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The End of the “Skype as Bandit” Era

And so it ends... Skype was always always a fun company to write about because they were always a bit of a rogue. The scrappy little startup that took on the megacorps of the telecom industry… and won in so many ways… look at their leading % of international calls… or the fact that per-minute call costs are now very clearly being commoditized down to zero…

... the product that came from the grey areas of P2P file sharing and created some truly revolutionary network technology and created a software client that “just worked” like magic from behind any firewall…

... a company from Estonia of all places, which pre-Skype most of us could only vaguely put on a map but now many of us know more about, including that fact that many Estonians have multiple vowels together in their names in ways we don’t in English (ex. “Jaanus” and “Liive”)...

... a product that was given away for free across multiple operating systems (even if some of us whined about the lack of attention to our chosen platform)...

... a service that just went ahead and implemented SRTP and encrypted call control when all the major telcos were whining about why they couldn’t secure calls over IP because of the demands, latency, blah, blah, blah…

... a product that gave most all of us the first experience we ever had with wideband audio—where it felt like you were right there with the other person… and in fact, many of us found we could record podcasts over Skype (even using video)...

... a product that offers the best implementation of persistent group chats I’ve yet to see… and that allows globally distributed companies and organizations to work so well together across all timezones and regions…

... a product that truly offered a multi-modal/multi-channel user experience… and raised the bar for all the enterprise products that were trying to deliver “Unified Communications” ... Skype was offering the “UC” experience before “UC was even coined as a term…

... a product that became a verb... “just skype me”...

... and a product that had enough of a sense of humor—and roguishness—to implement emoticons like these:


(Tip: Don’t type the last two in a chat window where people might be offended… and methinks the first one might come in VERY handy with meetings between Skypers and their new masters. :-) )

I started using Skype back in 2004 or so when it was still very early days. In 2005 I started using it to record the Blue Box podcast and to contribute to the For Immediate Release podcast. I was at Mitel in those days in the product management team and I remember back then talking to my peers about how Skype “just worked” through firewalls and how the wideband audio was outstanding.

Since that time, Skype has become part of the DNA of my personal IT infrastructure… I use it extensively for my own communication… and I use it very extensively within Voxeo where it is our Unified Communications tool of choice right now (for reasons I wrote about before). If there’s one tool that’s always open on my computers, it is Skype.

And Skype is probably the one company/product/service I’ve written about the MOST on Disruptive Telephony blog since I launched the blog back at the beginning of 2006. Largely because Skype has been one of the single most disruptive influences on our industry. Sure, many of my posts have been critical, particularly of the new Skype 5.0 for Mac, but they have been critical out of my passion for the product—and of wanting it to be so much better.

And now we who have been raging Skype fanboys confront a new reality…

Microsoft acquiring Skype!

Goodbye, bandits…

... you are no longer fighting “against THE MAN”... you now are “THE MAN”! It’s hard to get much bigger of a megacorp than Microsoft!

I do actually think the acquisition is good for Skype in a number of ways:

  • Financial stability – Being part of as large an organization as Microsoft will finally give Skype a bit of room to really figure out their monetization play beyond what they’ve done so far.
  • Enterprise credibility – Skype has struggled for years to get any kind of real credibility within enterprises. Many have completely blocked Skype and many have no understanding of what it can do. Microsoft completely gets the enterprise… in some ways they own the enterprise… so this can only help Skype grow in business usage… and that’s a GOOD thing for those of us who already use it that way.
  • Security – Whatever you want to say about Microsoft, they do understand how to communicate about security, something Skype is lacking. I can only hope that MS will now bring a higher level of communication to this aspect of Skype.
  • Synergy – I’m not a fan of that word… but it makes sense here. Think of the other products Microsoft makes… what if you could get Skype integration into Microsoft Office? what if Skype and Lync could play nice together to connect the whole Skype world to the enterprise UC offering of Lync? what about making Kinect work with Skype? There are a lot of cool things that could be done. (And, of course, we’ll undoubtedly see Skype on Windows Phone 7, etc.)
  • Customer Support – And hey, maybe Microsoft can help Skype get a proper customer support organization so that I am no longer their corporate receptionist!

I worry, of course, about the acquisition and what it will do to the tool I use so much. Those of us on NON-Microsoft platforms have complained for years about Skype’s lack of attention to our Skype clients. The Mac OS X client has at least received more attention and near-parity with the Windows client (even though many may not be fans of the new UI)... while the Linux client has languished. In the new world of Microsoft, will those other platforms really receive much attention? (despite the requisite platitudes mouthed in the news conferences and stated in the news releases)

And how about the iPad client for Skype that has been rumored? Will that ever see the light of day?

Will Skype truly be able to function independently as a “disruptor of telecom” now that it is part of such a large corporation?

The answers remain to be seen over the next months as the deal moves toward closing. I have many friends who work at Skype and I do wish them all the best through this whole transition… I wish them well seeing how long they can hang on to their Mac laptops and iPhones ;-) ...

... and I wish them much “:-D” and hope they don’t experience too much “(banghead)”.

Welcome to the new era of Skype!

By Dan York, Author and Speaker on Internet technologies - and on staff of Internet Society

Dan is the Director, Online Content, for the Internet Society but opinions posted on CircleID are his own. View more of Dan’s writing and audio here.

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