As we all know, when Microsoft jumps off on its own on some endeavor, the results are uncertain at best. The software giant is definitely no stranger to success, but you have to admit, doomed projects like the Zune and Kin aren’t exactly rare (Microsoft fans, feel free to rant about the Netwon and G4 Power Cube).
What Microsoft is good at is using its mountains of capital to acquire companies that are successfully innovative and this week they reached a deal with Skype for their biggest acquisition yet at $8.5 billion. This is an interesting move that has everyone speculating on just what Microsoft plans to do with everyone’s favorite chat client. Following is a brief discussion on what you can expect both as a Skype user and a Mac/iPhone owner.
Skype for Mac and iPhone Will Live On
Naturally, when Microsoft purchases a product that is as ubiquitous as Skype, you can’t help but wonder if it’s in their best interest to further pursue development on other platforms, especially those that could be considered competition.
However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated clearly that Microsoft “will continue to invest in Skype on non-Microsoft client platforms” (ComputerWorld). Ballmer appropriately went on to point out that they already have a “track record” for such ventures with the Microsoft Office Suite, which has had a Mac presence for decades.
However, it’s interesting to note that this short-term and not-well-defined promise does leave open the possibility of offering incentives for users to switch to a Windows platform. This could easily take the form of added features that you won’t be able to take advantage of on anything with an Apple or Android logo.
Despite these concerns, I don’t really see Microsoft limiting Skype for any users anytime soon. Skype is a strong product with a loyal user base and there’s no way Ballmer and his gang will start alienating significant groups of users for at least a few years. I do expect though that any significant upgrades will appear on Microsoft’s own platforms first, with delayed rollouts to everyone else. Who could resist a little nepotism?
You can bet though that in the short run, Microsoft will be focused on convincing users that the new ownership agreement is a good thing, which brings us to a very important question.
Is This Good or Bad for Skype Users?
This question is a complicated one and to be completely honest, right now it’s anyone’s guess. The benefits are obvious. Microsoft has tons of resources to make Skype bigger and better than it’s ever been. Further, if you own a Windows Phone or an Xbox, you’ll definitely reap the benefits of a sudden partnership with one of the best video-conferencing tools on the planet.
Those are solid reasons to be excited about the acquisition. The potential problem of course is that it’s still Microsoft. They’re a huge company whose focus is rarely clearly defined and seems to change often. Right now, Skype is the big hero getting all of the attention, but what will Microsoft do with it in five years if it doesn’t meet expectations?
We’ve all seen cases of services that we love being acquired and ultimately ignored. As an example, in 2005, Yahoo scooped up Delicious, which seemed like it would be a good thing at the time. Unfortunately, the result was that Delicious eventually went stagnant enough for Yahoo to abandon it completely and it is now being offloaded to the founders of YouTube.
Despite the fact that Microsoft just paid an ungodly amount of money for Skype, it’s not too hard for me to imagine them losing interest down the line when a new trend comes along that they think is worthy of emulating or purchasing.
On the other hand, if there’s one safe bet right now in tech, it’s better, richer forms of communication. Apple sees FaceTime as the casual phone conversation of the future, so Microsoft answering that with Skype is just about the strongest play they can make. It certainly seems like it has a lot of potential to be the one phone/text/video chat client that everyone has regardless of their platform. FaceTime certainly can’t make the same claim.
The good news is that, in the short term, you don’t have to worry about your Skype service. It will continue to be a great product that exists on just about every platform that you could want, including the iPhone. In fact, it’s so good and so ubiquitous that Apple should be scratching their heads to find a way to get us to use their product instead.
Further, Microsoft seems like they will incorporate Skype so deeply into their products that it’s unlikely that they will be able to do anything but push it forward for years to come. You can expect to see Skype-based communication play a big role in the future of Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and other Microsoft clients.
For the long term, we’ll just have to wait and see which route Microsoft decides to take for development of the Skype clients on other platforms. Hopefully, the suddenly vast financial backing will be a good thing for us all. If not, there’s always iChat and FaceTime!
What do you think? Is Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype a good or bad thing for the Skype user base as a whole? What about the subgroup of Skype users that aren’t on Microsoft platforms?