Microsoft is certainly no stranger to overlapping services and products, and its latest $8.5 billion move all but guarantees that the company will compete against itself while fostering confusion among customers.
Provided that antitrust authorities give green light to the acquisition of Skype, the Redmond company’s communications offerings will involve the good old Windows Live Messenger and Lync for end users and business customers respectively, as well as Microsoft Skype, which is already leveraged by both audiences.
While I’ll be the first to admit that Windows Live Messenger, Lync and Microsoft Skype are tailored to specific scenarios, their core functionality and features still overlap.
At this point in time, Skype offers conference calls, voicemail, caller ID, file sharing, Facebook News Feed, Skype To Go numbers, call forwarding, screen sharing, SMS, online numbers, call transfer, Instant messaging, free video calling, Skype calls, group video calling, just to name the client’s main features.
Windows Live Messenger and Lync users will undoubtedly recognize similarities with the instant messaging and communications offerings they’re currently leveraging from Microsoft.
Judging by the way Microsoft plans to swallow Skype, namely as a new division with former Skype CEO Tony Bates as President, the Skype technologies will not be folded into Windows Live Messenger and Lync, but instead continue to survive in a standalone offer.
Here’s what Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO had to say about Microsoft Skype:
“We're committed to optimizing Skype for the TV, with Xbox and Kinect, for the Windows Phone, and the Windows PC. The opportunity to think about and design software application and communications experience, and the hardware together is exciting for both companies.
“At the same time, we want to extend the reach of Skype by connecting Skype users with users of our Outlook products, our Lync enterprise unified communications product, Xbox LIVE, and other opportunities like Messenger and Hotmail. Fundamentally, part of our strategy here is to build and grow the Skype brand, and we think that both of these activities have a chance to not only enhance customer value, but enhance the brand reputation of the Skype brand. We're excited about the opportunities that we see in the consumer and the commercial area, but the one I'll underscore just a little bit more is on the business, or commercial side.
“For business we've had an incredible uptake of our Lync unified communications client. We're committed and want to build on that success. As I said, the product is off to a fantastic start, and we have plans to enhance it, in addition to connecting it into the rest of the Skype customer base, which I think in and of itself will be viewed as a great value to our customers.”
So Windows Live Messenger is not going anywhere, Lync is also here to stay, and Microsoft Skype will be added on top. You have to love overlapping services, right?
I do believe that at least for the present and the immediate future, this will indeed be the case. But what about in a few years’ time?
If the history of Microsoft’s past actions is taken into consideration, the software giant tends to make it so that overlapping services and products end up cannibalizing one another until a single, unified offering emerges.
Windows Live Sync and Live Mesh is the latest example that comes to mind in this regard, the melting of the two having produced Windows Live Mesh, which is certainly quite far from the vision of what Live Mesh was supposed to be, and inferior to rival offers available from competitors.
Before it launched Windows Live Messenger 2011, Microsoft provided a comparison chart which listed the main features of its IM client vs. rival instant messaging solutions.
In that chart, the Redmond company made it clear that it considered Skype to be an inferior solution to Windows Live Messenger 2011. Deeply inferior. By extension, it’s safe to assume that the software giant also considers Lync to be superior to Skype as well.
Certainly, when comparing communications solutions, features and functionality are not all that’s to look at. Microsoft is gaining a user base of 170 million connected Skype customers with the $8.5 billion acquisition, and that number together with the Skype brand and the underlying technology, have contributed to the birth of the Microsoft Skype Division.
But what I have to ask is how long will Bates and the new Microsoft Skype Division last when competing against the divisions responsible with Windows Live Messenger and Lync.
Is Skype destined to become the next Danger or will this be a success story for Microsoft? What do you think?