After screen-shot tease after screen-shot tease, it was just a matter of when, not "if," Microsoft would release a version of Skype customized for Windows 8. And today, October 22, is the day when Microsoft is lifting the curtain on the new client due October 26.
Skype for Windows 8 will be in the Windows Store on October 26, the day Windows 8 and its ARM-based sibling, Windows RT, are generally available. Skype for Windows 8 also will be preinstalled on "the top 12 Windows OEMs' machines," Skype officials said. It won't be preinstalled on Surface RT devices; instead, it will be in the Windows Store for Surface RT because Skype didn't quite make the internal deadline cut-off for preinstallation. (Just in case there's any doubt or confusion, this new Skype app will run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT.)
Skype for Windows 8 was re-architected from the ground up, said Derek Snyder, head of Mobile Marketing at Skype. (Before joining Skype, Snyder was Executive Communications Manager & Technical Advisor for Windows Phone.) Remember those stories about Skype moving away from a pure peer-to-peer (P2P) model, to more of a hybrid model? That's exactly what's happened.
On the back-end, in the months after Microsoft's acquisition of Skype was finalized, the pair have been moving Skype to use the Windows Messenger infrastructure. Storage of pictures, video and other Skype content is now happening on Windows Azure.
In the longer term, Skype most likely will replace Messenger some day. There's no public timetable as to when that will happen, but Skype recently began testing new Windows and Mac beta releases that allow users to sign in using their Windows Live ID (Microsoft Account) so they can send and receive instant messages and see presence information from those using Messenger.
On the front end, the user interface in Skype for Winows 8 has been overhauled so it has a true Metro/tiled look and feel. (The Skype team is using "Modern" to refer to this look, though that is not the official Microsoft replacement term for the Metro UI.) The Windows 8 version of Skype is less Facebook-centric, Snyder said, though Facebook integration is still a feature.
Skype for Windows 8 takes advantage of all the usual Windows 8 features, such "snapping" so Skype can run side-by-side with another app; integrating with Bing allowing image searching and association inside Skype; and running in the background in a low-power-consumption but always-on mode.
Other interesting tidbits about where Skype is going with Windows 8:
- Skype plans to continue to offer users a multiplatform experience. Expect more enhancements on platforms other than Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to continue.
- There's still no public timetable as to when Skype will be fully integrated and federated with Lync. But it's coming. "But expect to see more mobile-specific, mobile-first from us, going forward," said Snyder.
- Skype is planning to provide lots of tips and how-to content to help users figure out how to take advantage of Windows 8-specific features with Skype. These will range from things like "what are toasts?" to "how to put Skype on your lock screen."
- Skype is aiming to get users to leave Skype running on their machines all day and use chat as the first place they go when they sign in.
There's a video over on Skype's "The Big Blog" site showing Skype for Windows 8 in action.