Microsoft’s offer of $8.5 billion – cash – for Skype raises the age-old question of “Why?” Well, it seems pretty simple to me: Microsoft’s unified communications (UC) services, packaged as Lync, lack a VOIP component; Skype fills that hole rather gracefully. Skype’s UC business package is a Windows-only offering, and it would fit rather neatly into Microsoft’s playbook without too much fiddling.
As for the size of the offer, Microsoft is simply money-whipping Skype, by making its owners an offer that they would be foolish to refuse. It’s not like there’s another Skype out there to buy had this deal fallen through, so while Microsoft is probably overpaying, it’s difficult to say by how much. What’s even murkier is what happens after the dust settles.
Does this mean that Skype will be absorbed into Lync? Not by a longshot; Skype has good brand recognition, and I expect to see the next version of Lync pitched to me as “powered by Skype.” If anything, my crystal ball suggests that the Lync brand will fade away, since it never had much traction to begin with – although it was a lot less awkward than its former moniker of “Office Communication Server.”
What this deal may accomplish is to put Microsoft back on the map in consumer IT, an area where it has steadily lost ground to Apple and others for the last five years. If Microsoft cares to build the next generation of Windows Phone around Skype-based UC services, it could force Apple to stop piddling around with FaceTime. In such a contest, the end user will be the ultimate winner, because neither company will be able to afford to keep the walls up around their respective UC gardens for much longer.
Last week, I filed a piece that discussed how the two most prevalent consumer-focused videoconferencing applications – Apple’s FaceTime and Skype – were poised to take advantage of the trend toward an increasing consumerization of the underlying technology. I’ll have to go back and tweak some of it to reflect the Microsoft deal, but it pretty much sums up the state of affairs, at least for now.