As David K just scooped, Microsoft locked in the Skype deal but baby I’ve got questions. Since the buyout announcement it’s struck many of you as obvious that Microsoft would race to bundle Skype with Windows Phone as soon as they could code a Metro patina onto it which shouldn’t be too hard, right? You feel like it’s a big puzzle piece that’s finally about to be put into place, Skype has a million billion customers, big brand, calls phones, receives calls, video, sanctioned and embraced and pushed everywhere fast by Microsoft – I get it.

What I’m not sure about however is if the incentive of additional consumer appeal a full-fledged embedded Skype client with the logos on the boxes and sales slips and commercials would offer Windows Phone would not be outweighed by problems, some of which strike me as being gravely concerning and dealbreakers of sorts.

But I don’t everything. I admit that. Better run it by you.

My question is do you really think Skype as you know it, as it is on iPhone and Android and iPads and Macs and PCs, will be standard issue out of the box on WPs in a matter of months? Or not until WP gains traction? Or never “as you know it” but only in a substantially neutered carrier, government and business-friendly way? In other words I’m curious if you agree firstly about what outweighs what and also if these current problems will somehow soon become less problematic or relevant and confound, grossly deprioritize or otherwise protractedly delay the process of getting Skype onto WP by default, or even as an app on the market like Tango?

And secondly if given the other plans they have for Skype and the low popularity of WP they won’t throw any resources at it, even if it would likely contribute to WP becoming a viable operation, a contender and not a fringe mobile platform? How would that not be a distraction worth forgetting about indefinitely? Remember Photosynth?

For starters, Skype already has several hundred million registered accounts, tens of millions of which are online at a given instant. That’s a big number. Now when a company like Microsoft absorbs it with the intention of incorporating the brand and its users into their popular PC operating system and their cloud operations too, that number will get really big, a threat to take seriously even on a nascent platform. Bundle it into your phone platform and now you’ve got something that may be undesirable for carriers and while Apple may be able to get away with pissing off the carriers here and there, Microsoft may not be.

Secondly, Skype tends not to jive well with institutions. Its use is banned left and right and many IT man hours have been devoted to defeating Skype’s firewall acrobatics in order to insulate the company from vectors of attack Skype presents. It’s not easy for institutions to audit its use, and that’s a big deal for many businesses, those who need to remain aligned with Sarbanes Oxley and private companies that employ dozens or hundreds, not just thousands, of users. Skype, from the makers of Kazaa by the way, does not have a pristine security rap sheet, they still pop up popups (even on Macs), and it may consume IT resources more than it helps the company. The advantages it offers a business versus a voice and video over IP systems a company could get from the likes of Cisco are not compelling.

Not to mention governments, like the ones that managed to leverage RIM to effectively hand over the keys to privately-owned BES servers. China for instance. Big country — not a fan of Skype, both the government and the carriers. Microsoft’s been working hard to tap China. Would a Windows Phone app be worth risking losing any kind of footing with things like Bing? Did you know that being able to resist a CEO persuading you to break protocol and give him Skype is a marketable skill in the IT job market? 

Have things changed with the mechanics of how Skype works? Last I heard it uses some sort of P2P method of subverting firewalls which eats up user bandwidth whether they’re chatting or idle. Man in the middle attacks with their supernode model is a common concern. There is a large legal gray area in the US and elsewhere about the legality (and government desirability) about Skype not making warranted wiretapping easy. Exposing your contacts on Android, remember that? Skype may access your system address book by default even without any such preference enabled. Skype is known to, for no explicable reason, access /etc/passwd on Linux. Depending on who’s asking, Skype gives different answers regarding privacy. Skype’s advertisements are delivered unencrypted exposing the client to cross-site scripting attacks and those ads being hijacked with malicious packets. Skype feels the need to access BIOS data. Why? Closed source, no peer review. Et cetra.

Even if Skype’s protocols and how it fundamentally works or how Microsoft intends to tinker with it for Lync and Office 365 and Windows and Facebook and Windows Phone has changed, that’s its history, that’s it’s reputation to professionals and it is for all these reasons I don’t see a Skype for WP that’s no more crippled than the Android version showing up flashed onto WPs right out of the box anytime soon regardless of whether or not Microsoft cares about the enterprise market (as well as staying and making friends with governments and carriers) for WP or just consumers. Yet many of you do see this happening fast — what am I missing? Thanks fellas.

Doug Simmons

14 COMMENTS

  1. This isn’t too different than GVoice being bundled and they are doing that. It’s just that Skype is a being fish that GVoice and as Skype is preloaded in every Win8 machine it’s an even bigger fish…It will be integrated into WP and Xbox- they’ve stated that much already. For now we’re getting a standalone app (a la Android) but it will be baked into the OS as well. Maybe they’ll let IT trigger it off. Who knows. MS Messenger is on WP and that can’t be toggled by IT as far as I know…

  2. Great points, I’d love to know the answers. Guess Skype will be implemented similarly to tethering – enterprises and operators will be able to turn it off.

    Re timing, I’d guess we’ll see an app soon (i.e. this year) but real tasty stuff (integration with the dialer and chat like there is with Facebook) would require an OS update. So, second half of next year.

  3. You’re looking for problems that aren’t there. Could the Android fanboy be worried about a Windows Phone with full Skype integration becoming a serious threat? Hell, with Skype, Lync, and Messenger, Microsoft essentially owns nearly three-fourths of the VOIP market.

    I read your article, but considering Skype is on practically every platform, I don’t see the problem. As for carriers, Microsoft has tons of leverage too, in the form of Windows 8 and Skype itself. Microsoft could use it’s vast resources and reach to undercut carriers. Nobody likes the carriers anyway. Besides, carriers don’t seem to be having a problem with Facetime, Google Voice, or Skype on existing platforms. How is that any different with Windows Phone?

    The answer is yes. They will fully integrate Skype into all of their platforms. Carriers will have to deal with it. Which means they won’t and can’t do squat about it.

  4. Thanks for fielding the question Joe.

    If I may, would you entertain a follow up? Regarding what you said about carrier influence: With Skype embedded with wp, will you be able to make calls (Skype to Skype and Skype in and Skype out to and from POTS phones) and video calls on this thing without a wifi-only restriction?

    If Microsoft managed to do that that would be impressive.

    David, do you mean Google Talk?

    Ed, sorry to let you down. But at least I may have made some good points.

  5. Very valid questions, Doug.

    I would think there would be incentive to bake it into the phone, but with restrictions. However, this raises an interesting dilemma for Microsoft.

    The issue of malware and privacy becomes less of an issue when you restrict Skype to mobile devices. Many IT shops are starting to embrace the bring-your-own device paradigm, and when it comes to mobile devices that aren’t on their network they are usually content to throw up an auto-lock as part of the Exchange Server access protocol. It would be very easy for the company to encourage it on devices that aren’t on the core network anyway.

    But now you have a new issue. What if Windows Phone develops killer Skype integration, and becomes a game-changer. Whole companies jumping in and encouraging the switch to MangoPhones with front-facing cameras and Office integration. It might even get a few thinking about going with Microsoft’s enterprise cloud offerings.

    But now, with a significant percentage of Skype traffic happening on mobile devices, you no longer have the P2P horsepower actually running the network. More and more users with Skype on their PCs will notice latency, lags, and whatever else happens when bandwidth constricts (with no benefit for them.)

    I don’t think Microsoft wants to push that envelope… Unless it is working on a real backhaul network or killer encryption scheme that would keep the captive servers rolling.

  6. Doug, Doug, Doug,

    You just don’t get it. MS is going to offer Skpe to enterprise as a low cost VOIP solution for all their voice calls. When it’s included in Windows Phones, it will be used as part of their VOIP contract.

    MS’s vision for Skype is to integrate it with every product the have. Windows, XBox, WP, and all their enterprise offerings. The plan is to make video calling over IP as ubiquitous as POTS has been all the years we’ve been trapped on Ma Bell’s copper.

    Oh and if you have any doubts as to their intentions concerning Skype & WP, all you need to do is look at the graphic from MIX 11 in Davis K’s story here: http://mobilitydigest.com/wsj-reports-microsoft-close-to-a-deal-to-buy-skype-for-7b/

  7. @Ike, @Doug: when I was reading about recent Skype blackouts I was thinking that a way to solve their stability (and some other) issues would be to place “superpeers” in datacenters. I think that this way it’s possible to solve most problems: a) you can provide eavesdropping options for governments b) you can coordinate using Skype with operators/enterprises c) you can build a superstable network which would be P2P AND server based at the same time, and d) you actually can integrate Skype with other cloud/telephony/communication offerings.

    Granted, this needs to be done with careful PR (which isn’t Microsoft’s forte) but I doubt that most Skype users value privacy/security above all. Also, if you want to be realistic, you have to admit that things aren’t going to be as laissez faire as they used to be anyway…

  8. @Davidk, Skype is very different from GVoice actually in that it’s a P2P thing. Also, Skype is global and breaks lots of regulations in a huge number of countries. GVoice is much more limited and much easier to control/eavesdrop.

  9. And for such reasons perhaps Microsoft’s interests in Skype is its base of users and brand rather than their IP behind the structure of the clients and how they all communicate in terms of incorporating it into anything that they want to give to people who’ve been buying Sharepoint and Exchange licenses from them. Gotta redo that thing ground-up and make it kosher for businesses, public companies and the like. Anything involving P2P, no matter how wonderful and convenient, just doesn’t fly.

    The phones on the other hand, such concerns could be tabled indefinitely, cook up a Skype client like any other but with the WP flare to it, promote it, and then if WP’s ship comes in one day and enterprise happiness with the devices becomes a concern, then come up with something to make it right. Facebook, WP, no big whoop with that stuff. A lot of these institutions don’t allow you to use a non-Blackberry anyway or go on Facebook.

    That still leaves one other hurdle, that this may simply not be much of a priority to Microsoft and especially given that there are some gray areas, why complicate the situation further, get it humming on this Lync thing and whatever else then if it takes off (WP) then work on perfecting it out of the box in a way that makes sense for Microsoft and carriers and whoever else. And what makes sense for Microsoft with respect to Skype, where it show go, in what form and when, that may evolve a lot over the next few years. Attack the more important fronts first then play it by ear with WP.

  10. I think the question of “How will MS integrate Skype into WP” isn’t thinking long term enough.

    Skype baked into WP the same way that Facebook is, chat and linked contacts, seems obvious as a first attempt, and would probably be extremely useful and functional. Linking Skype and WLM/Facebook IDs will be a fun exercise (sarcasm) if not aided by Hotmail and Facebook (Skype’s already started some of the leg work with their recent FB integration). Just add a ‘Skype ID’ field to your Hotmail contacts, and a ‘Video Call’ button and we’re away.

    There will be a Skype app – it will give MS something to show off during press releases (hey, look at that, there’s already a WP ‘Skype App’ in that pretty graphic). It probably wouldn’t add much in the way of capability. Skype is just Voice, Text and Video isn’t it – which is seem like obvious bake-in features?

    However, like I said, baking in Skype in the same way Facebook is, is only looking very short term.

    At first, I was confused as to why Microsoft would acquire Skype when they already have Windows Live Messenger, which provides similar voice, text and video chat services. After a bit of thinking, a few reasons come to mind:

    > Verbage: Skype has become a verb in the same way Google has. To skype someone has a meaning, just like to google something does (lower case intended).

    > The Brand: The Skype brand would be extremely powerful if used to describe Voice, Video and Chat services, deprecating existing brands such as Windows Live Messenger, Xbox Live Chat, Kinect Video etc, in the same way
    >> ‘XBox’ means games (not just the hardware);
    >> ‘Zune’ refers to media (not just the [now dead] media player]
    >> Windows refers to Operating System.
    >> Hotmail refers to email and Calendar

    > The image: To me, Skype comes across as being more grown up than Windows Live Messenger.

    > People know that Skype connects to the PSTN/POTS (telephone services).

    > It’s massive user base – much of which is a result of Skype’s cross platform support.

    Ultimately, I don’t think that Skype will be ‘baked-into’ just Windows Phone, but rather ‘baked-into’ all MS products as their Video, Voice & Text chat brand.

    I think gone are the days of Windows Live Messenger & Skype as separate services, but rather ‘Skype’ will be the succeeding brand unifying the two.

    Here’s hoping though that whatever client application they create, is better to use than either as they are (I hate Skype for Windows).

  11. […] done. Yes I think I heard you’ve got some Google Voice-like service and might, just might, get Skype one day, yes you got Netflix first, yes you in general seem to have more passion about your phones […]

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