Office 365 Part 1 – Overview
Office 365 Part 2 – The Evolution Of Exchange Online
Office 365 Part 3 – Collaboration With Sharepoint Online

The final piece of Office 365, Lync Online, is tough to summarize. The focus is on communications with co-workers as well as people outside the business. According to the website, Lync Online “transforms interactions with colleagues, customers, and partners” to a “more collaborative, engaging, and effective experience.” Well, that answers your questions, eh?

There are a myriad of features and services that can be handled by Lync. These are at the core for small businesses:

  • Reports on availability of people in the company, based on their Outlook calendars.
  • Instant messaging, including audio and video.
  • Screen sharing, making it easy to let someone look over your shoulder on the fly.
  • Program sharing, making it easy for someone to work directly with you in a specific application.
  • Online meetings and presentations with all the trimmings – audio, video, Powerpoint support, whiteboarding, and more. Think WebEx or GoToMeeting but without any extra cost and fully integrated with Outlook and your other Office programs. Participants can either use a microphone or webcam, or dial into a conferencing service. People outside the company can install a small bit of software before joining a meeting if they choose, just as with WebEx and the others – but they can also use a simpler web-based client, which should reduce the level of difficulty for people being invited to a meeting with you for the first time.

A separate Lync program is installed on your desktop when you are set up with Office 365, and the Office programs (especially Outlook) are customized with new buttons to interact with Lync.

Even more than Sharepoint, I wonder whether Lync will be used by very small businesses.

  • Availability When you’re in a single location with five or ten people, the easiest way to find out if someone is available is to stand up and look in their office. Feedback about someone’s availability is a lot more useful for a business with multiple locations, or 40 or more employees.
  • Instant messaging Meanwhile, the landscape for instant messaging and audio/video chat is changing fast. Facebook is not a business tool but it has the advantage of familiarity; I can easily imagine small businesses using it for chat and video, especially once Facebook finishes integrating Skype for built-in video calls. Meanwhile Google is quickly building up interest in its new networking service, Google+, and promises that it will create a Google+ experience optimized for businesses by the end of the year.
  • Online meetings If you can set up an online meeting with a minimum of fuss, that might be genuinely useful right away, especially if you can ask someone outside to join with confidence that they’ll be able to figure out how to do that. I’ll know more after I use the service and watch others deal with its learning curve.

Next: steady progress with Office Web Apps

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