Got Lync? Being pushed to go O365? Better get used to Skype.

As reported by The Verge, Microsoft has rolled out Skype-powered chat into it’s Word and Powerpoint apps.

Clearly, after the announcement that Lync was to become Skype for Work, Skype will be the one that survives the platform merge

The move makes total sense for consumers…. but not so much for Enterprises.

So now the only question is how aggressively Microsoft will push you to “Go Skype” and just how well Skype actually “does business”. (Skype as recently as August had reported issues of “leaking chats”)

Will Microsoft Lync (Skype for Work) switch tracks and go to H.264AVC?

Within a year or two, all modern browsers will be able to natively do HD Videoconferencing. No need to download Skype anymore.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, H.264AVC was chosen to be one of two mandated codecs (VP8 is the other) for browsers to support in order to be “WebRTC compliant”.

Generally the conversation in WebRTC has been focused on the term H.264, but as the details here confirm, its specifically H.264AVC:

The codec goes under the names H.264, AVC and MPEG-4 Part10.

Microsoft has started moving Skype to the Web, and is working towards WebRTC in their own Internet Explorer browser. Once again, they state:

As part of this effort we are committed to innovate and offer better codecs as the
technology matures. Our choices here are driven to benefit the broadest set of
users - e.g. the primary video codec that is deployed both in communications endpoints
and supported in hardware today is ITU-T H.264, which will be the supported video
codec. For voice, we will offer codecs like Opus, G.722, and G.711 to enable the
greatest experience for a broad variety of endpoints.

In ITU-T, H.264 is defined as H.264 Advanced Video coding – the same H.264 AVC.

So all modern browsers will run H.264AVC (including Internet Explorer). Skype runs H.264AVC. Most video devices and room systems run H.264AVC. DVDs and BluRay include H.264AVC… iOS uses H.264AVC… the list goes on.

Lync however, uses H.264SVC, an implementation based on H.264 that is not directly interoperable.

Cisco is asked all the time if we they can make their equipment do Video interoperability with Lync because of this. As it stands, Lync may not even talk to Internet Explorer’s planned WebRTC implementation.

In the face of the-rest-of-the-world going with H.264AVC, and Cisco offering to pay the tab for everyone,  will Microsoft switch to join everyone else? Lync would just work with everyone else.

Will they stick to SVC and require gateways to speak to the rest of the world… or will they “pull a Microsoft” and only support Lync interop if you run Internet Explorer?

With Satya Nadella around, and Gurdeep Singh Pall (the head of Lync) working at the Skype offices in London and not in Lync’s home in Redmond, I am hopeful we’re about to have a global standard on Video interoperability.

Amazing month for open and cloud collaboration

Clients

In today’s world we have lots of options as consumers for collaborative apps. We’re living in paradise! The various app stores are chock-full of tools we can use. Woot!

There is a nasty problem that has been proliferating however, and that’s the problem of islands of these collaboration tools. We’re living in tropical paradises but we can’t talk to anyone on any other island.

If you have iOS and your friend has Android, you cant use Facetime/iMessage. If you’re not signed up for Google, you can use hangouts…. so the solution is to downloading and installing a lot of apps. Go get Skype to talk to Oprah. Get hangouts to talk to your Google buddies. Get a Mac if you want the privilege of talking to your snob-friends. Get whatever you can and install, sign up, create an account for all of it… then you can talk to anyone… Until there’s another new hot thing.

By the way, if you want them to run in the background, so that you can actually receive calls…youre going to kill your battery/data etc. You can do what I do… ping your collaborative partner on the one network that is pervasive – the phone or SMS – and ask them to launch whatever tool you decide to use right now. Yikes!

So the net-net has been that the collaborative tools we have are getting better, but our actual capability to collaborate with any particular person or business has diminished, and in some cases the solution to this artificial problem is “Federation” which will also cost you… Bluejeans, Nextplane and other exist and make money doing just this.

Why? Because nobody wants to adhere to standards. They want to sail you up to their island on a deluxe 40-foot yach and strand you there in paradise. In a lot of cases that’s the business model. You can only play if you play on my island.

Now the reality is that there are already true open standards to do all this stuff…IM/P, Voice, Video, Sharing etc (XMPP, SIP H.26x and the H. protocols in general) and so long as each of these players support those and accepted the standard way to implement features, we’d all be a whole lot more interoperable than today.

Lets use an example that just works today. Email. I can go out to GoDaddy and get me a handy new domain within 5 minutes and start sending and receiving spam emails to and from anyone globally inside of 15 minutes. You can use whatever client you like, whatever server you like and I can do the same. No federation. Standards. Ubiquitous.

But, alas the yatch has sailed and nobody wants to talk to anyone… and in a confounding twist of irony, we have this problem in “Collaboration”.

So now I have a device – a laptop or tablet or phone – with a copy of at least three different apps on it. (I.T. is thrilled.) I have at least three apps to keep updated, at least three passwords to maintain etc.

Enter WebRTC.

What if there was a way that I could use a single app to do all of this? It turns out that there is indeed a way of doing this. Just as thick applications are “moving to the cloud” and we are using web browsers to run our agile apps, UC should also run in a browser> The issue has been that we needed plugins to support real-time communications.

WebRTC/RTCWeb is a set of standards to deliver Real Time Communications on the web, in browsers. Early on a few companies, most notably Mozilla and Google for browsers as well as Cisco Systems and Siemens championed the cause. Now Microsoft just hopped on board with Internet Explorer as well. What this means for you is that you will be able to start or receive a collaborative session right from your browser. In just the same way your browser can visit multiple sites, you will be able to use the real-time capabilities on multiple sites and applications too.

This allows any Web app or portal to do HD Voice and Video as well as interactive content (maybe whiteboarding as an example) with just a few lines of Javascript code. This has profound effects on our islander friends we were talking about above. For example, lets look at the Skype paradigm as it stood a week or two ago:

SkypeHere you have a buddy list on the left and a video window on the right. The value of Skype is that “Everyone has it” and it does “Voice” or “Video”.

There are around 450M Skype users around the world. Thats a pretty big surface area and one Microsoft touts regularly. In fact a big push behind their paid UC product, Lync, is the ability to bridge the two islands. Buy my stuff and you’ll have the privilege of receiving consumer calls from people with Skype installed. A big carrot for enterprises…

One issue however is that there are at least 1.7 Billion people with browsers and high-speed internet access… and those people are about to get Video and voice natively in the browser…

“But my users don’t have or will not have a modern browser!” I hear you yell.. True… but all the users with Skype installed most certainly will – their browsers practically update themselves.

Worse yet, if Facebook and other sites will soon be able to do HD video natively. This means that this will remove Voice/Video as a common denominator or killer feature. I can video with either and now Skype’s buddy list looks downright anemic next to Facebook’s activity feed and social graph. I can just click my cousin’s name right inside the funny post he made to call him in HD.

So the question you have to ask is “If both Skype and Facebook give me HD Video and Voice, which am I more likely to call from?” R.I.P. Skype.

Unlike Skype, Viber, or WhatsApp, or any other service, my browser can indeed be the calling client for any website. I will be able to place and receive calls from my Facebook account, Google account (theyre already doing this with hangouts), Salesforce.com account, Linkedin account etc..

Nobody’s going to be running thick UC clients in a very few short years, and the lock-in will be gone… as will a lot of those players who simply have a contact list to try differentiate themselves.

Back to your complaint that your enterprise doesn’t or can not run a “modern browser”… your consumers most certainly will be.. so how do you connect?

Problems with Nirvana – solved this last week

A major issue has been that the folks in the IETF could not agree just whose video to use. Google and a group on their side of the fence preferred VP8. VP8 isnt what any of your gear at Work runs. Cisco and others who make telecom gear which uses H.264 preferred that codec – which IS what your gear at Work runs… and as with politics the votes were split down the middle for years… So we had no WebRTC.

As of last week the IETF agreed to make both mandatory for browsers. (Read more from Andreas Gal of Mozilla here) This opens the floodgates for WebRTC and also will enable all browsers that support WebRTC to natively talk to Cisco and any other H.264AVC capable gear… your gear at Work! In fact this week Cisco Collaboration CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg demoed a Cisco Project Squared client in Firefox natively receiving a call from a Cisco DX80. You can see a demo of this here. That demo is absolutely huge news for anyone anywhere with a video endpoint or room system. It also means that Cisco has an app in-market already.

That’s how you connect your consumers with their fancy new modern browsers… to the stuff you already have!

As it turns out the H.264 codec inside of Firefox is Cisco’s own codec, compiled and distributed by OpenH264.org. Cisco open sourced their codec, and will pay for the royalties necessary to license the codec should anyone (competitors included) decide to download and use their binary. There really is no excuse to be on an island anymore.

And so, in the face of change, Skype announced that they were implementing a new web-based client.

Servers/Services

Last week I blogged about how Microsoft’s move from Lync to “Skype for Work” was essential for Microsoft to genuinely move to the cloud. That information is as important the information here, so I am inserting it here…

Microsoft announced a move from Lync to Skype for Business. While most believe this is a simple rebrand and some lipstick on the clients, I believe it’s a signal of a whole lot more.

This first round will essentially be a rebranding and UI tweaking exercise to make the two look more similar.

In the coming months I expect that new versions of Skype and Lync start to share codecs, since the existing solution of transcoding at the Lync edge server is simply not scalable. Skype already has Lync’s H.264SVC codec embedded and presumably that will allow a more “native” Skype-Lync video experience. Instead of the edge servers doing signalling AND codec transcoding they can do just signalling – a huge reduction in load. Below is a simplified view of the changes:

OldNew

Doing the same for share, control, participant lists etc – is a much, much bigger hurdle.

“Why should I have to download Skype, or give up my SkypeID in order to click to call my bank? Shouldnt I just click the call button on their website?”

At some point the two clients from Microsoft will have to merge in a single client, and then, much more ominously, a single system…. Why would Microsoft want the complexity and expense of two? Remember Messenger? But merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.

In the age of ubiquitous consumer services like Skype, Facetime, Hangouts etc, everyone can participate there is no notion of setting up islands of capability and having to force users to “federate” those islands so they can talk to each other. Its cloud-scale stuff. Just connect and go.

With Lync, the opposite is the case. Businesses can set up Lync installations and then have to explicitly connect to other systems such as other companies’ Lync implementations. This series of individual systems is deployed by individual companies, or in “cloud” data centers. They’re build on Live Communications Server which was released in 2003. Thats over 10 years ago. They all, individually need to make sure they’re patched, upgraded and secure in order to realize the collaboration dream.

This is not the new-world. The next-gen applications have no such notion. Even as one of the oldest consumer services, you hop on Skype, and you can talk to anyone else on Skype. You’re not running a “Skype server” that you need to connect to everyone else’s server.

A move from an individualized per-company Lync world to something where you have a true cloud service with elastic scale and management is where Microsoft has to go. They have to move from Lync to Skype in order to be competitive.

The announcement  heralds that sort of massive platform change for Lync, and massive change for those who use it. Changing platforms is not easy.

As with WebRTC, Cisco is forging the way with True Cloud UC and ushering in a new UC Era

Cisco have been doubling down and working on true cloud collaboration offers for a while now. They hired Skype’s ex-CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, who had strong opinions on where the world was going a few years ago. They’ve had the #1 cloud collaboration platform for years, and in fact that platform represents the second largest SAAS platform globally behind Salesforce.

Cisco had already opened it’s multi-workload cloud “Meeting room” platform to even support traditional systems so that you can join a full experience on all the new cool devices and your old Polycom or other room systems… For years already you could also get full UC capabilities (not just a subset) from the cloud with their cloud HCS solutions

Cisco announced the next step in the revolution of Cloud Collaboration last week.. (which you can watch in its entirety online if you are registered)… and demoed their next generation UC Platform based completely on true Next-Gen cloud technology. (See Cisco Collaboration CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg’s session from 1h46m onwards) We really have to reiterate the word Platform. Its built just like most of the other new cloud platforms out there – to be built on top of, and integrated to – a vast difference to the island philosophy.

As part of the announcement, Jonathan also showed how an on-premise Cisco UC infrastructure could be fused with the cloud, so that the calls coming in to an extension in the on-prem system was simultaneously delivered into the next-gen cloud (2h32 of the video), which is another groundbreaking capability and shows an example of how the cloud extends functionality the existing equipment… and its just the beginning. You may have to keep your clunky browser because your enterprise can’t upgrade, but your new and old gear that speaks H.264AVC or straight voice including all Cisco’s hard and soft clients will work just fine in the new world – and talk to all those hipsters with their fancy new browsers.

A huge head start… and you can start playing today, for free

project-squared-620x422

WebRTC codecs for browsers essentially chosen in IETF

It looks like we are much closer to a solution for WebRTC in browsers. Over the lifetime of the WebRTC spec, there has been a battle between competing codecs – VP8 and H.264.

VP8 champions noted that the codec was “free”, however the IPR related to the codec looked like it was not in the clear (Nokia amongst others claiming patent rights on some of it)

H.264 champions noted that H.264 is widely deployed in video equipment today, but there is a cost.

Cisco went on to open source their H.264 codec and offer a binary to all who wanted it, which Cisco would pay the royalties for. Firefox, as an example, includes the resulting Open264 codec in their freshly released WebRTC implementation..

Well, the battle is about over… Both H.264 and VP8 were effectively chosen as mandatory to implement codecs in browsers… This clears one of the biggest hurdles in delivering real-time communications natively and browsers… and now the sky is the limit.

Here comes Skype for Business… The start of a new era and a lot of change

Microsoft today announced a move from Lync to Skype for Business. While most believe this is a simple rebrand and some lipstick on the clients, I believe it’s a signal of a whole lot more.

This first round will essentially be a rebranding and UI tweaking exercise to make the two look more similar.

In the coming months I expect that new versions of Skype and Lync start to share codecs, since the existing solution of transcoding at the Lync edge server is simply not scalable. Skype already has Lync’s H.264SVC codec embedded and presumably that will allow a more “native” Skype-Lync video experience. Instead of the edge servers doing signalling AND codec transcoding they can do just signalling – a huge reduction in load. Below is a simplified view of the changes:

OldNew

Doing the same for share, control, participant lists etc – is a much, much bigger hurdle.

The “pitch” from Microsoft is that the merging gets business access to hundreds of millions Skype users. Depending on who you poll, anywhere between 350m and 500m. Getting Skype and Lync to talk more seamlessly in order to have consumers talk to enterprise will largely be run over by WebRTC which Microsoft has also put their weight behind, including the H.264AVC codec. With WebRTC anyone with a browser can participate, and that opens the entire system up to billions of users with broadband connections…. and Skype looses its hold. “Why should I have to download Skype, or give up my SkypeID in order to click to call my bank? Shouldnt I just click the call button on their website?”

At some point the two clients from Microsoft will have to merge in a single client, and then, much more ominously, a single system…. Why would Microsoft want the complexity and expense of two? Remember Messenger? Merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.

The bigger question is which system dies and which lives. For the one that dies, how painful is the transition? The choice is obvious which has to go away:

In the age of ubiquitous consumer services like Skype, Facetime, Hangouts etc, everyone can participate there is no notion of setting up islands of capability and having to force users to “federate” those islands so they can talk to each other. Its cloud-scale stuff. Just connect and go.

With Lync, the opposite is the case. Businesses can set up Lync installations and then have to explicitly connect to other systems such as other companies’ Lync implementations. This series of individual systems is deployed by individual companies, or in “cloud” data centers. They’re build on Live Communications Server which was released in 2003. Thats over 10 years ago. They all, individually need to make sure they’re patched, upgraded and secure in order to realize the collaboration dream.

This is not the new-world. The next-gen applications have no such notion. Even as one of the oldest consumer services, you hop on Skype, and you can talk to anyone else on Skype. You’re not running a “Skype server” that you need to connect to everyone else’s server.

Skype is no panacea – Skype itself is an island, where folks like BlueJeans have made money helping them to connect to other systems, but that’s another topic for another post.

A move from an individualized per-company Lync world to something where you have a true cloud service with elastic scale and management is where Microsoft has to go. They have to move from Lync to Skype in order to be competitive.

The announcement today heralds that sort of massive platform change for Lync, and massive change for those who use it. Changing platforms is not easy.

Opportunities for Cisco

In the meantime, folks like Cisco have been doubling down and working on true cloud collaboration offers for a while now. Cisco hired Skype’s ex-CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, who had strong opinions on where the world was going a few years ago. They’ve had the #1 cloud collaboration platform for years, and in fact that plstform represents the second largest SAAS platform globally behind Salesforce.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.31.12 AM

Cisco has already opened it’s multi-workload cloud “Meeting room” platform to even support traditional systems so that you can join a full experience on all the new cool devices and your old Polycom room systems… For years already you could also get full UC capabilities (not just a subset) from the cloud with their cloud HCS solutions

Cisco announced the next step in the revolution of Cloud Collaboration.. on November 18th and demoed their already-working platform…while Microsoft just gets started revamping Lync to be a true Cloud app. Remember, “Merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.”

Microsoft throws support behind WebRTC and H.264

This November in Hawaii will be interesting… the IETF meets and Video Codecs and WebRTC are on the docket again.

Whats different this time is Microsoft’s support for both WebRTC and ITU-T H.264, throwing more weight behind the selection on H.264 over VP8…

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2014/10/27/bringing-interoperable-real-time-communications-to-the-web.aspx

Dapper – an iTunes sync tool for your Digital Audio Player

Two weeks back I bought a FiiO X5 Digital Audio Player from Amazon. I was tired of dragging around my Centrance HiFi-M8 to get the best quality sound out of my iPhone, and I was still limited to 64GB of storage on the iPhone. The X5 can take 2x 128GB MicroSD cards, so I could actually store all my lossless music on the thing.

FiiO X5

The issue with anything-other-than-an-iDevice is syncing… but this doohickey connects via USB and essentially shows up on the machine as a drive… so I set to work and wrote Dapper last weekend. It automates copying files and playlists to an X5 including the correct formatting etc.. and a handy dandy slider to select how much music to put on card A vs Card B.

Well, two weeks is a long time, and I have returned the X5 and got an Astell and Kern AK100_II to work with.

Its better in terms of UI by far. In fact after hunting through 3000 songs on the X5 with a scroll wheel I am seriously doubting that the PonoPlayer will be any good whatsoever with its paltry interface… The AK100 is an android device and shows up only in software that supports MTP over USB… If I can get Simple-MTPFS going on OSX I will be in business – its a library that mounts MTP devices as drives under OSX, in which case Dapper can operate as per usual.

In the mean time I have bought a shim that essentially does Simple-MTPFS and this is the result – splitting my library roughly 1/3 on the internal storage (64GB) and 2/3 on the SD card (128GB)

Dapper Syncing an AK100 with internal and an "external" 128GB card.

Dapper Syncing an AK100 with internal and an “external” 128GB card.

 

Dapper is available to poke around with on my site here.

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