Will Microsoft Neuter Skype’s Technological Advantage?

| Dave Hamilton's Blog

Skype... In cuffs!The controlled leaks rumors turned out to be true. Microsoft is buying Skype for $8.5 billion.

As a regular user of Skype (John F. Braun and I rely on it for producing the our Mac Geek Gab podcast, and I use it daily to maintain regular contact with distant staffers), this scares the bejeezus out of me, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

The Mac version, despite always having had a non-standard interface, works extremely well, and basically does away with any problems relating to firewalls or other network anomalies. As a test, I once had a successful video call with someone sitting in the boardroom of a very large, Fortune 100 company. The network engineers said it couldn’t be done, the policies said it shouldn’t be done, Skype got it done. There was no fanfare, nothing out of the ordinary. The other person placed the Skype call, and I answered. No problem. In short, Skype simply works and it’s that technology which makes Skype so reliable.

It’s not that I have a regular need to thwart corporate firewalls, but I do often have to chat with folks on the other side of strangely-configured home routers. Skype makes it so that I don’t have to walk anyone through any port mapping, UPnP enabling, or anything of the sort. We simply place the call… and it works  (if only iChat were as good!). What happens to that now that Microsoft ultimately controls Skype’s direction? Ars Technica’s Peter Bright eloquently stated the problem here in his article from last night about this:

The Skype client itself is written almost as if it were a piece of malware, using complex obfuscation and anti-reverse engineering techniques, and it would be disquieting for Microsoft to release something that behaved in such a shady way; at the very least, the client would surely have to be rewritten to avoid the obfuscation and outright hostility to managed networks that Skype currently has.

If Microsoft owning Skype forces them to rewrite the underlying technology to better fit the corporate world, I fear Skype may suffer from the same issues with routers and firewalls that we have in every other piece of audio or video chat software. I certainly don’t want that. I just want Skype to work.

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Comments

geoduck

Will Microsoft Neuter Skype?s Technological Advantage?

Yes

I just want Skype to work.

It soon won’t

MS has a history of buying good technologies and then screwing them up. I don’t expect anything different from this acquisition. However, Skype was showing signs of doing that to themselves all on their own. Skype5 for Mac was unusable garbage. Worst yet Skype was pushing blithely ahead as if the avalanche of criticism and howls of protest over the abomination that was Skype5 didn’t exist. Sounds to me that Skype and MS will get along well.

Don’t get me wrong. I use Skype. I like(ed) Skype.I have most of my family and friends on Skype. I’m pissed that I now have to transition them over to something else.

Suggestions for a mixed Mac-Windows group of users?

CandTsmac

I need this as well. I am not throwing away years and years of keeping MS off my Mac to have this. Please, someone get facetime working on PC’s and Linux. Please.

daemon

Why would Steve Jobs ever allow Facetime to work on a non-Apple product? It makes no sense.

geoduck

Why would Steve Jobs ever allow Facetime to work on a non-Apple product? It makes no sense.

On the contrary, to my mind it would make perfect sense. They’d do it for the same reason that they made the iPod work with Windows, and developed BootCamp to let Windows work on the Mac. To grow the brand. To get Apple accepted as more of a standard. To get another foot in the door of the enterprise.

Tiger

Duck,
I think they’re beyond growing the brand. Apple was just named the number one brand in the world.

Do not get me wrong. I agree with you. It would be a nice thing if FaceTime was out there, but realistically, I don’t see that ever happening. Above all else, Apple is a hardware company. It licenses software on an as needed basis only and never as a money-maker.

webjprgm

I suppose you could suggest to all PC/Linux users that they get an iPad and use that for video conferencing. 

However, that doesn’t do desktop screen sharing, which is one of the major uses of Skype in the research group I was part in grad school: we used it to show demos to collaborators in other parts of the world and get live feedback on changes.  Many of those people have a Mac, even if it’s not their primary machine, but not everybody.  So Mac-Win-Linux communication is very needed.

If MS owns Skype, I have no intention of using it. hmmm

mhikl

Geoduck, you may be on to somehing, I suspect. The brand of Apple won’t be full-grown until there’s an Apple-something in every pot. The being of Facetime depends upon its universality, otherwise it is just a toy in Apple’s world, easily tossed aside when grandma owns something other than an Apple iWhatever. The one huge mother difference between Apple and M$ is that M$ is everywhere, in every corner of the world from pauper to Pope.

What is Apple-presence in land and mobility technology? In the computer line, ten percent USA, five percent World? I really don’t know what the percentages are in cellular mobility for USA and World, but the possibilities in the growing and possibly explosive region of take-off in non-restrictive cellular mobility may be upon us. A universal Facetime, now that might be the answer to a Skype world-attack by M$, crippled but usable as it may be. That sorrowful company has bought the world with give-aways before and Google is applying the same tactics now. Facetime could be the thwarting of such and the masterly makings of another industry-cemetery for communications as we know it. And Steve does like to think and shovel Bigtime.

Right on, webiprgm!

wab95

Why would Steve Jobs ever allow Facetime to work on a non-Apple product? It makes no sense

It would be a nice thing if FaceTime was out there, but realistically, I don?t see that ever happening. Above all else, Apple is a hardware company. It licenses software on an as needed basis only and never as a money-maker.

iTunes, Safari, Quicktime - all Windows enabled, so yes, there is precedent. Think about the value to Apple for each of these being deployed. Industry presence, market share, revenue - all of which sustain and augment the value of the Apple brand.

Daemon, the blogosphere has been rife with speculation about Facetime becoming a standard since it debuted, including discussion here at TMO. And why wouldn’t Apple want that, since Windows users use iPhones?

And ask yourself another question; is it likely or unlikely that Apple has had a heads-up for awhile that MS were after Skype or some other company that could launch them into mobile tech with VOIP? If this was of substantive strategic importance, Is it likely or unlikely that Apple knew that this is where the big players were headed? Is it likely or unlikely that Apple would want to be one of those big players? The answer to all three questions is another question: Would any of this actionable knowledge benefit Apple in any way? To my thinking, ‘yes’ to all of the above.

Of Apple’s current technology, which, if any, stands a chance at becoming that solution? Facetime looks pretty strong.

This is all speculation on my part, but one thing is not. In the past decade, Apple have not been caught wrong-footed or asleep at the wheel on any major industry trend. By anyone. This may or may not be one of those major industry trends, but if it is, I’ll lay odds that Apple have already moved to intercept.

daemon

the blogosphere has been rife with speculation about Facetime becoming a standard since it debuted,

That’s a strange way to put. I’d characterize other site’s response to Facetime as “Wow, it’s really great, but pretty useless since I can’t use it with anything else, not even a Mac.”

Of course, that was until 10.6.6 came out in January. I’m sure that all the blogs that I read on a daily basis (Engadget, Gizmodo, ThisIsMyNext, TWiT, Tom’s Hardware, Anandtech, GigaOm, Cnet) have been speculating about just that in breathless tones and I was just too busy listening to NPR to catch the articles. Or it’s quite possible that they just use Skype:

http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/get-skype/on-your-mobile/download/iphone-for-skype/

Pio

Since Skype works very smoothly I will stop updating or upgrading. So I will still have a pre-M$ version…

Lee Dronick
wab95

have been speculating about just that in breathless tones and I was just too busy listening to NPR to catch the articles

Your credentials are not in question, Daemon, certainly not by me. Rather, my point was that since its debut, Facetime’s potential challenge to Skype has been noted and discussed. Pundits’ assessment of its likelihood of success is a separate issue. Apple porting its software to other OS platforms, however, has been going on for some time, and reflects Apple’s strategic plans.

Saying Facetime is useless is a bit harsh. There has been, and continues to be interest in Facetime on Windows, particularly since it is available on the Mac. I see this, as with so many of Apple’s role outs, as a technology in evolution.

As for discussion fora, yes it has moved beyond the internet to that most dead of all spaces, cable TV. As recently as yesterday, Apple’s Facetime was being cited as one of the drivers behind Microsoft’s purchase of Skype, specifically that MS needed a quick VOIP solution to even have a competitive chance against Apple and Google in mobile tech (Bloomberg West, 10 May 2011 1800 EDT - you can probably access it online). I sense change in the industry’s perception of where Facetime is headed.

While I share the scepticism about its current state of readiness to take on Skype, and posted so as recently as yesterday, my assessment is that such discussions would not even be taking place if the industry felt that there was no chance of this technology migrating beyond the Mac instal base. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I think that Apple have bigger plans for Facetime.

wab95

See today?s Joy of Tech comic

Many thanks, Sir Harry. Unfortunately, this may be prescient.

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