The first time I used Skype I was in awe. The video quality, the effortlessness it allowed me to see and hear my family far away over my laptop computer screen was magic. It was even more magical when I tried it on my iPhone — a Dick Tracy moment. And it was more impressive than FaceTime because it allowed me to talk to anyone with Skype, not just with those who had an iPhone.
Today, Skype will likely begin to be lost in the maw that is Microsoft. Sure, Microsoft still remains one of the most valuable companies this country has ever produced but aside from the XBox, it hasn’t been on the leading edge of innovation in many years. Apple, Google and companies like Facebook and Twitter are seen at the forefront of the digital age. Microsoft, in comparison, seems like the once great star athlete, a Michael Jordan attempting to regain some glory by playing minor league baseball.
The best case scenario here is that Microsoft rolls Skype into a product like Kinect, which hasn’t quite taken the world by storm, and becomes a simple, easy to use videoconferencing device for the living room, that takes us beyond just hunching over our computers to interact with our friends who are far away.
The reasoning, however, provided in a rather unimpressive press conference by the awkward and uninspiring Steve Ballmer, was to bring new customers to Windows and Office. I can tell you with some degree of experience, business users want screen sharing but they don’t have a great need for videoconferencing. It isn’t a tremendous business advantage or productivity tool.
If, instead, Microsoft predictably turns Skype into Windows Messenger Live Video Vista Professional Edition, then we will have watched one of the most exciting products developed in the last century killed off in the interest of its shareholders.