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Microsoft rebrands Lync as 'Skype for Business'; readies 2015 releases

Microsoft is rebranding its unified-communications line-up from Lync to Skype for Business, and is readying the next releases of those products for the first half of 2015.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is rebranding its Lync unified communication products as "Skype for Business."


The company announced the name change, as well as some target dates for the next versions of the offering on November 11.

Microsoft plans to make new versions of the Skype for Business client, Skype for Business on-premises server and Skype for Business online service that is part of Office 365 all in the first half of 2015. That is earlier than the other "Office servers" will launch. Microsoft officials said recently that the next versions of Exchange Server and SharePoint Server will arrive in the second half of calendar 2015.

Along with the rebranding, Microsoft is changing some of the user interface elements of Skype for Business so that it looks more like Skype. Microsoft will be using the Skype icons for calling, adding video and enabling a call in Skype for Business. Microsoft also is adding the "call monitor" window that is used in Skype to Skype for Business so that users can keep an active call visible inside a small window when users are focusing on another application.

Microsoft isn't removing any of the existing Lync features from Skype for Business, officials said. Lync will still run on the Lync backbone, not the Skype backbone.

Microsoft will be adding video calling to Skype for Business with the next on-premises and online releases. It also will be adding the ability to access the Skype user directory to Skype for Business so that users can look up any existing Skype user by Skype name or Microsoft Account (via Bing) to contact her/him. And Microsoft will be building in the promised  native interop between Skype for Business on-premises server and other video-conferencing systems so that users won't need any extra equipment to connect multiple systems, officials said.

Microsoft also will be delivering the second phase of its promised Skype-Lync federation in December 2014, officials said. Microsoft will be updating its Skype client software with H.264 codec support so as to be able to provide video integration between Skype and Lync 2013 before this year is over.

Current Lync Server customers will get the new Lync for Business features next year by updating from Lync client 2013 and Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business releases. No new hardware will be required, officials said. Microsoft also will update Office 365 with the new Skype for Business bits next year and push them to users.

Since Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion, Microsoft execs have differentiated the two unified communications offerings by saying Skype is for communication outside the firewall, and Lync, for inside the firewall. In late 2012, Microsoft moved the Lync team under the Skype team so that the two teams worked together in a single business unit. 

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