Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

Summary: Now that Microsoft owns Skype, can the industry finally settle on a video conferencing standard?

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Now that Microsoft owns Skype, can the industry finally settle on a video conferencing standard?

So Microsoft bought Skype, for $8.5 billion. I have to say, I'm surprised by this as much as anyone else. $8.5 billion is a lot of dough for a VOIP/Telepresence service, and it was a completely unexpected move by the Redmond software giant.

But as Larry Dignan points out, perhaps there's some sense to be made out of all of this.

A while ago I wrote about the problems with personal telepresence. Most of the issues I pointed out in that article have to deal with social norms and barriers, not technological problems. But I did point out what could stop telepresence from becoming particularly popular is the lack of unified protocols for an "any device to any device" video conferencing session.

Why personal telepresence will fail: It ain't the price

Today, we have any number of video and VOIP chat clients and services, but interoperability between them is virtually nonexistent.

Apple has FaceTime which works between iOS devices and Macs.

Google has GTalk which works on PCs, Macs, Google TV and Android tablets, but doesn't support video calls on Android or iOS smartphones yet.

Cisco has their own protocols that they are developing for their Android-based Cius tablet as well as their Umi personal telepresence devices, and have multi-platform versions of WebEx which can do video conferencing (such as on the iOS version) but have not released anything Android or iOS generic for person-to-person video conferencing that can also talk to their corporate platforms or even an Umi.

And RIM's QNX-based BlackBerry Tablet OS has its own video chat, which although provides for a high-quality experience, can only talk to other PlayBook devices at the moment.

And I'm not even going to talk about the other rans such as Fring and AOL's IM video chat. Fortunately Skype recently bought Qik, which now brings that technology into Microsoft's portfolio.

In summary, what we've got right now is a spaghetti mess of platforms that can't talk to each other.

Skype has a number of advantages which could make all of these problems go away, particularly with Microsoft's backing as a major industry player in the desktop operating system space.

Firstly, integrating Skype/Qik into the next major version of Microsoft Windows Live Messenger will ensure that every copy of Windows with that client installed will be able to communicate with Skype installed on Macs, Linux desktops, Windows Phone 7, Android, iOS and QNX (provided it is ported to that platform given Microsoft's new partnership with RIM).

That alone will be a huge value add, provided that of course Apple continues to cooperate and allows Microsoft to distribute a competing video chat standard on their App Store.

And of course, having all of this integrated into Live Messenger adds additional value into having a Live account in the first place.

I think there's another way Microsoft could go about this, however, rather than relying upon distributing a standardized Windows Live/Skype client itself to other platforms.  This would be to open its video/VOIP standards for companies like Apple, Google, Cisco so those companies could integrate the protocols themselves into their own products, such as FaceTime, or Umi, or Cius, Or GTalk.

In essence, provide the plumbing and infrastructure to make everyone else's video chat software work.

There are other features which Microsoft could add into this mix, such as a unified messaging service similar to Google Voice. Microsoft could put one of these together home-grown, or they could buy yet another player in order to complete the portfolio.

Will Microsoft improve Video and VOIP communications standards? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Collaboration, Microsoft

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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23 comments
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  • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

    Microsoft also partner with Polycom, Logitech (Lifesize) and Radvision, so there is hope yet that video can truly interop.

    It's only taken 20 years to get this far (from the old ISDN days.)
    Stark_Industries
    • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

      @Stark_Industries Native H.323 support in Lync would be fantastic, though at this point, I'd actually like to see Lync scrapped and replaced with Skype (w/ native H.323 as well). One can only hope :)
      Gritztastic
      • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

        @Gritztastic
        No, that would be a major backward step. Lync is a pure SIP product. It's also far more powerful than Skype. I'd rather see the Skype features that Lync doesn't have added to it, such as Brady Bunch view.
        dazzlingd
  • MS Telephony

    MS has been wanting to enter this space for a long time. How will the regulators weigh in?
    mmckibben
  • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

    Given Microsoft's track record with open standards or open source in general, I find it unlikely that they will open up skype. Therefore, I think this here is a dream: "This would be to open its video/VOIP standards for companies like Apple, Google, Cisco so those companies could integrate the protocols themselves into their own products, such as FaceTime, or Umi, or Cius, Or GTalk."<br><br>I think microsoft understands that skype has the potential of becoming the de facto standard for voice and video communication over the internet. It is by far the most popular product at the moment. Microsoft is going to push it on all of its products, in particular the PC and the phone. <br><br>If they succeed in making it the new standard without opening it up, then microsoft will have the grip on a huge market just like the controll of the PC market. That's their dream and therefore they were willing to pay 8.5 Billion dollars.
    kikl
  • It may be the cynic in me.. but...

    <i>Firstly, integrating Skype/Qik into the next major version of Microsoft Windows Live Messenger will ensure that every copy of Windows with that client installed will be able to communicate with Skype installed on Macs, Linux desktops, Windows Phone 7, Android, iOS and QNX (provided it is ported to that platform given Microsoft?s new partnership with RIM).</i>

    That would be nice, wouldn't it? Of course, the other way to see it, is Microsoft could just roll the videoconferencing technology into Windows Live Messenger and (more likely) Office Communicator and then decide that there's no longer a need for a Linux, Mac OS X, QNX or Android version of the client. Or any need of a stand-alone client at all.

    Of course, it could be the cynic in me. After all, Microsoft has always been pretty good at keeping feature parity accross platforms, and isn't really known for killing good technology just to try to muscle their way to dominance..
    daftkey
    • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

      @daftkey Its much better to keep the stand alone client on OS X to shove it in Apples face!
      Tommy S.
      • Microsoft isn't that kind of company...

        @Tommy S.

        What you describe is more the business strategy of certain Open Source companies, not Microsoft...

        Microsoft likes to make money - despite the fact that they are known at times to use their muscle to try to dominate a market, in the end their decisions are generally based on whether or not MS sees the potential to make a profit, not whose face they can "rub in it."
        daftkey
      • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

        @Tommy S Microsoft already licenses ActiveSync to Apple so that it can work with Exchange messaging. I see no reason why they couldn't do the same with VOIP and teleconferencing protocols to make FaceTime compatible with Skype.
        jperlow
      • Licensing it..

        @jperlow

        <i>Microsoft already licenses ActiveSync to Apple so that it can work with Exchange messaging. I see no reason why they couldn't do the same with VOIP and teleconferencing protocols to make FaceTime compatible with Skype.</i>

        That's a good point, Jason. I guess, again, Apple and MS would both have to see some value in doing so - and up till now with a Skype stand-alone client being available for both Mac and Windows, that value wasn't there.

        I can see Microsoft pocketing some pretty good coin from a license deal while being able to (again) define and control a standard that, no doubt, has the potential to be used all over the internet for video communication.

        In turn, Apple can add a "compatibility" chip to their stack which they are sorely missing, with iChat only being compatible to AIM - using the word "compatible" pretty tenuously. Apple could still offer a "superior" experience with Facetime - to - Facetime chats which could no doubt help plant the iDevice seed in potential customers.
        daftkey
  • You LEFT the BEST one OUT!

    How About Yahoooooooo???!!!!
    TheCableGuyNY
    • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

      @TheCableGuyNY LOL. I needed that.
      Champ_Kind
  • The Best Will be......

    Google Gtalk/Gmail Android OS !!
    All Free!!!!
    TheCableGuyNY
    • Ain't no such thing as &quot;free&quot;.

      There's always a catch, and especially where Google is concerned. Your data is worth a fortune to them. Your "free" data makes them richer.
      adornoe
      • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

        @adornoe@... Sure, but you don't really think that by using something other than the Google your data won't be mined by them? Your data is valuable to your provider and partners regardless of which technology you choose.
        tauren@...
      • tauren: Irrelevant...

        It doesn't matter who the player is with your "free" data. Neither Google nor Microsoft nor Apple nor anybody else who collects information, is in it from the goodness of their hearts. The point is still that, whenever you think "free", Google and others are thinking "sucker" in regards to your use of their "free" service.
        adornoe
  • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

    MS buying Skype could be the best thing for VOIP/Telepresence. I say could because we have yet to see what they plan for it if they mold it into MS Chat and stop the stand alone Skype then it may just be another MS Fail.
    nickitnite
  • And why would MS want a standard?

    This is the company that has, in the past, openly derided open standards as the "least common denominator". I would suspect that one of the appeals of Skype from MS' point of view was the fact that it uses its own secret, proprietary protocols (the better to lock you in with, my dear).
    John L. Ries
    • RE: Microsoft meets Skype: It's about the video conferencing plumbing

      @John L. Ries
      And whats wrong with that? What do you think google would have done with it?
      FlatbushE21
      • double post

        I wonder how that happened.
        John L. Ries