The future of Skype on Windows: More questions and some answers

Microsoft's recent announcement that it planned to drop the Modern version of Skype for Windows created a bunch of unanswered questions. Here are a few clarifications from the Skype team.

Microsoft shocked a number of developers and customers with its announcement last week that it would be putting its Skype eggs in the Desktop App basket.

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Up to that point, Microsoft's message had seemed to be that Windows users should go with Modern/Metro-Style apps, not Win32/Desktop ones. Microsoft's decision to kill off the Modern Skype client and move customers to the Desktop version seemed to fly in the face of what company officials have been telling developers and customers for the past several years. If Microsoft doesn't even believe in Modern/Metro, why should anyone else, more than a few Microsoft watchers wondered aloud.

I asked the Skype team to clarify some of the many questions sparked by the company's June 11 blog post about the company's plans for Skype on Windows 10. Here are my questions and Microsoft's answers, attributable to Aga Guzik, Skype Senior Product Marketing Manager.

Q: Why is Microsoft dropping the Modern Skype app? Is part of the reason because of lack of use of the Modern version?

A: Our decision to retire the Skype app for modern Windows is partly due to user feedback around ease of managing multiple conversations and navigation - primarily by mouse and keyboard users - as the app was originally intended for touch users. The desktop application solves these issues and offers a better experience.

Q: Why couldn't Microsoft evolve the existing Modern skype app into a Universal Windows Skype app -- instead of and/or in addition to launching a bunch of standalone, separate Skype apps?

A: With Windows 10 we wanted to truly build Skype into the platform so it's easier and faster for users to complete tasks at hand. This is why, later this year, we will be offering Skype built into Messaging, Calling and Video. For users who still want an all-in-one application, the all in one Skype app provides the best mix of navigation friendliness for both mouse and keyboards and touch as well as the features our users love.

Q: The Office team is building a bunch of standalone Office apps for mobile Windows users. They call these "Universal" Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook. Are the "task-based" Skype messaging, phone, video apps also going to be "universal"?

A: Yes, the Universal Messaging, Phone and Video apps on Windows 10 with Skype built in will run across phone, tablets and desktops.

Q: Are the coming Skype messaging, phone and video apps standalone apps aimed specifically at mobile Windows users?

A: The Universal Messaging, Phone and Video apps on Windows 10 - that will have built in Skype functionality - will run across Windows 10 devices, from phones through to tablets to PCs. They are not specifically designed for mobile users. Offering Skype within the communications tasks caters to users who want simplicity and efficiency to focus on the task at hand without needing to download anything on Windows 10 devices or launch additional applications.

Q: On Windows 10, will the Skype messaging, phone and video apps be available via the Windows Store? Will they be preloaded on all versions of Windows 10 (Desktop, Mobile, Enterprise, Education)? Or will they actually be unremovable components of the Windows 10 OS?

A: The Universal Messaging, Phone and Video apps on Windows 10 with Skype built in, will come on desktop, mobile and tablet for consumers. Users can choose to turn off functionality by logging out of the Skype video app.

Q: Will the Universal messaging, phone and video apps also be available for Win 7, Win 8/8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1? If so, when?

A: The Universal Messaging, Phone and Video apps on Windows 10 with Skype built in will come with an update to Windows 10. Anyone on Windows 7 and above and Windows Phone 8.1 and above will be able to take advantage of the experience if they choose to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

Q: Will Microsoft make the the messaging, phone and video Skype apps available for Android and iOS -- the way the company is making the Universal Office apps available for those platforms?

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A: On Windows 10 we can integrate Skype directly into the Microsoft platform. If we see a need for similar experiences on other platforms, we may consider building them.

My take-aways: Microsoft isn't planning to redo its Modern Skype app as a Universal Windows app, but instead is replacing that Modern Skype app with three separate but related Universal communications apps. Those Messaging, Phone and Video apps with Skype "built in" won't be part of Windows 10 when it starts rolling out on July 29; they will be available "later this year." Windows users who prefer using the integrated Skype app will be able to use the Desktop Skype app. These new communications apps won't be coming to Windows 7, Windows 8.x or Windows Phone 8.x.

Between July 7 -- when Microsoft does away with Skype Modern for all Windows users (except those running Windows RT devices) -- and the debut of the coming Universal Windows Skype communications apps, Windows users' only Skype choice will be the Skype Desktop app. So far, there's been no word on when Windows Insiders will be able to start testing the promised Universal Skype communications apps.

Update: In other Skype news, Microsoft has broadened the Skype for Web preview to include users beyond the U.S. and U.K., as of June 15. Microsoft also has enabled support for Skype instant messaging for Chromebook users with the Web preview, as of today. (Audio/video is still not supported on Chromebooks, as it requires a plug-in. Microsoft continues to work on building RTC support into Skype to get around this limitation.)

Here's more about Skype for Web.

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