The Missing Lync

by Dave Michels

The news this week is Microsoft has given its Unified Communications family a new (and fourth) name – Lync.

Names are tough. Coming up with a great, innovative, and successful product or service is the easy part compared to naming it. One way or another, a name is born and the public more or less calls it by the correct name – regardless of the merit of the name. Consider “iPod”, “Starbucks”, or the “K Car” – meaningless names that are now fully accepted and part of our lexicons. The President of the United States lives in the “White House” (so did I once).

Unified Communications includes things like routers, session controllers, phones or endpoints, solutions for presence, messaging, calendaring, and mobility. It would appear nothing in that previous sentence came from Madison Ave. The fact is, technology tends to be pretty matter-a-fact about naming. But that is changing.

Describing the product’s function in its name is so last millennium. This is for several reasons, but partly because every word in the dictionary has been registered as a domain and probably trademarked. Vendors now need to consider things like search ranking in their naming. Words now need to be created rather than just combined. Companies like “American Airlines” or “General Electric” would not stand a chance as a start-up today.

It really struck me at a recent conference; I was looking at the list of sponsors and what a hodgepodge of vowels and consonants. Companies like Twilio, Joyent, Apigee, Voxeo, Gnip, Zerista. Names now must be fun and unique.

Microsoft in particular is into this. Bing!, Kin, Lync – single syllable catchy meaningless short names.

I am happy to see Microsoft kill the name “Communicator”. Not only was that a long and boring name, but it was too obvious. It was kind of cool when Star Trek used it for their version of a flip phone (1968). For whatever unknown reason, the marketing folks just fell in love with the name, and “Communicator” was applied to all all things telephony.

I agree with Microsoft – enough with the “Communicators”. That whole chapter was Stupyd and its time to thinc up somethyng new. Lync is fine. It is easy to over think it, but it basically works. Its unique spelling will help with searches, it’s short and simple, and has a slight suggestion of communication, and its better than all of the Microsoft names that proceeded it.

The server product was originally named Live Communications Server (or LCS). Here Microsoft wanted us to believe that it was part of its Live effort which it wasn’t. Then it got renamed Office Communications Server trying to convince us it was tied to Office. Other than a bit boring, it worked – but it probably offended the Office group or some other internal political battle as Microsoft temporarily renamed it between OCS R2 and its upcoming version. Let me repeat that, Microsoft changed the public name of the product that hadn’t been named yet. Well, the temporary name (April-September 2010 with no actual release) was “Communications Server” – not Live or Office. That was succinct, to the point, and as boring as could be. Too long to recite, and too short for an acronym. I never understood the logic of a temporary name, nor did I understand “14” to represent ‘version 3’. I am sure there were very good reasons, there always are.

Lync as a family name is ok with me. The client will go from Communicator to Lync 2010. Office Communications Server will become Lync Server 2010. The online service version will be known as Lync Online. The other online service or client known as Microsoft Reach will be renamed Lync Web App which to my knowledge will not support voice.

As exciting as the name changes are, it should be noted that the released version of the Lync family is still vapor and there is no announced date as to its public release (thus the Missing Lync). The “2010” moniker in some of the names is a strong hint its coming this year. Added credibility comes from the fact Microsoft made available what they call a “Release Candidate” server version. After the Release Candidate will be RTM version (release to manufacturing) and then eventually public availability. The RTM date has not be set either.

In the case of Windows 7 there was about 2.5 months between RTM and public availability. I’m sure Microsoft is rushing to get Lync out for the holiday season (a perfect stocking stuffer). But it probably won’t be out in time to IM Santa what you really want.