Microsoft Readies Skype Preinstallation Kit for Windows 7 PC OEMs: Report

Facing persistent questions about what it would do to maximize the value of its $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype, Microsoft is set to release a Skype preinstallation kit to integrate the VOIP calling service into Windows PCs.

Microsoft's acquisition of the Internet voice and video calling service Skype was completed in October 2011 and lately some market observers said they have seen little evidence that Microsoft is making much profitable use of Skype.

However, news broke on May 29 that Microsoft is going to enable PC manufacturers to preinstall a Skype application on to their Windows 7 PCs they ship to consumers and distributors. News of the preinstallation kit comes amid continuing concerns about anti-competitive issues related to the deal.

A blogger in The Netherlands, Steve Bink, who says he watches "Microsoft like a hawk," broke the news about Microsoft's plans to release an OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK) for PC manufacturers to install Skype 5.8 on machines running Windows 7. Skype is already being tested for preinstallation with the coming Windows 8 OS.

Microsoft responded to a request for comment on May 30 with a vague statement from a "Skype spokesperson" that Microsoft's strategy is to make Skype accessible on a variety of Microsoft platforms, through a user's TV, personal computer, desktop computer at work or on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. But the statement did not specifically refer to an OPK for Windows 7 PCs.

"We want to make it easy for millions of consumers worldwide to experience Skype and to stay in touch with their friends, family and business colleagues each and every day," the statement read.

The release of the OPK for Windows 7 comes amid Website buzz asking what Microsoft is actually going to do with Skype, driven initially by a May 28 The New York Times profile of Skype President Tony Bates that questions whether Microsoft is delivering on the promise of Skype.

Likewise, Ars Technica's Peter Bright posits that Skype's 26 percent surge in active users per month to as many as 250 million since the October 2011 completion of the acquisition actually had nothing to do with the deal itself, but with Skype's popularity as a cheap, if not free, way of communicating by voice, video or IM globally. Skype has a total of close to 700 million account holders.

While Microsoft has also talked about the integration of Skype into platforms like Xbox and Lync, it hasn't happened yet. That hasn't quelled competitors, however, who argue that with Skype, Microsoft is up to its old anti-competitive tricks again.

Cisco Systems in February filed a complaint with the European Commission, the legislative body governing the European Union, arguing that Microsoft's integration of Skype into its Lync platform for unified communications unfairly blocks other videoconferencing solutions from integrating with Lync.

Cisco, whose videoconferencing products are called Cisco TelePresence, said it didn't oppose the merger, per se, but said the EC "should have placed conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability, to avoid any one company from being able to seek to control the future of video communications," according to Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco's Video and Collaboration Group. Integrating Skype with Lync would "lock in businesses who want to reach Skype's 700 million account holders to a Microsoft-only platform."

De Beer provided an update on the status of the appeal during a conference with tech editors May 24 , saying Cisco thinks it will take as long as two years for the EC to reach a decision.

"We're very confident that we're going to win that and that they are going to take another look. It won't block the acquisition. But what we're hoping for is that it'll put some oversight in place to ensure interoperability with Microsoft," De Beer said.