testers to sign up and request admission to the preview "pool" at www.skypepreview.com. (That site is live, but the Skype for Business for Mac preview isn't yet listed.) The coming public preview won't be just for administrators; it also will be open to end users, officials said.