Microsoft Canada - Lync Updates

Yesterday I attended the first meeting of Microsoft Canada's Insiders of Lync group at their Toronto-area country HQ. I'm glad to be included in this group, which is made up of analysts, market researchers and IT consultants. While I like the moniker better as the name of an alt/indie band, it reflects this group as being an informal advisory body, and that's a good thing.
We were set up as end users with dummy employee profiles, and they spent the morning walking us through the various UC features and how they work in typical collaborative settings. Overall, it was a good way to experience Lync, and it set the stage for the Lync team to get to know us better. This will allow us to provide  ongoing  feedback on the Lync experience as well as their go-to-market plans.
As we tried the various applications, you can see how convenient it is to run all your applications from the desktop and from a single interface. No need to close out programs or switch to new programs - it's pretty seamless from the point of searching for who you want to contact, then through the various stages of contact and collaboration.
I've been writing about Lync recently on the VoIP News portal, and there were no surprises here. Ease of use is great, and so is the quality of experience - both voice and video were clear. It's easy to see how this could quickly become your default UC environment - all the apps are there and the integration is pretty smooth.
The big outlier, of course, is the phone and without dwelling on this too much, they made it easy to see that you wouldn't even miss it. As the first photo below shows, our basic setup included a simple desk phone, but we never needed to pick up the handset or use the keypad to dial. Old habits die hard, but with all the desktop options for reaching people being just a mouse click away, the concept of dialing a phone number will soon seem archaic.
To me, the key thing that drove this home was the discussion about peripherals, namely the Jabra headset and speakerphone, and the LifeCam line of webcams. Being Lync certified, they're fully plug and play, and being high quality devices, they enhance the overall Lync experience. Microsoft understands that to make people comfortable moving on from the PBX, you need more than just a notebook, which simply can't compete with audio quality. The Jabra endpoints make Lync feel like a more complete voice solution, and the LifeCams do the same for video. Without this, I think the notebook on its own becomes a weaker case for building a UC solution around. 
Time will tell, but I think Lync is on to a good thing, and we certainly heard some validation of that from the channel community, who ultimately must sell it. Pairing Lync with SIP trunking sounds like a pretty complete package, and shows just how far software has come to support communications.
I should also add that Skype was mentioned a few times, and is still a work in progress for the business market. As Lync federates with more customers, it will be easier to find ways to integrate Skype, and I think they'll eventually figure this out. There's certainly more to come, and I'll provide updates after our next get together.

Mark Hickson walking us through some demos