Tip o’ the Week #274 – Hello, Skype for Business


Instant Messaging (and later, voice/video calling) has been with us, in the corporate world, for 15 years – the first real enterprise IM platform was Exchange 2000 Instant Messaging, which used a variant of MSN Messenger as its client, and some workers had been using MSN and AOL for a while before that.

The Exchange 2000 IM server was a one-off; it was superseded by Microsoft Office Live Communication Server (released at a time when everything at Microsoft was seemingly prefixed or suffixed “Live”, and somehow linked to Windows or Office) and latterly Office Communications Server (when the edict came around to ditch the practice of sticking “Live” in every product name), and later acquired the much groovier name of “Lync”.

And now the next phase has rolled out; just as the original MSN Messenger gave way to Windows Live Messenger (see?) and then went away in favour of Skype, Lync has now given over to Skype for Business – though SFB is effectively a technology update, rebranding & a new UI, rather than the wholesale change of underlying technology that MSN/Live Messenger to Skype was.

So now we have Skype for Desktop (the traditional Windows, Mac etc application, which uses a Skype ID or Microsoft Account to sign in), there’s Skype for a variety of mobile & TV platforms, Skype for Outlook.com (the plugin to Outlook.com online email, you know, the email service that was once Hotmail). And for Windows 8.x users, there’s also Skype the Modern Application, now also being referred to as Skype for Tablet.

D’ya follow?

And now the spangly new Skype For Business client has been distributed via Windows Update, as an update to Lync – so you may already have received it. If you haven’t, and you’re still on Lync, you could either:

  • clip_image003Try downloading the update to turn Lync into Skype, from KB2889923
  • If you’re running Office in “Click to Run Mode”, you can check for updates by going into (for example) Word and choosing File / Account, then select Update Options / Update Now. See here for more.

Or maybe you’ll get it automatically via a corporate deployment. It may even have been pushed out to you already,

Whatever, you’ll have a cracking new updated UI compared to Lync, and the emoticons will be better again… in fact, most of the animated icons from the regular consumer Skype app have made it over to the corporate one, with a few of the less work-oriented ones removed. clip_image001

Updated LifeCam software

It’s not exactly “news”, since the Microsoft LifeCam web-camera driver & software package was updated a few months ago, but I only picked up the latest version the other day and it brought a few smiles when playing with it today, during a call with James Akrigg.

vidcam natural

lifecam The LifeCam software does real-time manipulation of the video coming from the camera, and should be visible in any application that uses the webcam (eg IM, Live Meeting etc). A few of the effects are potentially useful – like the one which blurs the background but keeps the face in focus, but most are just silly: some hilariously so.

What’s kind-of amazing about the software is the facial tracking it can do; either to zoom in and out as you move around (and follow your head movements), or to attach effects to your face or the background, all in real time.

My favourite funny effect is the “big mouth” one 🙂

vidcam wide

I can’t for the life of me think of a business reason for using this, but it certainly raised a laugh …

Custom presence states in Communicator, reprise

A quick follow on to my post the other day about having custom presence states in Office Communicator 2007 – the Communicator Deployment Guide has a couple of minor errors which could frustrate you, as one commenter pointed out, and I’ve had comments from a couple of people who’ve had trouble getting it working.

There may be some gotchas with the XML file you create, too (especially if you accidentally end up with an invalid XML file as I did at first attempt). A tip would be to check that your XML will render in Internet Explorer OK (by double-clicking) – if it doesn’t, then Office Communicator isn’t going to like it. Also, you’ll need to make sure you use the correct language codes – English being 1033, something that’s not all that obvious in the documentation

Here’s my XML – if you want to, just copy this to Notepad, save it as OCSSTATUS.XML and make sure the URL in your registry points to the location where you put that XML file (see below…)

<?xml version=”1.0″?>
<customStates xmlns=



       <customState ID=”1″ availability=”online”>
              <activity LCID=”1033″>Working from Home</activity>
       <customState ID=”2″ availability=”online”>
              <activity LCID=”1033″>Fine and Dandy</activity>
       <customState ID=”3″ availability=”busy”>
              <activity LCID=”1033″>Meeting with Customer</activity>
       <customState ID=”4″ availability=”do-not-disturb”>
              <activity LCID=”1033″>Presenting and Projecting</activity>

To add the value to the registry, either do it manually or else copy the following block of text to Notepad and save it as OCSSTATUS.REG file, then double-click on that to import to the registry.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


Note the format of the URL – unless you’re picking up the XML file from a network resource, it will be a file: type, but the correct formatting of that URL is to use three forward slashes before the drive letter.

Hope this helps!

Custom presence states in Office Communicator

 I just discovered how to modify presence states in Office Communicator 2007: it’s documented in the Office Communicator Deployment imageGuide (page 21, if you’re interested), and allows for either  the managed deployment of Communicator with additional corporate-set presence states, or if a user is savvy enough to do it themselves, they could have some fun…

The custom states appear like shown in this screenshot (the one in the deployment guide seems to be in error – it doesn’t actually show any custom states), and you can have up to 4 of them and set which of the coloured statuses you want to apply to each of your defined presence states.

I’d originally noticed this was possible when I glanced down at the beautiful screen on my newly-acquired “Tanjay” phone (as shown on Gurdeep’s desk here, along with a bunch of other UC devices, and akin to the LG-Nortel 8540), and I saw Adrian’s status was “Delivering …”


… which set me off to find out how he’d done it. Note my own status is also displayed on the Tanjay, and updates in real time…

Identity & presence: the key to anyone’s Unified Communications strategy

 I spend a lot of time talking with customers about what Microsoft is doing with various new technologies, mostly involving or revolving around the Unified Communications stuff with OCS and Exchange. It’s really interesting to see how many people just “get” the point of UC technology, whereas others are either blind to its potential, or even doing the fingers-in-ears, shut-eyes, repeating “no, no, no” denial that a lot of this stuff is coming whether they like it or not.

I don’t mean that software companies are somehow going to compel everyone to adopt it, more that end-users themselves will be expecting to use technology at work which they have grown used to at home. For several years now, it’s been typical that people have better IT at home than they’d have in the office – from faster PCs, bigger flat screens, to the software they use – it’s exactly this kind of user who has driven the growth of services like Skype, and possibly helped shape the way enterprises will look at telecoms & communications in the future.

Various pieces of research, such as Forrester Groups’ 2006 paper on “Generation Y” types (as reported at TMC.Net), predict that people who were born in the 1980s and beyond, are adopting technologies into their lives faster than previously… and as those same “Millenials” are making their way into the workforce, they’re bringing their expectations with them, and possibly facing the “Computer says no” attitude that some, er, older, IT staff might still be harbouring.

Instant Messaging concerns

It’s already been reported that teens use IM more than email so it seems inevitable that IM will come to the enterprise one way or another. Some enterprises have turned something of a blind eye to “in the cloud” IM services such as Windows Live/MSN Messenger, AOL, Yahoo, Google Talk etc. Others have actively shut down access to these services by blocking firewall ports. Both of these approaches will need, at some point, to be re-evaluated or formalised through acceptable use policies etc – just as businesses in the past didn’t give users internet access or even email, due to concerns that they’d just waste all their time chatting, or the threat to security of opening up to the world.

In reality, users will waste time on IM initially, just like they’ll possibly spend worktime surfing the web or playing Solitaire on their PC, but sooner or later they’ll get over the novelty and start using the technology to be productive, and even if they still “play” during working hours, the net effect will be positive.

IM as email reduction strategy

Many people agree that they get too much email, and that culturally, email is used when it would be better to pick up the phone or talk to someone face-face. IM can reduce the volume of email sent, not just for the disposable communication (the “have you got a minute?” type) but for the fact that people who are not online at the time, don’t tend to get IM. It’s all too easy to blast an email out to a group, asking for help – now, when the people in that group who’ve been out of the office next log in, they’ll get your request … even though your problem may well have been solved by now. That just doesn’t happen with IM, and some customers I’ve talked with estimate that adoption of enterprise IM sees a >50% drop in internal email volumes.

Presence is the magic ingredient

What makes IM useful is the “presence“: the knowledge of who, in the company (even, possibly, people you haven’t ever added to a contact list like you’d need to do in the public services), is available and in a position to respond to you. Cliff Saran of Computer Weekly wrote a blog post recently which was scathing of presence, but illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding of what it “is”:

Yes it’s fine to be able to know that someone is free, but it relies on the user having to update their Presence each time they walk over to the coffee machine, have a chat and a laugh with a colleague, go to the toilet, leave for the train, get home, go to the pub, have dinner, watch TV and go to bed.

— “Microsoft’s unified productivity killer“, Cliff Saran, 28th August 2007

Sorry Cliff, but you’re about as far wrong as it’s possible to get without changing the subject entirely. The whole point of presence is that it’s something the user shouldn’t have to worry about. And if they want to, they can. Culturally, some people won’t want to use the technology at all, which is fine… though sooner or later they may realise they’re losing out, and come back to the party.


I start my PC up, and if it finds a network, Office Communicator logs in and sets me to be online. When my Outlook calendar says I’m busy, my presence changes to “In a meeting”. When I pick up the phone, it’s “In a call”, all done automatically.

When I lock my screen (as I’d do – WindowsKey+L – any time I’m away from my desk for more than a few seconds), my status goes to “Away”, and restores when I log back in. If I just walked away without locking, after 5 minutes, I’d be “Inactive” then 10 minutes later,  it would be “Away” (at least that’s the default timeouts and behaviour… they can be tweaked). And all the while, by clicking that big coloured button in the top left, I can over-ride the automatically set presence and do it myself. Or even sign out.image

As well as controlling what my own status is (and by extension, how phone calls will be routed to me and when), I can also set what level of information I’m prepared to share with others – from allowing select people to interrupt me even when I’ve set “Do not Disturb”, to blocking people from even seeing that you’re online altogether.

Presence and UC telephony

Look at the strategies of any IT or telecoms company who’s involved in this space: finding a user (based on some identity, probably not just their phone number) and seeing their presence is a key part of the value of UC. Making it integrated into other applications and devices the user is working with, and giving the user the choice to use it or not use it as they see fit, is vital to the success of presence being adopted and embraced (rather than rejected by users as big brother-ism or invasion of privacy).

OCS2007 trial edition now available

If you want to get your hands on trial software for the recently-released Office Communications Server 2007 and its client, Office Communicator 2007, then you’re in luck…

Bear in mind that these trials are for tyre-kicking and lab testing only – don’t put them into full blown production. They will also expire in 180 days, though can be upgraded to the released and fully supported code.

Living the dream with Office Communicator 2007

I’ve been a long-time fan of instant messaging and pervasive “presence”, especially the cultural changes it allows organisations to make in order to communicate and collaborate better. As a result, I’ve been really interested to see what’s been happening with Office Communications Server (the soon-to-be-released successor to Live Communications Server).

Around 6 weeks ago, I joined an internal MS deployment of full-voice OCS, meaning that my phone number was moved onto the OCS platform so now I’m not using the PBX at all. It’s been a remarkably cool experience in a whole lot of ways, but it really hits home just how different the true UC world might be, when you start to use it in anger.

I’ve been working from home today, and the fact that my laptop is on the internet (regardless of whether I’m VPNed into the company network), the OCS server will route calls to my PC and simultaneously to the mobile, so I can pick them up wherever. As more and more people are using OCS internally, it’s increasingly the norm to just hit the “Call” button from within Office Communicator (the OCS client) or from Outlook, and not really care which number is going to be called.

brettjo on a Catalina

Here, I was having a chat with Brett and since we both have video cameras, I just made a video call – I was at home so just talked to the laptop in a speakerphone type mode, Brett was in the office so used his wired phone, which was plugged into the PC:

(this device is known internally as a “Catalina” and functions mainly as a USB speaker/microphone, but also has some additional capabilities like a message waiting light, a few hard-buttons, and a status light that shows the presence as currently set on OCS).

It’s a bit weird when you start using the phone and realise that you’re not actually going near a traditional PBX environment for a lot of the interaction. Calling up voice mail, as delivered by Exchange Unified Messaging, is as easy as pressing the “call voice mail” button in Communicator – no need to provide a PIN or an extension number, since the system already knows who I am and I’ve already authenticated by logging in to the PC.

When I use this, the “call” goes from my PC to OCS, then from the OCS server directly to the Exchange server, all as an IP data stream and without touching the traditional TDM PBX that we still have here. A third party voice gateway allows for me to use OCS to call other internal people who are still homed on the PBX system, and to make outbound calls.

Microsoft’s voice strategy of “VoIP As You Are” starts to make a lot of sense in this environment – I could deploy technology like OCS and Exchange UM and start getting immediate benefit, without needing to rip & replace the traditional phone system, at least not until it’s ready for obsolescence.

Here’s an idea of what kind of system is in place – for more information, check out Paul Duffy’s interview with ZDNet’s David Berlind.

Live Writer beta 2 releases

I only really started blogging “properly” when Windows Live Writer (WLW) beta first shipped… it’s been a really user-friendly tool for blogging, for a whole load of reasons.

The WLW team has just shipped a new beta which has a nice UI polish, some great new features (like inline spell checking) and other interesting stuff like Sharepoint 2007 integration (since Sharepoint 2007 implements blogging).

Steve posted about this and other Live betas (Live Mail & Live Messenger).

ZDNet sings praises of Office Communications Server beta

Like probably millions of other people, I get the daily ZDNet Tech Update Today (since long before RSS brought news feeds to the masses…) and was floored a little by David Berlind’s column today. I think David’s a good commentator – normally sails between the points of sycophancy and fundamentalism that some of the other ZDNet columnists sometimes exhibit.

The column today is about the release of beta 3 of Office Communications Server and Office Communicator 2007, which has now gone live. David’s comment on the whole thing:

If there will be an amazingly compelling reason to go all-Microsoft for your office suite … your document sharing infrastructure … your e-mail and scheduling system … your data/voice conferencing … and your instant messaging, then Office Communicator is it.

So deeply and contextually can Office Communicator’s DNA be integrated into the rest of Microsoft’s solutions that there is probably no other glue in all of Microsoft’s portfolio that so elegantly demonstrates the company’s strategic vision for making knowledge workers more productive at what they do.

Wow. I think he likes it!

You can’t ignore a ringing phone

It’s funny when you look back a few years to see just how communications technology has changed – remember when you might have asked (or been asked), “are you on the phone?”… meaning not, “are you using the phone” but “do you have a phone at home”… now we just assume that (pretty much) everyone’s got a mobile phone, everyone has internet access and everyone has at least one email account.

Organisational culture has evolved a lot in the last 5-10 years, to the point where a lot of people hide behind email while some try to escalate into other forms of communication as soon as possible. There’s one guy at Microsoft who always phones in response to getting an email from me. I tend to enjoy playing cat and mouse by letting the phone drop to voicemail, listening to the message, then emailing him back 🙂

A lot of us have settled on corporate Instant Messaging as a happy medium, for a number of reasons:

  • Like email, it offers access to the whole corporate address book, not just the list of people I’ve talked to before (such as MSN/Live Messenger does) so I can IM people I’ve never had anything to do with.
  • Presence from Communicator is shown in Outlook 2007, and on Sharepoint web sites, so it’s often easier to be context sensitive.If someone’s presence shows up as “In a Call”, there’s no point in phoning them, cos they’re already on the phone (and the status is set by the telephone system, so when they hang up, it’ll revert back to Normal).
  • Best of all, it’s neither as intrusive as a phone, but the immediacy doesn’t get lost as easily as in email.
    • You can’t really ignore a phone that’s ringing – sure, you can forward to voicemail so it doesn’t ring at all, but that’s different.
      • A phone which forwards to voicemail is like the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment in that you won’t know whether you have voicemail – and hence whether anyone was ringing the phone at any given point – until you observe the light on the phone or you actually check your messages. So,
    • When the phone rings, you decide (usually based on the caller ID that’s displayed) if you’re going to answer it, combined with a load of environmental factors (are you busy? are you in a place where you don’t want to take this call? are you just about to go to the toilet so don’t want to be distracted right now? etc)
    • Email, for a lot of people, tends to be like a stack. The last message in (and the one at the top of the list) is the one that gets first attention, meaning it’s easy to overlook stuff that’s in the middle of the stack and probably off-screen when the Inbox is sorted.
  • If someone doesn’t respond to an IM, you generally accept that maybe they didn’t see it – because it’s disposable communication, you don’t tend to have the assumption that a reply is expected. If a sender doesn’t get a response to something important, they’ll always try again, or escalate to another form of communication (like phoning you up).
  • IM makes a great way of starting a side conversation with someone, which might turn into something more formal (escalating to email, to face:face, to group conversations on the phone or even online meetings through the likes of Live Meeting).
    • Often, I’ll see someone’s staus as “In a meeting” – now that could mean they’re sitting at their desk but with Outlook blocking time out of their calendar to do some work (or maybe they’re on a conference call). I’d typically say “busy? got a min?” and if no response comes back, I’d assume that yes, they are busy, and no, they don’t have a min. If a response does come back, then maybe I’ll realise they’re not busy, they’re not on the phone, and in fact, they’d like to meet up for a coffee in 5 minutes.

Interestingly enough, John Westworth IM’ed me halfway through my writing this post to ask a question about my mobile device (an SPV M3100). He theorised that he doesn’t answer his phone much (more through accident than desire, I should add), and figured that I might be the same… so it would be better to IM instead …

This led to an idea for some canny Windows Mobile developer to pick up, and make riches from – an AI-like Bozo Filter for the phone. Just think … it could pick up the Caller ID from an incoming call, figure out if that user is in the Outlook contacts list (or maybe even the GAL) and cross reference with the number of times that individual appears in the Call History (ie have I called this guy before? Has he called me a lot and actually got through?) and in the mail client, then apply a Bozo Confidence Filter (BCL) to the call… which would then allow me to set up rules to decide my preferences for when I will accept calls and from what level of Bozo…

Combine all this with the inherently linear nature of a phone call – it’s synchronous, you (generally) can only have one at a time, and they tend to be fairly short. IM conversations can be done in parallel with each other (though make sure you don’t type a comment into the wrong window by mistake…) and some may have many rounds of dialogue/response stretching over a reasonable period of time (usually at most a day). Email would suit much more asynchronous communications that might be shared with hundreds of people, stretched over any length of time. Choosing which one to use is increasingly a personal preference, and in future, the choice is increasingly going to be with the recipient rather than the sender. So, when the guy I mentioned earlier picks up the phone to call me and I don’t answer, I might receive the call as an IM stream if I’m online and want to take it, rather than dumping straight to Voicemail…

Exciting times, eh?