back to article Skype for Business is not Skype – realising that is half the battle

Skype revolutionised IP-based video calling to such an extent it became a verb, much like Google. This largely consumer technology went pro in 2011 when Microsoft bought the firm for $8.5bn. Microsoft, of course, already had IP-based video as part of its unified communications platform, first with Office Communicator and then …

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  1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

    "went pro in 2011 when Microsoft bought the firm"

    Why does that sound strange to my ears?

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Overall, it's anyone's guess how active Skype for Business Online really is."

    I'll bet not as many claim to be using it but don't because a)It's too complicated b)They trashed their address book.

    That classic old MS gem.

    "It's completely compatible" with your home version of <whatever MS app you're using>

    Oh no it isn't.

    Didn't people fall for that BS with why you had to have Windows on a palmtop?

  3. InNY

    Just wondering...

    <quote>It's hard to tell if business customers have been keen. Microsoft doesn't split out monthly active users by product</quote>

    If it was popular, or at least used a lot, then Microsoft would be touting it incessantly in their adverts. As they don't, can we assume, SfB is a bit of a dead duck?

  4. Milton Silver badge

    Who needs to see a face?

    Apart from one elderly member of the family with whom video calling is an advantage, and (rarely) if family are away on holiday, I've never felt the need to look at people's faces while I talk to them. Voice works perfectly well, and arguably it's easier when discussing detail and taking notes, than constantly checking someone's expression (or studiously avoiding that bit of screen cos they have a tendency to pick their nose).

    Yes, I know businesses have fallen over themselves to demonstrate hipness with video conferencing, but actually—why? What key advantage does it confer? Even flesh and blood meetings are at least a 50% waste of time in most organisations (rising to 80% in British and American companies), and phone and email remain excellent ways of simply communicating facts and opinion between people. If your teams consist of well managed competent people, they don't need much incremental meddling via technology, and if they're not you're screwed anyway.

    Strangely enough it was possible to organise building an atom bomb and putting men on the moon without a bunch of technology designed to solve problems that largely don't exist.

    Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm increasingly cynical about marketing/journalistic wankfests over this or that Wonderful New Thing—and on topic, Skype has got notably even more horrible to use lately anyway.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Video conferencing is a niche product

      I hate it, you hate it, practically everybody hates but a very small number of people/professions might actually have a use for it - and they just might hate it too.

      I'm pretty sure that what people hate is the disembodied head effect, along with the fact that when you have a phone conversation, you are free to have it any way you like and most people wander around for some unfathomable reason. When you have a video call, you are suddenly stuck in front of your camera, can't walk around, can't fool around, you are basically under a spotlight and it's of your own making.

      Yes, for personal, family calls it may be all right, from time to time. For business calls it never is.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Video conferencing is a niche product

        I hate it, you hate it, practically everybody hates but

        But... As long as everyone's griping about it, they're paying for and using it, so Microsoft's happy.

        And the bottom line on the profit sheet's all that matters, right?

    2. LDS Silver badge
      Mushroom

      "it was possible to organise building an atom bomb"

      It was achieved putting all the needed people in the same place... and ensuring nobody could go.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: "it was possible to organise building an atom bomb"

        "It was achieved putting all the needed people in the same place... and ensuring nobody could go."

        Like some sort of...walled garden!

    3. H in The Hague Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Who needs to see a face?

      "Strangely enough it was possible to organise building an atom bomb and putting men on the moon without a bunch of technology designed to solve problems that largely don't exist."

      That sentence alone is worth a dozen pints (not all in the same session). I might nick that.

      Thanks.

    4. Shocked Jock

      Re: Who needs to see a face?

      Actually, there is one practical application - language tutoring, because the ability to see how sounds are formed (not to mention using pictures, objects, etc.) is helpful, particularly over a less than perfect connection.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Who needs to see a face?

        Just normal human communication is better with sight of the person. Most communication is not in the words. Voice tone and facial expression carry much of the meaning (combined together as well as discretely)

  5. naive

    Skype for business is pretty sad

    Using skype or even Teamspeak a joy, Skype for business is not at that level:

    1. Skype windows get tossed all over the place, specially annoying when trying to redirect calls, while the window with the call one is trying to transfer is buried on a random place somewhere.

    2. Lots of issues with keeping the communication between blue tooth headset and the comp working.

    3. Skype does not warn when the headset died/lost blue tooth connection but happily accepts inaudible calls.

    4. In corporate networks it takes a lot of tweaking before sound quality is acceptable.

    5. "Skype for business approved" headsets are pretty sad as well, no status leds about battery or blue tooth connection.

    6. Communication history is bad to unusable stored in outlook files.

    7. User interface has the usual fuzziness all MS products have, requiring lots on unnecessary clicking and windows which are bwarfed all over the place.

    Several months after introduction, colleagues can be heard cursing when dealing with calls, in the process losing calls when talking to customers.

    But hey, it is cheap, we already pay so much to MS, we get it for free :-).

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

      The main use I had for it was to micromanage my team, as we where all remote workers, I could see who was typing or not... and chat with them in case they are at the keyboard.

      But the MSN already got that long long time ago.. as for the contacts.. well, I see it as an intracompany thing, that makes it way more secure, if limited.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

        "I could see who was typing or not."

        So you think. Meanwhile some of us just put stuff in our calendar so it looks like we are probably at the computer...

    2. The Original Steve

      Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

      I have plenty of gripes about SfB as a fully telephony product ( see my previous comment / we use it as our phone system and I've put in place for many clients over the years), but nearly all of your points are about the headsets and hardware, not the application itself. Points 2, 3, 4 and 5 are crazy hardware which has nothing to do with the phone system itself.

      Try Jabra headsets - great selection to fit your needs and certainly the ones we use have excellent call quality, range, LED status for battery and status and the noise cancellation is great in our open plan office.

      Tweaking networking for decent quality is the same as any other VoIP system. Whilst we and my clients (one with over 3000 users) don't use / need QoS, I've had to use it for ShoreTel, Nortel and Cisco VoIP deployments. SfB uses G.711 by default from memory - it's industry standard and is NOT a SfB codec. My point is you'd have the same issues regardless of system used.

      Having ALL conversations - IM, voice, conferences etc - stashed in a dedicated folder in Outlook, allowing access from OWA, any ActiveSync client as well as Outlook itself is actually something I think is a great feature. I know it seems backwards as first glance but remember this is a UNIFIED COMMS product. Means you have all the benefits of Exchange when dealing with your phone and IM records. So you can use Outlook searching to see your communications to someone regardless of medium used, admins can use Legal Hold and eDiscovery, you have a single address book and can raise conferences as simply as creating a normal meeting in Outlook.

      I can't disagree with your points 1 and 7 - the UI leaves a lot to be desired. And SfB has lots of other issues too which we haven't touched on, but the rest of your points aren't - IMHO - really SfB specific issues.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

        "SfB uses G.711 by default from memory - it's industry standard and is NOT a SfB codec. My point is you'd have the same issues regardless of system used."

        SfB clients use SILK by default (older versions use RTA).

        G.711 is what comes out of your SfB mediation server to the PSTN.

        1. Phil W

          Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

          "SfB clients use SILK by default (older versions use RTA).

          G.711 is what comes out of your SfB mediation server to the PSTN"

          Unless you enable media bypass. This allows the client to communicate directly with the other endpoint or SIP gateway and the client can speak G.711 in that case.

          Whether you should use media bypass very much depends on the rest of your environment though.

    3. Phil W

      Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

      1. Can't say I've ever really seen that problem. Windows do tend to shuffled about a bit if you start using meeting content i.e. presentations or desktop sharing but for IM calls I've never had a problem.

      2. That's not a Skype for Business/Lync issue, that's a "Bluetooth is crap" issue. I've yet to come across a Bluetooth headset that qualifies as "very good" or better, when used with Skype for Business or not. Personally I have a Plantronics Voyager Legend UC ML headset that qualifies as "good".

      3. That will very much depend on the setup of your PC. If your Bluetooth device is one of those fancy ones that comes with it's own dongle, then the audio driver may well be attached to the dongle not the headset, so Windows is unaware when it disconnects. If it is through normal Bluetooth adapter, then the audio device will cease to exist, and admittedly Skype for Business could tell you when that happened. As for low battery notification, again that's the devices responsibility as there is no proper standard (or at least not on that that's used in Windows or Android) within Bluetooth for notifying the host about the battery state.

      4. Never seen that myself, but most likely down to QoS? HD quality audio has always worked fine for me whether internally over the FrontEnd servers or even coming in via Edge. WiFi has presented some issues but we've solved those now.

      5. They can be, but it depends how much money you spend. Sennheiser and Plantronics do some nice Lync Certified wireless headsets, but they cost a small fortune. There's no reason you have to user a certified device though, there's plenty of good uncertified devices.

      6. Mostly agreed on this, it's not great.

      7. Personally I've never had a problem with the UI, either the old Lync 2010 and 2013 UI or the new Skype for Business 2016, and I've not had any users I've had to show things more than once.

      The backend UI on the server on the other hand.... Still uses Silverlight for the main part of the web GUI, uses another crappier web interface for configuring response groups, and has no GUI at all for configuring Common Area Phones and some other things. If any part of the GUI needs work, it's the server side.

      Also as for what the article says about "the directory search will find new contacts by their Microsoft account address, but never by their Skype name." That's not exactly true, you can add a Skype user by their Skype username by entering it as skypeusername@skypeids.net this has been the case for a number of years and was introduced in Lync 2013 Server before Skype for Business was even a thing.

      Skype for Business could certainly use work, both client and server side. Some bits of it are even questionable as to whether they should be in production use. But overall it's actually quite a good system, and has a great deal of potential. Just don't blame it for the failings of your hardware or OS, or your network infrastructure.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

        2-3. It's not a Bluetooth problem because it also happens with me with a Logitech headset and their USB dongle.

        Seems if the connection to the headset cuts out and returns for whatever reason, Lync doesn't realise that it's come back and just carries on piping silence to the call.

        As for network configuration, no other IM/voice call/video call seems as flaky as Lync. You are forced to make sure layers 3-4 are set up just right for it because layers 5-7 can't cope gracefully with errors.

      2. naive

        Re: Skype for business is pretty sad

        Thanks for all the great answers in the thread. It is of course true not all the issues that were brought up can technically be attributed to MS or its Skype for Business product.

        However, MS does market it as a consolidated communication solution for companies, but it fails to mention it is not an integrated solution. Nor did it provide checks in the software to warn the user that key hardware components, needed to make or accept calls, are not working well.

  6. keith_w

    Where I worked used SfB (and previously Lync). We used it for presentations, sharing screens, we used it for remote support, again, sharing screens while allowing the support person control, we used it for team meetings, sometimes with video, sometimes without. We even used it to allow the company that managed the building HVAC system remote access to their software installed on one of our laptops, via the SfB web access. I won't say that there weren't any problems, but there were very few.

  7. ShortLegs

    Missed opportunity

    I was the 17th Skype user, many many years ago.

    At the time, I was so impressed I recommended my employer made an offer to the developers to buy it outright; my employer was one of the world's largest telco's, and we could have acquired it for as little as $10million, or even less. It's shortcoming back then was a lack of integrated directory. You installed it on one device, your contacts list was limited to that device only. I suggested that we developed it to use a centralised directory (one of the things we /were/ good at), with off-line capability, continued to give it away to build the user base, and develop a small-fee premium version which linked into our global IP transit and global voice networks, c/w voice gateways.

    It never happened. A couple of years later I left <telco>. However, a year later I received an email from the CEO, stating that Ebay had just acquired Skype for $2billion, and that as usual, I had been ahead of the curve and with hindsight it had been a bad decision not to acquire; at the least the company would have seen a massive ROI on it's investment. Nice of him to do send that.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    O365/Skype

    I see the big national organisations like the NHS moving to this and ending up with a ton of patient and staff info in the hands of MS. I doubt they'll even have the choice the way the government talk about encryption as they won't understand the risks, or rather don't care if it keeps a business partner interested.

  9. John Crisp

    Uninstall and move on

    Excellent. Especially with requirements for an email address (more data slurping) it reminded me to uninstall it as no one else uses it now.

    Rocket at work suffices. Other apps for anything else.

  10. Nickckk

    Not for me

    Microsoft did a great job of turning me off Skype. And a number of colleagues who used it. No wonder they bury user number in Office

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chat not fit for purpose

    It took less than 48hrs from our 4000-user company-wide rollout of Skype for Business for the chat portion of the program to be declared "unfit for purpose". The enormous screen real-estate needs of the UI were a large part of the problem, as was the handling of chat history.

  12. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Death of P2P video

    There used to be a pretty good selection of peer to peer video chat applications. You had to coordinate IP addresses with the person you wanted to chat with because there was no monolithic data slurping company sitting in the middle. Skype seems to have taken over the entire and killed off everybody else just like a Walmart super center will kill off the high street in a town. I blame it mostly on people not realizing that something that is more convenient is much less secure/private. I'll name it "Mach's Rule".

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I totally agree with the title of the article.

    It's very relieving.

    I am appalled at the user experience of this product.

    For a business chat platform it's missing some basic features, like maintaining a list of people you've chatted with yesterday... or even last hour!

    If I log in from different browsers I don't get the conversation history maintained... It's a cloud product FFS!

    Furthermore, downloading the standalone client is another interesting experience: conversations are not sync'd between the web and the standalone client!!

    Nice one Microsoft.

    Me? I'd use Slack any time. Or any othe product, really.

    maybe when they'll fix these ludicrous inconsistencies SkypeFB will become an awesome product and the other features will make it shine.

    So far, for me it's been a frustrating experience.

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