As the developed world stays in and starts to go a bit stir crazy, life beginning to feel like an episode of Big Brutha, we’re increasingly turning to streaming and video conferencing apps typically used for business, to keep in touch with friends and family, go dating, virtually visit a museum and many other things.
Online conferencing app Zoom has seen huge take-up over recent weeks, though its security has been questioned & tested by Zoom Bombing, leading the company to quickly release updates to give more control.
Microsoft Teams has announced some feature updates too – though there’s still more to do. Custom Backgrounds will be rolled out very soon, so users can replace their messy kitchen backdrop with a scene of serenity.
It’s getting easier to schedule and join Skype video meetings, too – from within the Skype app or even in a browser, you can Meet Now and quickly generate a URL that can be shared with others, who can join as a guest without needing to have an account or signing in.
Skype still has a huge user base, with over 40 million daily users of late.
Teams and Skype have started interoperating more, too, though it’s a limited experience at the moment. Expect Teams for Consumer, due to arrive later this year, to have tighter integration – and perhaps may eventually replace Skype.
Teams is more than just a replacement for Skype for Business on your PC, it’s also a consummate mobile app that functionally eclipses its predecessor in many ways, and even its desktop sibling in some. If you haven’t installed the Teams mobile app on your phone, go and get it (and other Office apps) for Googly Devices or Fruity Phones. The remaining Windows Phone users can follow the setup link here, though be prepared for disappointment.
The “Calls” tab on the mobile version on the app is more usable in some senses than Calls on the PC version of Teams is, since it exposes phone numbers more easily. On the desktop Teams app, if you want to use the service to call an existing contact via the POTS, the actual phone number you use can at times be somewhat obscured.
On the PC app, for example, if you look at History, you’ll often seen a list of people but it’s not clear which number they called from (or you called them on), and you’ll need to use the Contacts list within Calls to be able to direct a new call to a specific number.
In the Teams mobile app, if you look at the Calls tab, under History, tap on a line and then the card to the right side of the list of icons, you’ll get a contact card and the ability to respond back – using Teams – to any one of the listed phone numbers.
Finally, one of the great new functions in Teams mobile is the building-in of Org Chart functions, so you can browse the global address list hierarchy while on the move (assuming such info is populated in the directory).
Just search for a contact’s name, and their organisational tree is only a tap away.
For more tips on using Teams Mobile, see here.
Teams is coming – it’s going to Skype for Business Online – which we know – though the Skype for Business server will still be there for on-prem use. Teams works arguably better in a purely online scenario, since Skype for Business has its roots in a different era, where infrastructure was nearby and closely managed,
The Lync / OCS / LCS application family has been with us for a while now, and Skype for Business is largely a 2015-era re-branding and update of Lync, which itself dates back to 2010.
Back in the OCS days, it was assumed you had a server on-premises (style note – the opposite of “in the cloud” is “on-premises”, ie in or on the premises you have, possibly abbreviated to “on-prem”. It is definitely not, ever, “on-premise”. If you are on-premise, that means you’re in agreement with a point of view, not that you still run your own datacent(re|er)…), not an assumption that you’d make today, with flexible working and Wi-Fi everywhere.
Anyway, as well as having on-prem kit that’s quite possibly connected to a physical phone system, Lync/S4B largely assumed your client (wired to a LAN) connected to a local server. That communicated to other clients and servers in the same environment (mostly) and, maybe via a gateway, to the outside world for the POTS. How cool it was to click a link in the communicator client, and next thing your desk phone was calling that number!
As Teams imminently starts to replace Skype for Office 365 customers, we’re seeing lots of best practice guides and other resources for successful adoption. Further Teams ToWs will follow as well – in fact, if you have one you’d like to share, please write it up and send it over.
This week’s tip focuses – or rather doesn’t – on a very cool trick when using Teams for video calling: the ability to blur your background, so as to remove distractions for other parties in the call. There’s a great short video ad illustrating the feature, here. See it in action here.
We’re all used to file formats being associated with programs and the data they work with. Some, like .TXT, have been around for so long and are so cross-platform, they transcend association with any one application, whereas .PPT will always be PowerPoint – though that app has gained notoriety in such phrases as “Death by PowerPoint” (which we’ve all been subjected to, even if not completely fatal), or “PowerPoint Karaoke” (reading out the words on slides without adding anything).
One long-used file type goes back to 1987, the GIF – standing for Graphics Interchange Format, predating the eventually prevalent JPEG format by 5 years. GIFs were relatively poor quality – only 256 colours could be used; 30 years ago, that wasn’t an issue but in recent decades, it’s more limiting. Most people, however, will be familiar with GIFs due to a sub-variant – the Animated GIF. This is a series of frames which are played like a simple video – with low frame rates & no sound, yet they have occupied a niche in the way people use the web.
Applications tend not to render animated GIFs well – Outlook, for example, simply inserts a static image, but browsers do show them properly. If you have an email in Outlook that you know has animated GIFs, look for the Actions submenu on the Message tab and select View in Browser.
Adding animated GIFs to chat applications is a good way of making a point more vociferously than with smilies… though it can be even more distracting. Skype (the consumer version) added some featured videos (with sound), but both Yammer and Teams have added GIF buttons to make it easy to seach for amusement from online animation repository, GIPHY.
Try pepping up boring Yammer groups or Teams sites, by looking for the GIF logo on the message box, then searching for a 2-3 second loop that underlines your point. Just make sure the content is suitably Safe For Work or you may find the consequences of sending jokey GIFs to be less than ideal.
Finally, Outlook.com has unveiled a new beta mode that is available for some users (& rolling out to more – look for a “Try the beta” toggle switch on the top of your Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com mailbox) – and one feature will be animations that can be easily embedded in mail.
Read what Thurrot has to say about the other bits of the beta.
“Smileys” have been around in one form or another for a surprisingly long time. The use of the original 🙂 smiley goes back 35 years, but written symbolism to convey emotion goes back to the 17th century, maybe even in the days of Lincoln.
In modern times, the smiley has evolved; after the grinning yellow dot being used in various waves of popular culture, the textual facial-expression-on-its-side became more common as people flocked online and started using email and instant messaging. Gradually, icons of a variety of smileys helped convey a wider range of meaning – becoming known collectively by the portmanteau, “emoticons”. Or the Japanese-based variant, emoji. If you’re bored sticking pins in your eyes, you could be watching a Turkey at the flicks, though you’re more likely just an end-user of the emoji symbols.
Over recent years, emoji have become more mainstream and therefore the interpretation of symbols across different platforms has grown in importance – if you enter 🙂 into many apps, you’ll get a – as configured in the AutoCorrect function in Office, and natively supported in lots of other applications, and if you send a text message with emoji in it, you’d hope that it gets interpreted correctly at the other end.
To insert emojis into your mail, IM or whatever, you could type the foundation characters – like 🙁 or 😀 – or copy & paste the relevant symbol from a source such as http://emojipedia.org/microsoft/.
If you’re using Skype (consumer, and Skype for Business), though, there’s a shortcut for each emoticon, that you can type to insert the relevant symbol – eg. (t) or (call) will insert the symbol to the left, or (c) or (coffee) will show the cup symbol. Just hover over the symbol and you’ll see the shortcut you can type.
Other handy shortcuts for Skype for Business include (b), (d), (y), (n), (cic), (!), (e), (run), (k) – careful, mind… Why not try them out on your colleagues next time you’re IMing?
Well, unless you know differently? ♂️ ✋
Power Skypers will probably know this week’s tip already, but it’s a fair bet that it’ll be news to others, even though it’s been possible since Lync gave way to Skype for Business (and was available in a slightly different form prior to that).
Put simply, Skype for Business has the ability to communicate with users on the consumer Skype platform, as well as to federate with other parties, and Office365 has it enabled by default. This means you can exchange IMs and see presence for Skype for Business users outside your organisation.
The simplest way to check if you have Skype for Business federation set up with a customer or partner’s own Skype for Business estate, is to double-click on their name/address in an email, and you’ll see the Outlook “Contact card”. If you’re signed into Skype for Business, the speech bubble icon will be shown, giving you the option of IMing with them: click that icon to start an IM conversation.
Now, if you’re not federated (or maybe depending on the privacy settings your contact’s organisation has set up), then you’ll just see “presence unknown” as their status within the IM window, and attempts to send messages will fail. If you are federated with them (again, subject to privacy settings), then you’re likely to see their email address change to their actual name, and their job title and status should get completed too. If they’re offline, you obviously still can’t IM them but at least you know they should be available at some stage.
If you have contacts who use Skype the consumer service (and Skype helpfully positions the consumer and business offerings together, here), you can add them as contacts and have IM chats with them just like you could do with internal users too. Click on the little add contact icon on the right of the Skype for Business client, and you can include contacts from a number of external sources (the list may vary depending on your own profile or setup).
An even easier way is just to start typing the person’s name, Skype ID or Microsoft account, into the “Find someone…” search box within Skype for Business and click the Skype Directory button: you might well see them listed, profile pic & all – right-click on their profile to add them as a contact (which will kick off a contact request just like in consumer Skype).
Once someone has been added from consumer Skype to your contact list, you can IM them, see their presence, and even fire up an audio or video call with them, without needing to use the consumer Skype client yourself. Nice if you’d prefer to keep your business contacts and your personal ones separate, but if your customer is asking to have a Skype chat with you…
You can try this out by running both Skype and Skype for Business side-by-side and adding your contact, sending yourself a test IM, even cracking open a video or audio call.
If you’re in a call between the two worlds, it’s literally 1:1 – you can’t convert it into a conference call by adding other people, nor can you invite your Skype contact into an existing Skype for Business call or meeting. When you’re in a 1:1 call from Skype for Business with a consumer Skype user, you just don’t see the options for inviting others etc, and if you’re in Skype for Business on an existing conf call and try to bring in a Skyper, sadly, you’ll just get an unhelpful error message. Too bad.
Options are to ask the Skype user to join using the Skype for Business Web App, or use the consumer Skype client to call the phone number the Skype for Business meeting offers to regular phone users.