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Today is World Read Aloud Day, signaling the start of Skype in the Classroom’s month-long celebration of reading, writing and storytelling. We are proud to work with LitWorld and our global publishing partners, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Arbordale, Andersen Press, Candlewick and others to offer hundreds of free virtual visits from authors to classrooms. You can look up guest author information easily for Skype in the Classroom by checking our literacy collection.
To cap our month-long celebration this year, Microsoft is teaming up with Penguin Young Readers for a free broadcast event in which classrooms and families can meet actor, producer and author Henry Winkler, as well as his co-author, Lin Oliver. Together, they’re creators of the NYT best-selling book series, Here’s Hank, featuring the quick-witted and ingenious character, Hank Zipzer.
Henry and Lin will discuss their books and what makes every kid a hero while answering questions live on Twitter. The broadcast and live Twitter chat will on Wednesday February 28th at 9 a.m. EST and 1 p.m. EST.
Henry and Lin created their character, Hank Zipzer, based on Henry’s own real-life struggles with dyslexia. Hank is smart and resourceful, always finding ways to overcome challenges through friendships, determination, and a whole lot of humor. His story has resonated with kids around the world, providing some kinship and advice for those tougher times in school. Henry’s main message in the books, “Every one of you has greatness in you,” comes from his personal life experience. He proves that having learning challenges can’t keep you from greatness!
Teachers and their students, or parents with their children at home, are invited to register here and submit questions in advance or during the event for Henry and Lin to answer. We’ll be using the @skypeclassroom Twitter account and the #Skype2Learn hashtag to organize the conversation.
That’s not all for this celebratory month of reading and writing: Teachers around the world will also share their own Skype Collaborations related to literacy. Your class can join with others – across borders or close to home – to work on a writing project, share stories, and read aloud to one another. Cultivate World Literacy is just one example of many lessons devised by teachers.
This month we also celebrate the educators around the world who are using experiences like Skype in the Classroom and technologies like Microsoft Learning Tools to support literacy development. We will share and learn from their creativity and experience advancing the literacy skills of their students on the Microsoft Education Blog throughout the month.
One more thing: Roald Dahl’s Imaginormous Challenge has returned for 2018. Today, the search for five golden ticket winners begins. Students across the U.S. ,aged five to 12, are invited to submit 100-word stories for the chance to win prizes related to creative storytelling. Entries will be open for three months until 1st May 2018.
One golden ticket winner will see their story idea transformed into a Minecraft world, in partnership with Minecraft Education. They will be flown to Seattle with their parent or guardian and work with a team of Minecraft builders and Youtube creator Stacyplays, transforming their story idea into a playable Minecraft experience for anyone in the world to download and play.
Another golden ticket winner will be flown to Los Angeles and get to work with actor, producer, director and author Henry Winkler and his writing partner, Lin Oliver, to transform their story idea into their very own published short story. To enter, students simply submit their 100-word story idea at imaginormouschallenge.com.
We hope you’ll join us for this celebration of all the new and innovative ways children are being inspired to read and write. If you haven’t tried Skype to add inspiration and additional relevancy to your classroom’s curriculum, Literacy Month is a great time to start. With the hundreds of authors available to talk with your students and your Skype connections, you may just be witness to the next Hank Zipzer!
A full list of Penguin authors who visit classrooms virtually, for free over Skype, is available online.
OK, I’m in! How do I participate in Skype in the Classroom’s Literacy Month?
- Register now, for free, to have your children/students to join NYT Best Selling Authors Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver on February 28th, as they discuss the uplifting messages from the Hank Zipzer book series, Here’s Hank. Get a head start by submitting your student questions now through #Skype2Learn. Some of your student questions may be included during the broadcast by Henry and Lin, or answered on Twitter immediately following the event on Feb 28th at 9 a.m. EST and 1 p.m. EST.
- You can find the Hank Zipzer and Here’s Hank book collection at the Microsoft Store.
- If you haven’t tried Microsoft Learning Tools yet, take a look and see how it can make a difference for your students.
- Don’t imagine small, Imaginormous! Join the Roald Dahl Estate in the annual Imaginormous contest by submitting a 100-word story idea at imaginormouschallenge.com before May 1.
Microsoft migrating Skype for Business to Teams, Avaya filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and Slack unveiling an enterprise-grade team collaboration platform were some of the headlines that dominated the unified communications and collaboration market this year. These stories reflect the UC trends in a rapidly changing market that is shifting toward cloud and team-based collaboration.
As 2017 comes to a close, take a look back at the top five news stories that reflect the UC trends and topics most important to enterprise decision-makers and IT leaders.
1. Microsoft Teams to replace Skype for Business
Microsoft dominated UC news this year with the announcement that Microsoft Teams would replace Skype for Business Online as its core communications tool within Office 365.
Skype for Business customers will have to re-evaluate their UC strategies, as they might have to overhaul their infrastructure for the migration to Teams. IT leaders also voiced their concerns about the telephony tools in Teams. End users, too, may need additional training to help them adjust to the new interface.
In October, Microsoft released a roadmap that offered customers insight on the Skype for Business features that will be rolled into Teams over the next year, such as audio conferencing, call queues and voicemail.
The Teams migration has led to speculation about how Microsoft might further consolidate overlapping features in its collaboration portfolio, such as possibly replacing Outlook and Yammer with Teams.
2. Avaya files for bankruptcy
Longtime business communications provider Avaya filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, as it faced a $6 billion debt and declining revenue in a market shifting from hardware to software. The UC vendor planned to revamp its portfolio to focus on software, cloud and managed services.
However, the bankruptcy filing left customers wondering what would happen to their UC environment if Avaya did not exit bankruptcy, or if it sold key pieces of its portfolio. With four possible outcomes of the bankruptcy filing, many customers were creating backup plans to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
In November, the bankruptcy court approved Avaya’s plan, and the vendor officially emerged from bankruptcy in December.
Avaya will re-enter a competitive UC market dominated by Microsoft and Cisco. The vendor saw declining revenue, as organizations balked at buying their products amid the bankruptcy. Avaya could be buoyed by its presence in the growing markets of communications platform as a service and unified communications as a service (UCaaS) with its wholly owned subsidiary, Zang.
3. Cisco boosts Spark capabilities
Cisco was a top UC topic this year, with several developments around its cloud-based product, Spark. In January, Cisco announced the Spark Board, an interactive display screen and video conferencing system. The Spark Board can also be used as a whiteboard or presentation screen for a laptop or mobile device. Cisco’s Spark Board aims to compete with Microsoft’s Surface Hub.
In March, Cisco unveiled hybrid video conferencing hardware, the Spark Room Kit and Room Kit Plus. The hardware is controllable through the Spark Cloud or Cisco on-premises UC equipment.
In May, Cisco announced it was acquiring AI vendor MindMeld for $125 million. Cisco plans to integrate MindMeld technology with Spark for voice-activated personal assistants.
In August, Cisco made security updates to meet requirements for organizations in regulated industries, such as healthcare, government and finance. The updates include content protection for mobile devices, legal-team access to all documents and messages, and on-premises deployment of Spark Key Server for data encryption and decryption.
4. Vendor acquisitions and market consolidation
Vendor consolidation remained a top UC news item in 2017, with several vendors acquiring or merging with other companies.
In May, Genband and Sonus announced the two companies were merging to create a provider that would support communication service providers and enterprises as they transition to cloud-based communications. The combined company rebranded as Ribbon Communications in October.
Mitel made two acquisitions to boost its cloud offerings. In May, the vendor acquired Toshiba’s UC assets, which included small and large customers with a mix of on-premises, cloud and hybrid deployments. In July, Mitel said it was acquiring ShoreTel for $430 million to double its cloud business and support hybrid cloud UC deployments.
In October, Cisco announced it would acquire BroadSoft for $1.9 billion. Cisco has traditionally focused on larger enterprises, while BroadSoft catered to the SMB space. The acquisition lets Cisco offer a cloud communications portfolio that can support organizations of all sizes. However, the acquisition could create conflict with BroadSoft’s partners that compete with Cisco offerings.
In November, CenturyLink completed its $34 billion acquisition of Level 3. The two companies will merge under the CenturyLink brand. The merger has left questions of what will happen to Level 3’s UC partnerships, which include Unify Square and Amazon Chime.
5. Cloud-based team collaboration gains momentum
As one of the major UC trends in 2017, the team collaboration hype train rolled through 2017, with new offerings entering the market and new capabilities to boost adoption across organizations. Slack, for instance, released its enterprise offering, Slack Enterprise Grid, which offers regulatory compliance, security and added integration with other business apps.
Slack and Teams unveiled new capabilities to support collaboration with external users. Slack added shared channels that are public and can be set up by an administrator to work with third-party apps. Teams’ guest access lets administrators add to Teams anyone listed in an Active Directory account in Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
Google released Hangouts for business apps, which include chat for team messaging and video and audio conferencing. Google has had an inconsistent track record in the enterprise and is playing catch-up to Microsoft, Cisco and Slack. Amazon also entered the cloud UC market with Chime, a conferencing and collaboration service. While Amazon faces competition from the major UC players, the company could gain market share through the clout and financial prowess of delivering Chime through Amazon Web Services.
Cloud UC continued to be a top UC trend in 2017, as adoption grew among organizations of all sizes. A report from IHS Markit found on-premises UC usage will shrink as organizations consider private cloud, UCaaS and hybrid deployments — a trend expected to continue in 2018.
Even in the era of Slack and Skype, email remains the key communication linchpin for business. But where companies use email is changing.
In July 2017, Microsoft said, for the first time, its cloud-based Office 365 collaboration platform brought in more revenue than traditional Office licensing. In October 2017, Microsoft said it had 120 million commercial subscribers using its cloud service.
This trend toward the cloud is reflected by the heavy presence of Office 365 tutorials in this compilation of the most popular tips of 2017 on SearchExchange. More businesses are interested in moving from a legacy on-premises server system to the cloud — or at least a new version of Exchange.
The following top-rated Office 365 tutorials range from why a business would use an Office 365 hybrid setup to why a backup policy is essential in Office 365.
5. Don’t wait to make an Office 365 backup policy
Microsoft does not have a built-in backup offering for Office 365, so admins have to create a policy to make sure the business doesn’t lose its data.
Admins should work down a checklist to ensure email is protected if problems arise:
- Create specific plans for retention and archives.
- See if there are regulations for data retention.
- Test backup procedures in Office 365 backup providers, such as Veeam and Backupify.
- Add alerts for Office 365 backups.
4. What it takes to convert distribution groups into Office 365 Groups
Before the business moves from its on-premises email system to Office 365, admins must look at what’s involved to turn distribution groups into Office 365 Groups. The latter is a collaborative service that gives access to shared resources, such as a mailbox, calendar, document library, team site and planner.
Microsoft provides conversion scripts to ease the switch, but they might not work in every instance. Many of our Office 365 tutorials cover these types of migration issues. This tip explains some of the other obstacles administrators encounter with Office 365 Groups and ways around them.
3. Considerations before a switch to Office 365
While Office 365 has the perk of lifting some work off IT’s shoulders, it does have some downsides. A move to the cloud means the business will lose some control over the service. For example, if Office 365 goes down, there isn’t much an admin can do if it’s a problem on Microsoft’s end.
Businesses also need to keep a careful eye on what exactly they need from licensing, or they could end up paying far more than they should. And while it’s tempting to immediately adopt every new feature that rolls out of Redmond, Wash., the organization should plan ahead to determine training for both the end user and IT department to be sure the company gets the most out of the platform.
2. When a hybrid deployment is the right choice
A clean break from a legacy on-premises version of Exchange Server to the cloud sounds ideal, but it’s not always possible due to regulations and technical issues. In those instances, a hybrid deployment can offer some benefits of the cloud, while some mailboxes remain in the data center. Many of our Office 365 tutorials assist businesses that require a hybrid model to contend with certain requirements, such as the need to keep certain applications on premises.
1. A closer look at Exchange 2016 hardware
While Microsoft gives hardware requirements for Exchange Server 2016, its guidelines don’t always mesh with reality. For example, Microsoft says companies can install Exchange Server 2016 on a 30 GB system partition. But to support the OS and updates, businesses need at least 100 GB for the system partition.
A change from an older version of Exchange to Exchange 2016 might ease the burden on the storage system, but increase demands on the CPU. This tip explains some of the adjustments that might be required before an upgrade.
People use Skype for lots of different things: chatting with friends and family, of course, but also giving music lessons, tutoring, consulting, and a whole lot more. We’re thrilled to announce that very soon these business owners and instructors are going to see some big changes with the way they use Skype.
The Skype Professional Account desktop client, soon to be released in preview in the U.S., adds powerful new features to Skype to make doing your online business a whole lot easier. In addition to meeting with your clients as you have been on Skype, you can also book those meetings, accept payments, and keep notes—all in one place.
If you’re a language or music teacher who works online—or a personal trainer, or a chess instructor, or any one of hundreds of other remote service providers—you’re probably using a combination of different platforms to organize and give sessions across Skype. You might use email to arrange a Skype call, calendar software to manage your Skype meeting schedule, and a third-party provider to coordinate and accept online payments. And you might be paying a pretty penny for some of these services.
Skype Professional Account gives you the power to do all that from one app for free during the preview. From French tutors to yoga instructors, you’ll be able to book lessons, accept payments, and give lessons all from one place, seamlessly. Plus, we’ve added an enhanced profile page to help improve your online presence and a dedicated website for your small business right in Skype. Your contacts will be able to see pertinent info like your hours and business offerings.
All the features work together. For example, a payment request can be sent along with a booking. You’ll also be able to see all your notes without leaving the app. In addition, you’ll be able to easily port your contacts over to the Skype Professional Account Preview desktop client while your customers and clients continue to use their familiar Skype app to work with you.
As for your customers, in addition to searching for friends and groups they want on Skype, they’ll be able to find businesses as well. That means they can now look for the kind of professional they want to work with—maybe a financial planner in their time zone with over ten years of experience, or a career coach who’s worked in the healthcare industry.
Skype Professional Account will make it easier for thousands of service providers to connect with their customers and conduct their business—all in one place. We have limited spots available for the preview. Fill out a survey by visiting the Skype Professional Account homepage to have the opportunity to join. By the way, we’re busy working hard on several other exciting features we want to add to this app, so stay tuned for updates.
Check out what violin teacher Laurel Thomsen has to say about Skype Professional Account. Laurel was one of our early adopters who participated in the alpha program for Skype Professional Account.
We look forward to hearing your feedback in the Skype Community.
Many Skype for Business users probably won’t migrate to Microsoft Teams over the next year, because they are concerned about the lack of telephony features in the new chat-based workspace in Office 365, according to one industry expert.
The Microsoft Teams roadmap, released this week, promises a slew of Skype for Business features over the coming months. But Microsoft won’t fully roll out many of the telephony features until late next year.
“The biggest concern is Microsoft won’t deliver a lot of the telephony set until well into 2018,” said Irwin Lazar, a Nemertes Research analyst.
The Microsoft Teams roadmap details several Skype for Business features that will be rolled into Teams to help users prepare for a migration. Enterprise calling features — such as call park, group call pickup, location-based routing and shared-line appearance — are not expected until the fourth quarter of next year.
Additionally, the Microsoft Teams roadmap does not offer any new insights into Microsoft’s collaboration strategy, Lazar said. The roadmap, however, does provide customers with a timeline of when they can expect to see certain telephony features in Teams.
“It provides more clarity and will help companies plan for an eventual transition to Teams,” Lazar said.
Microsoft Teams roadmap: A bumpy ride?
Irwin Lazaranalyst at Nemertes Research
Microsoft announced last month that Teams would replace Skype for Business Online to become the main communications client within Office 365. The announcement left many organizations questioning the migration process and the quality of telephony within Teams.
After Microsoft posted a blog announcing the roadmap, several users commented to share their thoughts. Some users are happy about the change. They lauded the upcoming Microsoft Teams features, the integration between Skype and Teams, and how the roadmap helps organizations plan for the migration and improve adoption.
Other users, however, remain skeptical.
“Honestly I am very disappointed you are moving in this direction, I miss the days of a small simple interface like the old school Communicator,” John Gooding posted in response to Microsoft’s blog. “We tried Slack and Teams, and it was fun for 30 minutes then it turned into a productivity drag.”
Messaging, meetings and more
The Microsoft Teams roadmap focuses on messaging, meetings and calling capabilities within the application. Lazar said the roadmap will help organizations with their user-awareness and adoption programs, and it will help them plan training for users as features become available.
Messaging. As a messaging-centric application, Teams already offers persistent, one-on-one and group chat. Features such as the ability to import contacts from Skype for Business, unified presence and messaging policies are expected to be available by the end of the first quarter of 2018. Microsoft expects to add screen sharing and federation between companies by the end of the second quarter of 2018.
Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar discusses where Microsoft Teams fits in the collaboration market.
Meetings. Teams includes meeting capabilities such as screen sharing and capturing chats in the channel after a meeting. Later this quarter, Microsoft will debut audio conferencing in over 90 countries, meeting support in the Edge and Google Chrome web browsers, and call-quality analytics.
Microsoft will introduce meeting room support with Skype Room Systems, cloud video interoperability with third-party devices and support for the Surface Hub by the end of the second quarter of 2018.
Calling. Later this year, Microsoft plans to introduce voicemail, call forwarding, e911 support, Skype for Business to Teams calling, and IT policies for Teams interoperability. In the second quarter next year, Microsoft will enable customers to use their existing telecom voice line to activate calling services in Office 365. Additional capabilities such as call queues and one-to-one to group call escalation with Teams, Skype for Business and PSTN participants will also be available.
Additional Microsoft Teams features will roll out in the second quarter of 2018, including recording and storing meetings, meeting transcriptions and the ability to search key terms.
In an effort to clear up confusion over its collaboration roadmap, Microsoft will also update the names of its PSTN Calling, PSTN Conferencing and Cloud PBX services. PSTN Calling will be renamed Calling Plan, PSTN Conferencing will be named Audio Conferencing, and Cloud PBX will be called Phone System.
For features yet to be announced in the Microsoft Teams roadmap, Lazar said he’d like to see announcements around customers using on-premises Skype for Business being able to use the cloud-based Teams for telephony.
Today, Skype reached one billion downloads on the Google Play Store. Let’s repeat that:
One billion downloads!
Over the years, it’s been our mission to connect people—from wherever, whenever. Together, we’ve sent billions of messages, calls, and happy face emoticons—probably some sad ones, too. It’s sharing these special moments that make Skype one of a kind, and we’re so thankful that you’ve been with us along the way.
But just because we’ve reached this milestone doesn’t mean we’re going to stop.
We’ll continue to roll out creative new features and find ways to improve existing ones based on your feedback. And most important of all, we’ll continue to be your app for staying connected with the ones you care about most, every day.
So, thank you—a billion times over—for using Skype. We wouldn’t be here without you.
And as always, make sure you download the latest Skype now to see all the newest features and share your feedback with us in our Community!
Great news for Skype for Linux users—the next generation of Skype for Linux is launching! Starting today, you can download Skype Preview for Linux and start enjoying new features across all your devices—including screen sharing and group chat.
Bring calls to life and collaborate on projects with screen sharing
With Skype for Linux, you can take advantage of the screen sharing feature on your desktop screen. Now, you can share content with everyone on the call—making it even easier to bring your calls to life and collaborate on projects.
Turn everyday conversations into experiences with group chat
The new group chat feature for Skype for Linux allows you to talk with several friends at the same time. We even included options to personalize chats with emoticons, Mojis, and photos so you can express yourself with your own style. It’s a great way to turn your everyday conversations into experiences.
The next generation of Skype for Linux is part of our broader strategy to rebuild Skype from the ground up with cloud technology—a more reliable platform that can scale to a much bigger audience. We’re making great improvements in the ways you like to connect with people and bringing your world closer together than ever before.
As a reminder—all Skype for Linux clients (versions 4.3 and older) were retired on July 1, 2017. If you’re running an older version, it’s time to upgrade to the Skype Preview for Linux.
We also recommend making sure that you have an up-to-date microphone and webcam for video calls, so you can take advantage of all the new features this preview version has to offer.
Try it out and tell us what you think by clicking the heart on the menu. Share your ideas in the Skype for Linux Community on how we can make Skype for Linux better. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback.