Skype for Busines, formerly known as Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Office Communicator before that, is an instant messaging client used with Microsoft Lync Server or Lync Online available in the Microsoft Office 365 cloud suite. It's the IM and conference framework that Microsoft developed to replace the well-known (and outdated) Windows Messenger, which was previously used in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange Server as instant messaging software. Skype for Business has been developed and designed specifically for business needs and to help the development of smart working initiatives in small and large companies.
What does such application have to do with Skype, the award-winning messaging and VOIP system acquired by Microsoft in May 2011? The answer is not as simple as one could imagine. From a marketing point of view, we could indeed say that Skype for Business is meant to be the corporate version of Skype, encompassing all the main features that have made its counterpart famous since the early 2000s and also adding many other business-level tools to the shed (see below); the similarities between these two pieces of software, however, do not go much further than the brand: as a matter of fact, the two products have been designed and developed in completely different times and ways, meaning that - although being interoperable - they cannot be exchanged with each other.
Similarities and Differences
Let's start to compare the two products by enumerating their respective features:
Skype allows users to communicate with any other Skype user for free via IM, voice, video and screen sharing, and conference calls for up to 25 people. With Skype you can get a phone number and make PSTN calls that you pay for by the minute. Skype can be used for business but it best for small organizations or startups. A small organization could setup Skype, have seamless communication among their team and clients for free or a relatively small cost, and be able to work and communicate from any location on any device. Skype is a great tool, but it doesn’t have all the functionality of an enterprise phone system which is where Skype for Business comes in.
Skype for Business encompasses all the same features: IM, voice, video, screen sharing on all your devices, from any location. Phone numbers can be ordered or ported into the system for PSTN calling as well, but it has many more enterprise features which makes it capable of replacing an office phone system: it allows for advanced call routing and handling that most businesses require; it also supports hunt groups, delegates, advanced forwarding options, and auto attendants, most of which is needed in a large enterprise setting. Additionally, Skype for Business can also replace conferencing services, allowing up to 250 users on a single conference call; it has dial-in conference invites built into Outlook for easy meeting setup, features dozens of meeting options and controls that consumer Skype does not; it even allows to record meetings, different control levels for presenters & attendees, meeting lobbies and so on.
Clients & Connections
- A fully-featured desktop client shipped with the Office 365 suite: this is easily the best way to use it if you plan to host Conference Calls - assuming you're willing to pay the required fee.
- A stand-alone client called Skype for Business Basic, which can be installed without Office 365 on most known desktop and mobile devices and operating systems (here's the link for the Windows version): as the name suggests, this client only supports a limited set of features and is designed for those who plan to use Skype for Business to join Conference Calls hosted by others.
- A web application called Skype for Business Web App, which can be accessed by most HTML5 capable browsers - along with a required plug-in to be installed on the hosting machine. The instruction and URL required to download and install the plug-in can be found here, yet they're also included in the landing page of any invitation URL you will receive to join a Skype for Business conference or meeting.
Regardless of the chosen client, the best way to perform a connection test to Skype for Business - assuming you don't have a subscription plan that allows you to create meetings - is to connect to one of the many available test meetings publicly accessible over the Internet.
One of the most used for this purpose is the University of Iowa Test Meeting, which can be reached at the following address:
To access the meeting, just click on the above link and follow the on-screen instructions: if you choose to use the Web App, you'll be also prompted to install the required plug-in (as explained above).
Interoperability with Skype
Luckily enough Skype and Skype for Business can communicate with each other, meaning that all Skype users can contact Skype for Business subscribers and vice versa using their respective client. Instructions for how to do are contained in the following articles published on the Office Support and Skype Support web sites:
- How to add a Skype contact from Skype for Business
- How to add a Skype for Business contact from Skype