Yesterday's rumour and subsequent confirmation that Microsoft has bought Skype for $8.5bn has generated a lot of comment, much of it expressing scepticism. Charles Arthur's considered, informed and detailed analysis being a case in point.
It does look odd. Why pay so much for a service that makes no money and is potentially antagonistic to the mobile industry that Microsoft is so keen to be a bigger part of? Well here's one area where I think the acquisition of Skype makes a lot of sense for the providers of Office — a suite of tools that even many Mac users find hard to do without: conference calls, meetings, whiteboards etc.
Look at some of the features Skype offers:
And all this for free!
Compare that with commercial conference call hosts. See anything missing? Not really. OK, whiteboards can be useful as well as simple text sharing, and being able to share your screen can be very useful indeed, but adding those in is surely well within Microsoft's ability.
Charles Arthur predicts that Skype will not be integrated into Office, if only due to the deep conservatism of the Office division within Microsoft. The announcement of the deal makes it clear that Skype will be in its own separate division — so the prediction looks safe. But I do hope that the internal politics in Redmond can be overcome and that Skype can indeed be integrated with Office.
Anyone who has had any experience of working with W3C will be very familiar with its incredible conference call tools (Zakim, RRSAgent and Trackbot). It's an integrated system of teleconference bridge, IRC channel, minute-formatting and automatic management of action items, issues etc. I created a tool that replicates a portion of this for Skype users and I'm pleased to say that folk with no experience of W3C have found it useful.
If Office were to include free voice/video call functionality on top of file and screen sharing functionality, plus easy meeting minute-taking and action point management, that just might entice me to upgrade from Office 2000.