Microsoft Still Trying To Find A Place For Skype

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When Microsoft shelled out $8.5 billion for Skype last year, they promised that the video calling service would be integrated into a variety of Microsoft's products. Seven and a half months later, however, that hasn't happened. While there are, of course, Skype apps for Windows and Windows Phone devices, there is no Skype app for the Xbox 360, despite the fact that the Kinect peripheral would make the Xbox quite well-suited to Skype integration.

In fact, if you didn't know that Skype had been bought by Microsoft last year, you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence in either company's products that Microsoft really owns Skype. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find such evidence in the way Skype does business, either. More than half a year after the acquisition, Skype remains remarkably independent from its parent company. Tony Bates - formerly Skype CEO, now President of the Skype Division for Microsoft - tells the New York Times that he likes it that way. Rather than bringing Skype closer to "home" by moving to Microsoft's Redmond, Washington headquarters, Bates maintains his office in Silicon Valley. Skype employees' name badges read "Skype," not "Microsoft." Bates even has a MacBook Air on his desk.

Bates tells the NYT that he approves of how Skype has "kept our identity and our autonomy," because doing so has allowed Skype to focus on its core mission: enabling people to communicate easily across a wide variety of platforms. Notwithstanding Skype's absence on the Xbox, the company has apps for just about every platform you can think of, including Microsoft's main competitors in the mobile (Android and iOS), computer (OS X), and gaming (Playstation Vita). In fact, of all the platforms on which you can get a Skype app, the version for Windows Phone is the least popular, largely because it can't run in the background, keeping users from receiving calls if the app is not open, and forcing them to sign in again every time they re-enter the app.

So far, then, Microsoft hasn't actually done much with Skype. That, of course, raises the obvious question: what are they going to do with their $8.5 billion purchase, and when are they going to do it? Well, for one thing, they want to make sure that Skype continues to be a popular cross-platform product, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. For another, there are plans to bring Skype to the Xbox, though that probably won't happen until next year. Additionally, Microsoft is looking to grow Skype by adding 400 new personnel, according to Bates. They also plan to include it in Lync, Microsoft's forthcoming business communications platform.

Though Bates doesn't say so, it's a fair bet that Windows 8 will include some level of Skype integration. Since Windows 7 was released well before the Skype purchase, OS-level integration would have required a pretty significant update. Not so Windows 8.

Whatever Microsoft does with its newest and biggest purchase, it's a fair bet that they won't squander it the way eBay did. And while the purchase hasn't borne much fruit yet, it's (hopefully) only a matter of time before Microsoft starts using Skype to pull off some pretty amazing things.

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