Ever since Microsoft acquired Skype back in 2011, users of Windows Live Messenger (and MSN Messenger, before that) had to know that the writing was on the wall. After all, you don’t sink billions of dollars into one of the most high-profile communications platform around and go on offering a competing service. Last fall, rumors surfaced that the beginning of the end was near, and almost immediately after that story broke, Microsoft went and confirmed its plans to shutter Windows Live Messenger early this year.
Finally, last week Microsoft spelled-out just how Messenger would meet its fate, with plans to transition users to Skype by March 15, at which point the old service would be shut off for everyone but users in China. What does this all mean for Microsoft and its users?
One thing this transition says to me is that Microsoft is getting a little tired of offering its users a free lunch, and wants to monetize their communication. Just selling an OS in a once-and-done transaction isn’t enough anymore, and the name of the game is all about turning users into ongoing revenue streams. That’s no real shocker, as everyone’s been moving that way over the course of the past decade or so, so we really shouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft shuffle all its Messenger freeloaders over to a platform where there’s at least the potential to squeeze a little cash out of them. Maybe grandma, having used Messenger to keep in touch with her grandkids all these years, will start poking around Skype and take advantage of its low long distance rates to reach out to some old friends.
There’s a sneakier side to that monetizing as well, as the peer-to-peer nature of Skype means that users are “donating” processing time and bandwidth in order to act as the nodes that keep the network running smoothly. Even if you’re not directly handing any money over to Microsoft, you’re still contributing resources.
Call me cynical, but Microsoft could even be viewing Skype as a way to push users into upgrading their ancient PCs, which will probably mean buying an all-new Windows 8 machine. After all, Windows Messenger clients can run in less than 16MB of memory, where Skype demands many times more. Sure, this is only going to affect users with seriously out-of-date hardware, and you could argue that they need to update anyway, but I don’t like the idea of Microsoft forcing their hand just because they want to keep sending IMs.
But enough with general implications of the transition, or what it means for PCs. This is Pocketnow, after all, so how does this impact the mobile landscape?
It’s almost been surprising how Microsoft has failed to establish Skype as an integral part of Windows Phone. I mean, heck, Windows Phone 8 didn’t even launch with Skype ready to go. I’ve got a feeling that this Messenger move could be part of a larger push for Skype to become a larger component of the Microsoft experience, and wonder if we’re ever going to get to the point where the sort of always-on Skype functionality you can get with the app will be baked-in to a future Windows Phone release.
I’m not 100% on that, though, because I don’t think the mobile space is necessarily the most profitable for Skype. Instead, an increased Skype Windows Phone presence might draw more users into similarly checking it out on their PCs. Really, that’s what it feels like this is all about: adding new users to Skype’s base. And after the $8.5 billion Microsoft coughed-up for Skype, why wouldn’t it want to grow-out its investment?
Thanks: Joe Levi