Lync Now Under Skype

by Dave Michels

Sometime last month Microsoft moved Lync to the Skype division. The motivations and reactions to this change have been largely private. There was no formal public announcement, but the news has been spreading.

Officially, Microsoft stated to me that “This move aligns the best of our consumer and business solutions and will position Microsoft to continue to redefine how the world communicates at home, at work and on the go.”

It’s a big move. Lync is Microsoft’s home-grown future of enterprise real-time communications. Skype is Microsoft’s acquisition of consumer level best-effort real-time communications. What was actually behind the move is not visible to me, so let’s speculate.

Why it is good

  • Skype gets real time communications. Last June, Tony Bates revealed 250 million connected users each month. That should  be significantly more than Lync’s user base.
  • Skype clearly has strong capability and vision with real-time communications. The Lync client actually offers very similar functionality as the Skype client (and Skype came first).  
  • Skype is also proven at understanding multiple devices. In addition to client functional similarities, Lync and Skype clients are both offered on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android). There good be some synergies with the staffing, architecture and design of these clients.
  • Skype already interfaces with the PSTN (SkypeIn and SkypeOut) and has been positioned in the past as a PBX replacement. However, since acquisition Skype has been more focused as a consumer services. Certainly that PSTN experience could be of interest to the Lync team.
  • Broader vision. Currently the two products are positioned differently, Skype for consumer and Lync for business. The problem is these products are transitioning into services, and businesses want to reach consumers and visa versa. By combining forces, Microsoft can potentially offer businesses rich communications (IM, video, wideband audio, etc.) to millions of consumers while most of its competitors are still wrestling with basic federation.

Why it is bad

  • While there are clearly synergies with the clients and services model, however, Skype has no experience with enterprise servers.
  • Skype culture, at least at one time, was anti establishment.
  • A big part of Lync’s attraction is integration with Office, Exchange, Active Directory, and SharePoint. Pulling it out of the enterprise/Office group could complicate matters – there are both technical and financial considerations. Currently, Lync is part of Office licensing – though the reorganization doesn’t necessitate a change to this, it does raise questions.
  • Standards: Lync and Skype have different approaches to standards and interoperability. Lync fully supports SIP trunks, but not SIP phones (slowly changing). Skype has very limited support of SIP trunks. Lync is also building its own ecosystem of partners and APIs as a strategic differentiator. Not a big priority for Skype.
  • Skype has always been about the Internet and best effort. Lync is often associated with private networking and quality of service. Which culture wins?
  • Microsoft Lync is a disruptive force to UC. Lync has changed expectations and assumptions from phones to calendar integration. However, Skype is now an asset Microsoft must protect. New disruptive forces, such as WebRTC, threaten Skype. Is Microsoft the new or the old boss?
  • Lync has an enterprise focus – such as 911. Skype doesn’t.
  • With Office 365 and Lync 2013, Lync is well positioned for third party hosting, however, many service providers view Skype as a competitive threat. Lync under Skype could curtail partnership interest.

What am I missing? Share your thoughts via comments below.

The above are just my opinions and observations. Just wait until the marketing department spin starts flowing. I imagine many competitors will use the reorganization as a means to ridicule Lync. However, Skype is nothing to laugh-at. I still contend Microsoft made a brilliant move in acquiring Skype (and Cisco blew it by not), and the service has probably been more disruptive and influential to unified communications than anything else.

Another issue is that while the client experience of the two products are similar, their architectures are very different. Skype is Peer-to-Peer – distributed over a global network. Lync is a centralized server architecture providing call state and feature interaction. Two fundamentally different approaches. How this changes under one corporation, or even one division of a corporation could be interesting.