Saturday, November 28, 2015

#Skype4BRecap Episode 7 - Plantronics Headset Review, A S4B DHCPUtil Replacement, Mac Client & More

Happy Thanksgiving (belated)! The community has kept me on my toes this week. My tardiness in getting Episode 7 out on Friday was called out twice! As Mark Vale (@UnifiedVale) pointed out, Thanksgiving is no excuse! ;-) Good to be kept on your toes, and to know someone is watching!

I started this week's episode out by doing a review of the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC headset that I won at the Charlotte Lync Users Group raffle. Let me just say, the headset is AMAZING! If you want to know how amazing, check out the episode below, or listen to the audio-only version (link also below). I followed that up by calling out the Skype for Business DHCPUtil tool replacement that James Cussen announced he was working on on Twitter.

Next, I gave my two cents about the preview of information that we received last Friday about the upcoming Skype for Business Mac client (coming Summer of 2016). Finally, I briefly mentioned a few smaller items that I thought were interesting nuggets of gold shared on Twitter and LinkedIn throughout the week. Man, it was busy for a holiday week!

You can check out the video for the rest, but I will briefly touch on the preliminary pricing details that have been making their way through the grape vine:

Enjoy the episode, and don't forget to Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you find the weekly show at all helpful (or amusing)!

Audio-Only Link

Video Content Links

Honorable Mentions 

Stay techy, my friends!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mac for Skype for Business Client News

The "Mac for Skype for Business" (what a mouth-full!) client is around the corner, sort of, and we finally got some details today. The Skype for Business Video Cast shared many details about what is on the horizon in today's episode. In the presentation, we got some screenshots of the client's look and feel, and a few details around timelines. Let's break this down below:

What We Know Now

So, the details that we have now that we did not have before seem to be centered around the aesthetics of the client, and timelines, vague as they may be. For the look and feel of the client, Matthew Landis (@matthewlandis) did a great job capturing some screenshots during the video cast, and you can take a look on his blog:

One of the cool things that stood out to me is having the control buttons float over the video feed itself, giving more of the screen real estate to the video, without fumbling for the controls. This is an improvement from even the latest and greatest PC client. It seems that Microsoft is really trying to establish that they are making Mac users 1st-class citizens in the Skype for Business arena. This is wise, as they have really begun to alienate many Mac users, and even entire organizations because of subsets of Mac users, simply because this client has been neglected for so long.

Now, for timelines, we have estimates as specific as Quarters, but no more granular than that. The part that I am really disappointed about is that from the rumors I had previously heard, we should have been getting a new Mac client in Q4 2015. It looks like we are looking at next year, though. Check out the below schedule:

  • Q1 2016 - Nominations for Preview Program
  • Q2 2016 - Technical Preview Program
  • Summer 2016 - General Availability. 
So, would appear that the general public will not have an updated Mac client for nearly 6 more months. Not the best news ever. Yeah, the client looks like it will be pretty, and it also sounds like a lot of effort is being put into it being very stable, but 6 months is a long time in technology. That also puts on a lot of pressure to make sure they get this right, and that it truly is extremely stable once it is in GA.

What We Still Don't Know

Ok, there is one thing I am going to focus on for this section, and they even touched on it in the episode: Mac client support for PERSISTENT CHAT. Now, to be fair, they did fess up about the fact that this first release of the product will likely NOT provide support for Persistent Chat capabilities. I repeat, do NOT hold your breath hoping for Persistent Chat support in the first release of the Skype for Business Mac client. So, that begs the question, are there at least plans to add it in as an update, much the way they mentioned plans to update the client with Video-Based Screen Sharing at a later date? Of course, there was no comment on that, and so we are still left in the dark about whether that functionality will ever become a reality for Mac users. *SIGH* And this has left a lot of room for the rise of tools like Slack within larger organizations, or other competing products like IRC.

In Conclusion...

At any rate, at least we have some real details on the upcoming client, and it is really slick. Sadly, it is still a ways off, and will not likely deliver on missing features at GA. My thoughts? If Microsoft really wants to prove that Mac users are 1st-Class citizens in the Skype for Business arena, a more feature-consistent experience needs to be delivered across the enterprise, for ALL mainstream OS types. Yes, even a solution for Linux users, even if it is 100% WebRTC-based. Your thoughts?

Stay techy, my friends!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Skype for Business Online Voice Refresher and E5 Licensing Explained

"I'm getting that Cloud Voice Whatchamacallit!"

I have had several conversations lately where it has become clear that there is definitely excitement around the emergence of calling (PSTN) capabilities in Office 365, but that there is also a bit of confusion about the various terms that are related to this functionality. This confusion can become compounded with the different hybrid options that are also available, and still in Preview (and thus, still subject to some change). The distinctions are becoming more important to make, however, as the time is right around the corner to start paying for these services!

With the arrival of the Office 365 E5 sku on Dec. 1, I figured now was as good a time as any to throw a few of the terms out there, and chat about what is what. For starters, lets talk about the "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling" preview.

Cloud PBX

Alright, so when the preview came out, it was called "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling", and it was a single preview. This made it feel like the new functionality that you were previewing was a single feature or billable product. However, that is not quite the case. That "with" is really a bridge that allowed you to preview two separately billable items. "Cloud PBX" refers to the call control features and abilities that are present for a user that is licensed for Cloud PBX in Office 365. Essentially, a properly licensed user for Cloud PBX has similar features available that they would have over their phone via an on-premise PBX. This sets them up for being able to make/manage calls and have voice connectivity to the PSTN, BUT, it does not actually provide them with that connectivity, a phone number, or dial plan with minutes. Much the same way that you can enable a user for Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business Server 2015, which brings with it additional licensing costs, that user still cannot call a phone number unless you have also paid a provider for service and phone numbers.

So, why would you even have Cloud PBX if it doesn't allow you to make calls to/from the PSTN? Well, you would not have Cloud PBX by itself, plain and simple, unless you enjoy flushing money down the drain. This will always be paired with a voice plan of some sort, whether it be directly through Microsoft's cloud, or through your existing voice provider on-prem. The E5 base plan will include Cloud PBX, but unless you bring your own voice services to the table, the PSTN Calling is an additional cost to the base E5 plan.

PSTN Calling

Alright, so now that we have sort of established "Cloud PBX" as a needed base license for PSTN capabilities in Skype for Business Online, what do we need to actually get a phone number assigned to a user, and to allow that user to place and  receive phone calls on the PSTN? That would be the piece that we refer to as "PSTN Calling"! While this will not be included in the base E5 plan, you can add this service on for about an extra $12/month/user, and this will  provide you with the needed phone number and a dial plan to start making calls, all packaged within Microsoft's cloud. According to this article, that total package will  run you about $47/month/user, and will give you about 3,000 minutes of talk time (U.S. talk time; International is extra). Not too shabby!

Cloud PBX with On-Prem PSTN Calling

So that is a bit more of a mouth-full. As the very descriptive name implies, however, this gives you the above PSTN Calling functionality for your Cloud PBX licensed users by connecting your existing on-prem Skype for Business Enterprise Voice environment to your Skype for Business Online environment. Yes, we are talking about Hybrid here, with Directory Synchronization and the whole nine yards! Not only does this approach allow you to extend your existing Enterprise Voice functionality to your Office 365 users, but it also provides you with a gradual approach for slowly migrating an increasing base of users to Skype for Business Online. A lot of flexibility is introduced with this! However, before suddenly migrating all your users to the Cloud while maintaining your on-prem Enterprise Voice environment, keep in mind that not all features will be able to port over with your Online users. For example, Response Groups will only work on-prem. Check out this article for a complete list of which features will or won't work for Online voice users:

PSTN Conferencing

Alright, I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory, but for the sake of being thorough, I'll glaze over it as well. Unlike the PSTN Calling add-on for the E5 plan, PSTN Conferencing is included in the E5 license, and does NOT come with a cap on minutes. This of course provides users with access to a conferencing phone number so that they can schedule Skype for Business meetings, and allow outside or anonymous users to join these meetings via PSTN dialin. Again, this would be packaged through services available in Microsoft's cloud, so you don't have to do the leg work of finding a provider and signing another contract.

In Conclusion...

So, for those of you that were starting to confuse any of these terms, blending any of them together, looking for a better high-level understanding of how all these new features relate to the upcoming E5 release, or just wanted to find out some preliminary E5 pricing details, I hope this helped prepare a bit better for what's coming. It's a bright and crazy new world out there, folks, and piece by piece, it's moving to the cloud!

Stay techy, my friends!

Friday, November 6, 2015

#Skype4BRecap Episode 4 - Call Recording Pro, Cloud PBX E5, and MVP Summit

Happy Friday, everyone! This week, we jumped into a number of awesome topics. First, we started out with a shameless ask on my part for feedback on your experiences with Server-Side Conversation History with Android Lync 2013 app in a Skype for Business Server environment. From there, we dove into the MVP Summit in Seattle, Matthew Landis' announcement for the new Call Recording Pro, new details on the Cloud PBX E5 license that hits on December 1st, and the introduction of Number Porting to the Cloud PBX Preview.

You can check out the video for the rest, but I will briefly touch on the preliminary pricing details that have been making their way through the grape vine:

  1. E5 is pegged at $35/month, currently.
    • This includes PSTN Conferencing
    • This includes Cloud PBX functionality
  2. DID and national PSTN Calling functionality comes at an additional $12/month.
  3. International PSTN Calling will be another $12/month.
  4. For all Cloud PBX functionality (as mentioned above), the grand total for a user per month is $59.

Video Content Links

Honorable Mentions 

**CORRECTION** A quick correction. I made the mistake off of a post that I must have half-read that SEFAUtil Done Right and Call Recording Pro were one and the same product. They are indeed separate products. Call Recording Pro was making a debut, while SEFAUtil Done Right is a codename for a project that is still in progress. I apologize, and will do a much better job of thoroughly researching topics that I speak about in the future. Matt was a stand up guy, and even re-tweeted my video post, without calling me out! Another great soul had pity on me, and showed me the error of my ways. Finishing up a Friday strong!

Stay techy, my friends!