Microsoft, Skype combo could be great for the enterprise

Skype integration with Outlook, Lync, Xbox offers low-cost way to extend collaboration.

Microsoft's acquisition of Skype should be a good news story for enterprises that use Microsoft servers and want to include low-cost unified communications and videoconferencing. While the companies' CEOs didn't offer details on products during today's press conference announcing the $8.5 billion deal, they made some clear promises.

Steve Ballmer, Tony Bates Skype

CEOs Steve Ballmer and Tony Bates

Skype is already the glue between competing UC platforms. Skype will become a business unit within Microsoft and, as such, Steve Ballmer promised that Skype support for non-Microsoft platforms like Apple's iOS and Android will continue. These weren't empty words. One of the things Microsoft gets for their billions is a client that runs on multiple platforms and this gives Microsoft the instant ability to reach Skype's 170 million users.

Skype is to be integrated into several Microsoft enterprise server products such as Outlook. Skype already offers a business subscription option that can integrate into an existing PBX system.

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Skype will eventually be integrated into Microsoft Lync and the unified communications client, Communicator. Lync users will eventually be able to include those on the Skype network in their communications, be it presence, instant messaging, VoIP or video chat. Plus, users will be able to tap into Lync from their smartphones and tablets, across operating systems, via a Skype client. If and when it comes to be, that should be a win for Lync users and for Skype users.

This deal a competitive feather in the hat over rival Cisco's UC products, too. Skype CEO, Tony Bates, came from Cisco. He was the former head of Cisco's enterprise, commercial and small business group. He took the role just weeks after Skype and Avaya signed an agreement to integrate their wares last fall. The Microsoft purchase shouldn't shake up the Avaya piece, IMO. For instance, Avaya's SMB product, Business Communications Manager (Linux based, by the way), includes a feature called "InTouch Federated Presence." IFP has already integrated Microsoft technologies, including Outlook and Microsoft's news/online services portal, alongside Skype for click-to-call, click-to-IM and click to e-mail.

Cisco will have to come to Microsoft if it wants to get fully integrated with the Skype user base now. I'm not holding my breath. In March, Cisco PR released a long-winded rationale why enterprise users should dis Skype and Google Voice.

UPDATED 05/11: Meanwhile, Microsoft's main third-party partner for videoconferencing, Polycom, has also hailed the acquisition as good news, as it could broaden awareness and acceptance of enterprise video conferencing, which, it beleives, will help it sell more enterprise class systems for Lync. The company contacted me via e-mail with this statement: "We view Microsoft's acquisition of Skype as great news on many fronts. It takes Skype out of the competitive equation and places it with one of our closest strategic partners. The integration of Lync and Skype is also positive for Polycom, because the better Lync performs, the greater our opportunity in terms of video endpoints, software and infrastructure sales," said Andy Miller, president and CEO, Polycom.

As for the home front, Microsoft is looking to integrate Skype into Xbox Kinect, too. This has a round-about impact on the enterprise. Microsoft has been trying to sell this idea that Kinetic can become the inexpensive home videoconferencing option (probably much to Cisco's chagrin, since Cisco offers a high-end product for home videoconferencing, too, Umi). Kinetic includes a feature called VideoKinect, but it has been limited to Xbox LIVE and Windows Live Messenger friends.

Microsoft Skype integration

When Lync was announced, Microsoft promised that VideoKinect would be able to tap into Lync users, too, but alas, that feature hasn't happened yet. Windows Live is still required. Enter Skype ... the Lync developers can perhaps abandon their need to create their own hook into VideoKinect and use some form of Skype instead -- plus Kinect users will gain access to those many Skype users. For workers that own Xbox, enterprises may get more low-cost access to video conferencing.

Or, if dreams come true for the enterprise worker, maybe enterprises will go so far as to buy Xbox Kinnect for those that need home videoconferencing. <grin>

The big downside of this merger will be security. Skype has been increasingly been in the news for vulnerabilities. Indeed, just this month it fixed holes in its Mac, and Android clients.

While the two companies await regulatory approval, there is no shades of Yahoo here. Although Ballmer said that the offer was unsolicited, the deal is all cash and Skype management and its board of directors signed on the dotted line last night.

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