No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

What I Want For Christmas: Lync That Works on a Mac

I've now been using Lync on Office 365 on my two Macs for about a year, and while I love Lync (or "Skype For Business"), I'm amazed by how badly Microsoft supports the Mac population. Sure OS X only has about 5% of the desktop/laptop market to Microsoft's 60+%, but that is still a sizable chunk of users, none of whom are likely to abandon the platform in favor of any version of Windows anytime soon. Some of the difficulties are just endemic instability, but much of my reaction stems from essential functions that don't work well or flat out don't exist in the Lync Mac client.

Just to get the facts straight, both of my Macs are on the latest version of OS X (10.10.1) and I install every Lync update the moment it's released (currently 14.0.10). The first thing you notice is that the Lync client for Mac is ridiculously unstable (it crashes more often than any other application I've ever run, sometimes multiple times in a day). Its most persistent problem is waking up. Lync will automatically log me out any time my computer goes to sleep. When I wake it up, it doesn't log me back in, I have to click the "Sign-in" button.

Its newest annoyance is that Lync then "forgets" how to talk to Outlook. Even though my password is stored with the Lync client, on waking up the client will usually pop a window asking me to enter my long and challenging password so that it can access my Outlook calendar; I have to do this about 10 times a day. Of course I have to say "usually", because nothing happens with any consistency where Lync is concerned. Usually this works, but about 25% of the time, entering the correct password causes the Lync client to crash. If I quit Lync and reopen it, it talks to Outlook just fine.

A lot of the functionality problems stem from the fact that there is still no Lync plug-in for the Mac version of Outlook (of course, Outlook for Mac isn't too hot either)--that starts a downward spiral that just doesn't stop. With no plug-in, you can't start Lync text, voice, video or screen sharing sessions out of Outlook, you have to use the Lync client. Trouble is, the Lync client can't "see" the Outlook contacts; the Lync client has a search window, but it only searches Lync contacts. Further, you can't just drag & drop Outlook contacts into Lync, you have to retype or copy & paste them.

Probably the worst outcome of not having an Outlook plugin is that a Mac user can't schedule a meeting! Obviously with no Lync plugin you can't do it from Outlook, and when you right-click a contact in the Lync client and scroll down to "Schedule a Meeting" nothing happens--dead end! The other right-click actions (Send an IM, Call, Start a Video Call, Share Desktop, Send a File, Send an Email) all work, but not the one that's at the heart of collaboration. Being able to send a meeting invite with all of the login stuff automatically populated is one of the best features in Lync. I can't send an invite, period!

One function that simply blows my mind is when you can't answer an incoming Lync voice call unless you select Microsoft Lync as the default telephone service in the Lync Preferences. This is particularly infuriating, because you get a ringing alert, but it doesn't pop a window with a button to answer the call. Hopefully you know who's calling so you can call them back.

This particular mess might be the result of a one-choice function that governs what the Mac will use to make phone calls. With iOS 8.1.1 and Yosemite on the Mac, you can tether your iPhone to the Mac and allow the Mac to place phone calls with Facetime and send/receive SMS messages using the Message app. I've written about that tethering capability before, though in reality it's not a very effective union. Of course, Lync on Office 365 can't make regular phone calls, so you have to turn off the Apple's crummy voice capability to answer Lync calls on the one that has no PSTN voice capability at all!

Interestingly, the iOS client for Lync isn't too bad, but it has quirks of its own. As with the Mac client, you still can't schedule a meeting. It has tabs that let you see your iPhone contacts as well as your Lync contacts, but there are limits to what you can do with them. If you tap a phone number to call an iPhone contact, it looks like it's going to call, but then gives you a message that says, "You can't call X because calls are restricted by policy"; I guess that's Microsoft reminding me that they can't make regular phone calls. So why not just let the iPhone make a regular cellular call?

Tapping the email icon launches the iPhone's email app, and selecting "Send a Text Message," followed by a mobile number, will launch the Messages app. Working through the Lync contacts works pretty much like the Mac client.

I don't know if this mess is the result of a lack of resources, some massive technical challenge, or some kind of vendetta Microsoft has against Apple, but having a UC&C that doesn't support basic functions is pretty pathetic. However, with BYOD, we are seeing more Macs, particularly laptops, popping up in the enterprise. Microsoft is pushing hard to grow Lync's share of the enterprise voice market, and hopefully the Office 365 version of Lync will get telephony capability early in 2015.

Lync is a great tool and head and shoulders above what a lot of the other UC&C purveyors are offering, but someone better light a fire under the Mac client team, or Microsoft will be in for some real pushback when other Mac users find out what they're in for.

Follow Michael Finneran on Twitter and Google+!
Michael Finneran on Google+