Office 2016 / Skype for Business 2015 Client Preview

Much has been posted recently regarding the preview of Skype for Business client and what it has to bring to the table. The basic office team announcement was made on their blog (found here) this morning but others attending the various release functions commented as well. Those comments are the ones I have issue with and want to make a few basic comments of my own here.

First and foremost the new Skype for Business client is NOT a new client but rather an update to the existing Lync client. That's right - a CU/KB is applied and voila - you have the new Skype4B client. That brings a lot of ramifications with it, not the least that this client does communicate and work with Lync Server 2013 just fine. In its basic client upgrade and work as you are state, the features are the same, but you get a new look.

Skype4B client does NOT add the additional functionality of initiating calls, communication, etc. directly from Office apps (such as Outlook) as Lync already did that - and has done that - forever. This is nothing new and the contact cards are still shared. This also means it is not pulling on Lync features, they are Lync features as again, this is Lync under the covers.

Another important feature - and one that has been available in Lync for some time - is the ability to communicate with the public Skype counterpart. The idea of public federation was introduced in 2006 with Live Communication Server 2005 SP1 (that's LCS, the predecessor to OCS which was the predecessor to Lync). Public federation is a feature that has been in Lync's history and today (and yes even yesterday) you had the option to configure this federation link using the Microsoft provisioning website of https://pic.lync.com. Will the process and the features improve with time - yes, but not a new feature as of today.

Skype for Business Client and Office 2016 are coming and are exciting improvements. But it is important to understand what the changes are, how they impact current infrastructure, and what  (if any) impact that means on your end users. The last big piece of that equation is rolled into the original comment above - that this release is simply a cumulative update. What if you don't want the update? Well for those on-premise that are delivering Office Pro Plus 2013 using the "fat" method, easy - don't install it. For those using the Click-2-Run Office 365 distribution method - not such an easy decision. The good news is regardless, administrative control will be available to decide how Lync/Skype looks on the desktop using Lync/Skype client policies. This means the updates can occur and the switch to the new interface (and potentially new features) can be at the control of IT.