Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference/exhibition and online events brand in the...
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Eric Krapf | November 15, 2012 |


Skype, Lync, and Occam's Razor

Skype, Lync, and Occam's Razor CEO Steve Ballmer says the two products are coming together. So they probably are.

CEO Steve Ballmer says the two products are coming together. So they probably are.

A couple of weeks back, Microsoft announced that it was incorporating the Lync product into the Skype business unit, setting off a lot of speculation about what was going on. Well, yesterday we got our answer, and it came straight from the top.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a Silicon Valley gathering last night: “Lync and Skype will come together.”

Ballmer was appearing mainly to talk up Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, and these products' implications for the future of Microsoft and the industry, but he got asked about what was going on with the company's communications products, and the above was his blunt reply.

Now, maybe you could choose to read some other interpretation into those words, but it seems like all the objective evidence is pointing toward Microsoft unifying its communications clients; the Skype-Lync announcement was followed not long afterwards by the company's decision to fold Messenger into Skype. Microsoft seems to be committed to a path of consolidating its communications clients, and Skype is by far the best-known brand that it owns in this space--they'd be kinda crazy to go with any other.

Nor is this even so unprecedented, just within the enterprise space: Cisco is likewise consolidating soft clients down to Jabber, which never was exactly a household name in the consumer world, but was an established brand among tech cognoscenti before Cisco bought them. And they're likewise pulling conferencing, social, and other elements together under WebEx.

Another interesting aspect to the Skype-Lync combination is something that Tom Nolle raises in his most recent No Jitter post: The fact that Skype contains a services component gives it an added dimension that none of the other enterprise clients, Lync included, possess.

When you think about this factor, the Skype-Messenger merger seems a lot more natural, and a logical first step toward the eventual grand consolidation, as Kevin notes in his Skype-Messenger piece. Kevin even makes bold to assert that, "Connecting more people from more devices is what Microsoft is clearly pursuing. I believe Microsoft is looking to achieve a critical mass of connected users and thus become the architect of the de facto communication standard. This approach has served Microsoft well in the world of office applications."

I just want to call attention to one other point, that came in Comments to Brian's Lync-Skype article. Commenter "S1" writes:

"My speculation is that Lync for IM, Presence and A/V/D conferencing has already reached maturity in terms of install base among enterprise customers. The only piece that has struggled has been the PBX-replacement/enterprise voice (EV) piece. Languishing in the Office division, Lync would take many more years to scratch out a meaningful EV market share. Couple it more tightly with Skype, however, and now voice and video take center stage. I think this shows Microsoft's loss of patience with EV progress to date and a feeling that this will better be served by the group reporting to the guys who created the category."

I don't think I share S1's thorough pessimism about Lync Voice's prospects in the enterprise; I fully expect Lync to be in the top 3 for PBX market share, as they already are for UC mind share, much sooner than any of Microsoft's competitors would find comfortable.

But at the same time, I think it's clear that Lync Voice won't--really can't--experience the meteoric growth that the basic Lync IM/presence system saw. The dynamics are completely different: Both from a licensing perspective and a market opportunity perspective, the corporate IM/presence market wasn't just low-hanging fruit--it was fruit that was lying on the ground, waiting to be picked up.

That's not the case with enterprise PBXs. Enterprise PBXs--which will be in use for a long time to come--have long depreciation cycles, are expensive, and are strategic purchases that come with their own sets of relationships, expertise, and customer biases. Microsoft will surely gain PBX share, but those gains won't come nearly as quickly or easily as adoption of basic Lync IM/presence did.

So returning to "S1"'s comment, does moving Lync under Skype--and, it seems, combining the two--accelerate the uptake of, let's call it, Microsoft Voice? It does seem like coming at the enterprise with a multi-faceted voice story, one that embraces Skype for enterprises that previously have had some concerns about ad hoc user adoption without a lot of enterprise control, could be a plus.

So now, having said all this, I think the actual playing-out of these events is a way off and could still wind up not quite happening. Assuming--as I do--that Ballmer meant what he said in its simplest sense, that Lync and Skype will eventually be one product, with separate iterations for business and consumer--there's no guarantee that Microsoft will pull it off. It's a complex integration, and external forces will not stand still while Microsoft tries to execute it.

But I think this is where they're headed, and it'll make for some interesting decision-making in the enterprise over the coming years.


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