Microsoft Announces Vapor 2013

by Dave Michels

Today was the first formal announcement and preview of Lync 2013. Actually, the hoopla was really about Office, but we got a few clues about Lync, Skype, and Microsoft’s vision.

The operative word is “clues.” Microsoft has been very tight lipped about its plans for Lync – and although we got a preview – I’m still confused. Admittedly, part of my confusion may stem from the fact that I was only able to watch a portion of the announcement today. What I saw looked good. Steve Ballmer did the preso, and Kirk Koeningsbauer performed a demonstration. Neither my Twitter streams or blogs are clearing my confusion. The first question is why wasn’t this livestreamed video event recorded? The second question is why was it in San Francisco? (updated: Link to recorded presentation). 

What I did learn is interesting – clearly Microsoft intends to use Windows 8, its Surface tablet, and Office as a means to threaten the iPad. This makes perfect sense. Office is the power application suite still used by the majority of the known users and firms within our galaxy. Changes to the Office paradigm extended to the Surface experience is a highly logical strategy. If Windows 8 delivers a integrated solution between desktop and tablet via  Windows 8, I’d say that Surface has a good chance of success.

I never actually heard what the next version of Office will be called. Presumably, it will be Office 2013, but Ballmer kept calling it “your modern Office.” It didn’t seem natural, that is he was going out of his way to use the word “modern.” But he did say that the new version of Office was “cloud first.”  He proved it by showing how Office now supports a “touch” interface. But that seems more tablet ready than Cloud ready. I was expecting him to show Google Apps-like features of 50 people simultaneously editing a document, but that must of came after I had to drop-off. I got a bit confused as to what was Office 365 and what was Office 2013 – or if there is even a difference. Presumably a cloud first app has more functionality when used as a service. He specifically stated that Skype’s presence engine will now work in Office. I hope that’s true of all versions, but who knows.

Skype surprised me a bit because I was expecting it to be banished from business users and sent to X-Box and the consumer space. But then, maybe it still will. Is there a difference between Office for business and Office for consumers? Ballmer did go off on OneNote (students) and cookbooks and shopping lists (consumers). So far MS announced Office 365 Home Premium, Office 365 Small Business Premium, and Office 365 ProPlus (can you have a ProPlus without a Pro?). I am sure many more versions will still come.  Adding to my confusion is the video aspects of Office will be done through Lync and not Skype. So what happens to Skype video? According to Microsoft’s Lync 2013 page:

Extension of Lync presence, instant messaging, and peer-to-peer voice capabilities to Skype users: Extend your reach by connecting Lync users with Skype users. Lync-to-Skype federation opens a new communications door for enterprises searching for inventive and differentiated opportunities for new customer acquisition, customer retention, and business-to-consumer communications.

Does this mean Skype will stop using its current video capabilities, or simply that Office users must still have Skype for Skype video? If the latter, if I still need Skype, what was the benefit of integrating it in Office? The presence federation is nicely done, and that’s a big deal. Now Lync users can call/IM Skype users, but will the reverse also be true? Evidently MS is also throwing in 60 minutes of usage Skype LD (sure to be a hit with the carriers). Is that 60 minutes/mo to every Skype user or to every Lync user or to every Office user? What about all those beautiful single gals that want to Skype IM me all the time – will they be able to reach me at the office (no wonder there is no video). Also, I saw a tweet that says Lync 2013 will federate with Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL, and Google Talk. The new part there is Windows Live Messenger. That’s great news, I was afraid they were going to get rid of Live Messenger since it isn’t needed any more.

There was very little mentioned about the Lync Mobile client which, as of today, does not support voice or video. The new client will support VoIP, but it isn’t clear if that is P2P only or PSTN (presumably P2P only on Lync Online). No mention of mobile video (Lync or Skype). Skype supports video on mobile clients (as do several VoIP clients and services) – but not Lync? There was no mention of Office for iPad. I expect Microsoft will offer a limited/free set of Office apps for the iPad. If they put a paid version in the Appstore, 30% goes to Apple and that’s just gotta hurt. Office 365 could be client-less, but Surface has an app so more likely Microsoft will use Office as a means to give Surface and Windows8 an advantage over iOS.

Microsoft is doing all the right things – beefing up Office 365 simultaneously takes on Apple and Google (neither of which officially bother MSFT). Integrating Skype into Lync makes perfect sense too. Lync 2010 came out about 18 months ago, and most of Microsoft’s competitors have released 2-3 upgrades in that time. Just seems to me that if Ballmer is going to go to all that trouble of flying to San Francisco and doing a press conference that he should have actually had some content. No pricing or availability was announced, and I’m now more confused than I was (but again, maybe its because I had to miss the second part of the non recorded presentation). It is more than Vapor as the products are available for preview, but without dates, prices, and lots of missing details it sure feels vapor-like to me.