Open Letter to Microsoft Regarding the Skype Acquisition

When I started this blog, I decided that I’d blog about technologies, tools, and gadgets, but would try to avoid straight opinion pieces.  Well, I’m going to break that rule.

Like many others, I was surprised by the recent announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Skype.

I won’t pretend to understand the business and technical strategies that drove this deal, or what the implications might be.  Check out the usual tech news outlets and you’ll find that there are plenty of others doing just that.  The possibilities of the deal are exciting, and I look forward to witnessing the outcome.  But I’m not going to try and guess the outcome in advance..

A recent post to Twitter reads “Wonder what the #MS acquisition of #Skype means for its cross-platform availability.”  That got me to thinking.  Currently, Skype clients are available on many platforms, including Windows, OSX, Linux, iPhone, Android-based phones, and Symbian phones.  There are even Skype-enabled televisions.  Does an acquisition by Microsoft put this broad platform reach in jeopardy?

I work on a project that includes partners spread across the United States, England, Germany, Austria, France, Eqypt, China, Australia, Brazil, and probably a few that I’ve forgotten.  These partners use a huge variety of technologies and platforms.  Off the top of my head, I can think of Windows, OSX, and Linux operating systems.  MySql, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL database servers.  IIS, Apache, and NGINX web servers.  Programming languages in use include C#, Java, and PHP (I’m sure there are others).  Additional technologies in use include Drupal, Fedora Commons, Gluster, and many more.  With this number of partners and technologies spread across the world, it should be no surprise that there is no consensus on what are the “best” tools.  Each partner uses the tools that work best for them.

Similarly, each partner institution (and in some cases each individual person), initially had different preferences for instant communication tools.  Some preferred Windows Live Messenger, some liked iChat.  There were Google Chat advocates, and even some Yahoo! Messenger users.  Some of these tools are single-platform, and many do not talk to one another. 

So how did we ultimately find a way to communicate with one another?  Skype.  The integration of voice, video, and chat was compelling.  The ability to call someone in another country for free was significant.  And, the variety of platforms supported allowed ALL of our partners to use the tool, regardless of their preferred computing platform.

Skype has become an invaluable tool.  We’ve come to rely on it so much that we were negatively affected earlier this year when Skype suffered a major outage.

So, Microsoft, I’m sure you see the various platforms and partners as an opportunity to sell more customers on the Windows platform.  Nothing wrong with that; it’s your job to find opportunities to push your products.  Except the opportunity you imagine doesn’t exist.  This is NOT an opportunity to push Windows.  No partner is going to switch platforms simply to use an instant communications tool, especially when other options exist, even if those options are technically inferior.

We can’t be the only existing Skype users in this situation.  Please, Microsoft, keep supporting ALL of the platforms on which Skype exists.  I was at the MIX conference where the first version of Silverlight was announced, and I remember Scott Guthrie saying “this was HARD” when Silverlight 1.0 running on OSX was demonstrated.  So cross-platform is hard, but you did it.  Do it again.

If cross-platform availability is easier to achieve by dropping the platform-specific client applications in favor of a slick web-based cross-browser cross-platform Skype application, so be it.  Actually, that would be great.  Just make sure it really IS cross-platform and cross-browser.  Not Silverlight-based, and none of this “HTML5 runs best in Internet Explorer on Windows” silliness.  Ensure that Skype continues to work the same everywhere that it does now.

C’mon Microsoft, you can do it.  Skype is a fantastic tool.  Keep it that way, and keep it cross-platform.

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