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Posted by on Nov 15, 2014 in Skype for Business® (Lync®) | 0 comments

Notes from TechEd Europe 2014 – What’s coming for Lync Development

Notes from TechEd Europe 2014 – What’s coming for Lync Development

Microsoft events are great places to catch insights and hints about what’s coming in the future. Lots of information is kept under wraps until it’s ready to be made public, but it can be really instructive to listen to Microsoft staff talking about products they’re responsible for and working with, to pick up snippets of information. I’m never quite sure whether these are planned leaks, or genuine mistakes, but whichever – it’s a great way to get the inside track.

At the Lync 2014 Conference the big news for developers was the announcement of jLync. However, outside of the main announcement there was plenty of useful information about what was coming and what to expect, if you knew who to listen to.

That’s why I wanted to sit down and listen to David Newman’s session at TechEd this year – DEV-B303 The Power of Lync and the Unified Communications Web API. On the surface it sounded like a talk about UCWA, which we all know about. But David Newman is a Program Manager at Microsoft/Skype, so it’s worth listening to what he says.

If you’d like to know about UCWA, the types of applications you can write and see some examples then you should definitely check out his talk. But if you just want to know the snippets of information about the future I picked out, keep reading! To save you the effort of going through the talk I’ve highlighted them below. Here are the headlines:

  • Open Source libraries for iOS, Android
  • Audio / Video / Desktop Share coming to UCWA H1 2015
  • New UX Web Controls
  • Plugin-less Model coming
  • UCWA coming to Office365 early 2015
  • Conversation History across devices in vNext

Anything in quotes is from David’s talk. Anything in italics is my thoughts. I’ve added times where appropriate if you want to hear it yourself.

Before we start

It’s instructive to read the session description that’s now on Channel 9. The very first sentence of that description:

“The Unified Communications Web API is the key API of the Microsoft Lync platform.”

Well, I’m not sure every Lync Developer would see it like that. Currently, UCWA is the least powerful, most complicated API for Lync. It only supports the Instant Message modality, and its other features are around contact lists, presence, conference join etc. It’s a mix of HTTP Request/Response traffic and JavaScript boilerplate code that takes some getting used to. Logging in is a complicated process that involves knowing about Auto Discovery and authentication methods. Its one super-power which it holds over the other APIs is that it runs anywhere.

That Microsoft see it as the key API says a lot about the future. In order to become central to Lync development, it will need to add more modalities, have more power and get easier to use. It’s also a wake-up call to developers: you can’t ignore this new kid on the block any more. It might not look like much now, but it’s going to get a lot more useful soon.


David started out the talk by reminding us of the development vision:

“to enable every single application to a Microsoft Unified Communications endpoint.” – Microsoft’s vision for developers

The mission of David’s team is to provide you (the developer) with: “the best possible APIs for both server-side and client-side applications that will work across all different devices, operating systems & platforms.”

That’s interesting. Different devices and platforms means mobile and tablet devices. We know from the 2014 conference that the then-announced UCJA/JLync model will require a plug-in, which means it won’t work on mobile/tablet devices. Hopefully David’s team are working on a way around that limitation.

David then pointed out (and this has been said before) that Lync Phone, Lync Table,Lync Browser and Lync Web App are all “powered by UCWA”. Audio and video capabilities are enabled on many of these Microsoft-supplied applications, so it must be possible with UCWA, even if it’s not yet publicly available.

“It’s not all about a desktop application running on a PC”

I wish someone had told the Skype for Web team that before they chose to announce their new product.

Out with the SIP, in with the HTTP

Rather than using SIP, communication moving forward for mobile/web applications will be via HTTP. UCWA is an HTTP REST-like protocol, so it looks like that’s where things are headed in the future. HTTP is universal and state-less, so it’s a good choice for devices like mobiles which are in and out of networks with varying quality.

Coming Soon: Open Source libraries for iOS, Android

UCWA already has some JavaScript helper libraries which abstract some of the complication of UCWA and make it easier to use. At 22 minutes and 35 seconds in, David says:

“We provide you those today in JavaScript. We’ll shortly be providing some open source projects that are the same type of library but for iOS and for Android.”

 I love the new-look, open-source friendly Microsoft, and it’s great to see that it’s filtered into the Lync team also. Anything that make building application which customers want (i.e. mobile applications on various platforms) easier is bound to go down well.

David confirms this later on (59:25): “open source libraries … the same sort of library, but for Objective C, for Java, so you can write an Android app and instead of you having to write that boilerplate code, we’re going to provide that to you as part of the library”.

Audio /Video / Desktop Share in UCWA

David then went into some detail about what the team are working on right now (58:10)

“What we’re providing very shortly … is an object model that’s built on top of that [UCWA] signalling layer. What that means is that we’ve abstracted away a lot of those signalling details and in a couple of lines of code you could start an IM conversation. With 2 lines of JavaScript code you can add modalities to your conversation … the key difference here is that we’re exposing embedded media capabilities as part of your applications, including audio, video and desktop sharing.”

This is super-exciting. We’ll soon be able to use UCWA for voice and video capabilities, and it sounds like doing everything in UCWA will be easier and more abstracted. This is good news!

New UX Web Controls

David continued (59:08):

“We’ll be providing some UX web controls … an HTML control … you can essentially drag and drop that directly into your webpage”.

Plugin-less Future

Right at the end of the session, David discussed the “ActiveX” plugin which enables the media capabilities which are coming (01:16:45):

“Currently today … we’re providing these media capabilities today through an ActiveX media plugin as part of the browser … from a developer perspective, we want you to know that even though we’re providing the media through that model today (a plugin that the user would just click install) we are actively working together with IE on creating a standard which is similar to WebRTC, where there is a plugin-less media model from within the browser.”

Release Date, UCWA Coming to Office365

And right at the end (01:17:40):

“expect them (his team) to release around the first half of next year (2015) publicly”

Initially support will only be for Lync On-Premises (01:19:00) but

“we’re actually very focused on making these same set of capabilities light up in Lync Online … our first step will be enabling the Web API for user endpoint for Lync Online .. and you’ll see that coming .. early next calender year.”

Conversation History Across Devices

This came up in the questions at the end of the session (01:27:35), with someone mentioning the issue with mobile versions of Lync not storing Conversation History.

“That’s another are you can expect an update, we know that’s been a big pain point and it’s been a big feedback item: how do you keep conversation history consistent across devices … I can’t give any details right now, but the next update, the next version of Lync Server, we’re working on having an update around that to make that experience better…”

In Conclusion

I don’t know if all these things had already been publicly announced, but it’s useful to hear them all definitely in one place. I think this represents the most information we’ve had to date about what developers can expect in the next version of Lync Server, and what the APIs are going to look like in the future. Thanks very much to David for taking the time to put together this session and for the level of detail contained in it.


Written by Tom Morgan

Tom is a Microsoft Teams Platform developer and Microsoft MVP who has been blogging for over a decade. Find out more.
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