Skype for Business brings together so many useful tools

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During Microsoft's Ignite conference, the Office team made it clear that productivity is increasingly about collaboration. This includes everything from seeing how your team works together to looking at a map of the connections in the Office Graph to seeing live edits in a Word document (while people are actually working on it). The new Skype for Business features follow this direction, and you may be more likely to use them than you might think.

That's because any meeting you create in Office 365 will be set up as a Skype for Business meeting, complete with links to call in or start a video meeting. Skype for Business Server, which is an in-place upgrade from Lync Server 2013, is generally available today, and it includes one of the most useful features in the Skype for Business service on Office 365: simple Skype integration for users.

While you already had the ability to add any Skype contact to your Skype for Business contact list, you can now locate contacts without knowing their handles. This is done by adding contacts through the Skype Directory Search, instead of having to go to Skype to search and then copying the details. As usual, that's a feature you can turn off as an admin if needed.

There's also a public preview of the Skype Web SDK that Microsoft announced last week; you can find more details here and download the SDK here.

Microsoft also showed off new features slated for later this year. Over the summer, meetings will have the ability to include pre-loaded attachments. Additionally, files that you want to present during a meeting will be linked and ready to go; you can add a file to a meeting that will be shared with all attendees (and unlike an email attachment, it's hosted through OneDrive for Business, allowing you to see changes and edits, rather than having to merge in changes from multiple versions of the file).

And if people want to make changes to the document during the meeting rather than in advance, it opens in Office Online where multiple people can edit it at once (assuming it's an Office document). As soon as you migrate to Office 2016, they'll be able to see each other's changes live as they work on the document.

Later this year, Skype for Business will get what Microsoft calls "broadcast meetings," where you can present to up to 10,000 people, using what looks very like the streaming Azure Media Services Microsoft offers to video broadcasters. If you've used Bing Pulse for running and analysing online meetings, a lot of what's in broadcast meetings will look very familiar. It's similar to running a Lync meeting, but with extra options.

You can start and stop the Skype cast (which is the video from your camera), you can switch over to content that you're presenting like a PowerPoint, or you can show both of them on screen at once. Plus you get all the familiar Lync meeting features like chat and presenter controls, and meetings are recorded in the usual way so you can share them later.

Meeting attendees can drop in and out of the meeting and they can flip back through slide decks that have been presented, so they can catch up if they arrive late. They can also give real-time feedback by clicking on a set of thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons (all of this is shown as a graph of social sentiment about the meeting, through Bing Analysis).

Microsoft didn't show the interface for managing that in the keynote, but we're expecting it to have the same options as the Pulse service, where meeting organizers can ask questions at specific points and chose whether the sentiment graph is visible to everyone or just the producer.

Pulse is an interesting service for people running meetings, but it makes far more sense as part of Skype for Business where it's available to more businesses than just as an Azure service. Skype for Business broadcast meetings won't be limited to Office 365 customers; Microsoft says there will be a hybrid option to use the cloud service with your Skype for Business Server, which gives businesses a flexible way of extending an existing Lync setup within the company to large numbers of external users.

[caption id="attachment_58747" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Skype for Business Real Time Co-authoring Pre-load a file into a meeting and attendees can open it, and edit it with other attendees during the meeting[/caption]

 

[caption id="attachment_58749" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Skype for Business Broadcast Producer The producer view for Skype for Business broadcast meetings lets you switch between tasks.[/caption]

 

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Contributor

Mary Branscombe

has been a technology journalist for over two decades, and she’s been the formal or informal IT admin for most of the offices she’s worked in along the way. She was delighted to see the back of Netware 3.11, witnessed the AOL meltdown first-hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and has been a freelance tech writer ever since. She's used every version of Windows (client and server) and Office released, and every smartphone too. Her favourite programming language is Prolog, giving her a soft spot for Desired State Configuration in PowerShell 4. And yes, she really does wear USB earrings. Find her on Twitter @marypcbuk.