Microsoft's efforts to integrate Skype across practically its entire consumer-facing product portfolio are gathering steam.
The software giant announced April 29 that it had launched a preview of Skype for Outlook.com. The feature allows users of the Outlook.com email service—Hotmail's successor for all intents and purposes—to initiate Skype video calls or text-based chats directly from Outlook.com's Web-based interface.
Since Microsoft snapped up Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011, the company has been steadily weaving the communications technology into its software ecosystem. In recent months, Microsoft has accelerated its Skype integration push.
The Skype app features prominently in Windows 8, the company's latest release of its flagship operating system, which officially launched in October 2012. The company also embarked on the task of transitioning Messenger's 100 million users—except those in mainland China—to Skype.
And earlier this year, Giovanni Mezgec, general manager of Microsoft Lync—now part of a new joint Skype division—announced that the barriers between Lync and Skype would be dissolving this summer.
Mezgec told eWEEK on Feb. 12, "By bringing the assets that we have on the consumer front with Skype and on the enterprise front with Lync, we can have a unified platform that really brings communications from the living room to the boardroom in a way that makes sense and is rationalized and connected rather than having disconnected islands."
Now, it's Outlook.com's turn.
In a blog post, Douglas Pearce, group program manager of connected services for Microsoft, said that the Skype integration will first roll out to a "select set of people in the U.K. and then the U.S."
He added, "You can use Skype with your existing Microsoft account, so you don't have to create a new account." Current Skype account holders will need to link their Skype accounts to their Microsoft account to expose the added functionality.
Office.com users will be able to place Skype calls or send messages by clicking on photos of their contacts and selecting the appropriate icon. Alternately, they can find and connect with contacts by typing their names in the messaging pane or using the search functionality, informed Pearce.
The recent Messenger migration has its benefits, too. "Outlook.com has some perks for Messenger customers who have recently been upgraded to Skype. With Skype and Outlook.com, Messenger customers can call their Messenger buddies from a Web browser or from any Skype client," wrote Pearce.
Bringing Skype to Outlook.com may help Microsoft sustain the upward momentum of both platforms.
On Feb. 18, the Outlook.com team announced a big milestone. The service had attracted 60 million active users during its six-month preview period. Microsoft reported on April 3 that Skype's massive user base also makes for impressively high levels of user engagement. The company revealed that Skype users spend 2 billion minutes a day on the platform.
"Two billion minutes is more than 33 million hours of people singing, laughing, joking and staying in touch. That means 1,388,000 days of togetherness, which make up more than 3,805 years of sharing or nearly 38 centuries of time spent on Skype in one day," wrote Elisa Steele, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Skype Division, in a blog post announcing the feat.