Review: Office 365 fails at collaboration

Despite years of promises and gap-filling acquisitions, Microsoft's collaboration toolkit remains a woefully inadequate mishmash

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Online meetings: Skype for Business/Lync is confusing and slow

Microsoft's Lync client has never worked well on our Macs and mobile devices. The app typically crashed in use. And its user interface confused people greatly.

Now renamed Skype for Business on Windows and iOS but not OS X or Android, Microsoft's online meeting tool has improved a little in current versions: It doesn't seem to crash any longer on Macs and mobile devices, for example. But it is still slow as molasses and has a confusing user interface.

The slow speed for screen sharing occurs on Windows, not only Macs or other systems. A local government agency I know that tried Lync in its all-Windows environment experienced the same slowness, and it ended up switching to GoToMeeting. I've heard similar stories from IT managers I've polled when I speak at conferences.

MessageOps, a large Office 365 consultancy, says its customers often report performance issues with Skype for Business. It recommends that larger organizations use WAN optimizers such as Riverbed's to overcome the slow speed that users can experience, says CEO Chris Pyle. Even MessageOps uses other tools like internally due to sporadic performance issues with Skype for Business. But he says Microsoft plans a release in December that should alleviate the performance issue.

Our bottom line was that we can't use Skype for Business/Lync today due to the slow screen redraws.

It also doesn't help that Windows users of Skype for Business have more options than Mac users of Lync, especially because most of our meetings are conducted by Mac users. For example, only Windows users can see thumbnails of all video streams; Mac users can see only the current speaker. Only Windows users can lock the video to the presenter or record a meeting. A revised Mac version isn't due until "some time in 2016," Microsoft tells us.

Mobile users can do even less: basically, only join a meeting. When they could join at all, that is -- in our tests, the mobile apps often couldn't connect, or the audio didn't work once connected, even with the Microphone button set to On. Also in our tests, Android users didn't see shared desktops, though iPad users did. (There's no ETA yet for a revised Android version, Microsoft says.) Essentially, Skype for Business/Lync is not mobile-friendly, and in iOS and Android is only a last resort to join a meeting.

On any device, the video feature is frustrating if you have more than only a few participants, because it takes a while for Skype for Business/Lync to figure out who is talking, then switch to that person's camera. (We saw that on all platforms, so we assume it's an Office 365 server issue.) As a result, it’s easy to get confused about who's speaking, as the face on screen may not be that of the person talking.

When we use tools like GoToMeeting and, we face almost none of these issues. These other tools also do less on mobile devices than on the desktop, but more than Skype for Business/Lync does.

A strong appeal of Skype for Business/Lync is its integration with Exchange, which makes online meetings easily accessible from your calendar; plus, the app has its own calendar view that shows all scheduled meetings you’re invited to and lets you quickly join one. By contrast, joining third-party online meetings from your calendar is often tricky, because the invite links can get garbled or hidden in the calendar notes. These links often don’t work when trying to connect from a mobile device, and on desktop computers you often have to download a helper app for each and every meeting to join (GoToMeeting is notorious for this), which adds annoying barriers to joining a meeting.

Still, the bottom line is we can't currently use Skype for Business/Lync for our online meetings given its platform support and performance issues.  

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