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Microsoft's Lync arrives, gets a Gates cameo

November 18, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
microsoft_lync_logo.jpgBy Josh Lowensohn via Cnet

Microsoft this morning unveiled the latest version of its Office Communicator product, which now goes by the name Lync.

The rebranding actually happened earlier this year, but the product was not finalized and released to manufacturers until late October. This morning's event centered around the news that Lync will be available for sale in 150 countries beginning December 1.

Lync is made up of three different products: an instant messaging system with presence; an audio and video conferencing tool; and a voice call service. The product has been in development for the past five to six years, according to Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's Office division.

To demonstrate the video-conferencing element, Capossela was joined on screen by Bill Gates from his office in Seattle. Gates said that Lync was "probably the most important thing to happen to the office worker since the PC came along." He also reminisced that when the idea for Lync was first hatched, things like high-resolution displays, cameras, and employees with mobile phones were far from the norm, but that now there's a huge push to have teams be as mobile as possible.

microsoft_lync_bill_gates_chat.jpgGates also went into detail about what he thought would be coming to the platform in the future, mentioning features like voice and facial recognition, as well as touch interfaces. The hard part in developing Lync, Gates said, was less about getting that hardware to market and more about writing the right software for it.

But that future may not be so far off. Also making a cameo was Microsoft's Kinect, which already includes features like voice and facial recognition. Capossela demoed it with Lync's corporate vice president, Gurdeep Singh Pall, as a way to bridge the gap between "the boardroom and the living room" for video chat. Kinect already offers video chat with Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger system, but not any other clients. Singh Pall noted that while the Xbox 360 won't work with Lync right now, the capability will be coming shortly with a software update.

microsoft_kinect_xbox_videochat.jpgMicrosoft also pitched Lync as a new platform for developers and hardware makers. Singh Pall said one of the primary things that sets Lync apart from competing products is that developers can create applications that run on Lync, which they can sell to companies. On the hardware side, that translated to what Singh Pall jokingly referred to as the "wall of fame," which was an entire wall of Lync-ready products like phones, computers, and Webcams.

Microsoft is offering its own stamp of approval on hardware that will work with Lync, and calling it "Optimized for Lync." Singh Pall stressed that the certification wasn't just handed out to hardware vendors that gave Microsoft some units. "It means they adhere to the standards we set out, and pass every test we throw at your device," he said. It also means that when you plug one of these devices into a system, it gets recognized instantly.

At launch, Lync will not be available for mobile phones, but Microsoft says that functionality will arrive in 2011. In the interim, Microsoft will offer the Lync Server product to users to install in on-premises deployments. An online version of the service will arrive as part of Microsoft's Office 365 service when it's launched next year.

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