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

Now that Microsoft owns Skype, can the industry finally settle on a video conferencing standard?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 Messengerwill 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.

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