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Microsoft Upgrades Messenger to Skype

People will text more than talk;
The largest voice provider will not be a telco;
A billion people will be able to communicate without dialing a phone number.
By these signs you shall know that the rise of the Public Collaboration Network is at hand.

It strikes me yet again how slanted the title to an article can be: "Microsoft dumps Messenger for Skype", "Microsoft scraps Messenger for Skype", "Microsoft shoots Windows Live Messenger, brings in Skype IM". With all the "dumping", "scrapping" and "shooting" going on, it would be easy to conclude that Microsoft made a tactical blunder. And yet, Microsoft has done exactly what Microsoft should and likely always planned to do, leveraging their $8.5 billion investment in Skype. This includes integrating Skype into Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and now upgrading, and integrating, Messenger users to the Skype client.

The Messenger client has been updated and upgraded many times over the years. "MSN Messenger" was originally released in 1999 providing only simple text messaging. In 2000-2001 Messenger added voice capabilities. In 2005 Messenger added video capabilities. Also in 2005 Messenger became "Windows Live Messenger". And now Messenger is being upgraded to Skype.

Starting in July 2011, I have written several times about the rise of what I called the Public Collaboration Network (or PCN for short--see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I originally described the PCN as follows:

"Unlike the PSTN, the PCN will provide a common connection mechanism regardless of whether the communication is real-time (voice, video, IM, texting, document or desktop sharing) or asynchronous (email, discussion boards, voice mail, calendaring, streaming audio and video). The PCN will also share rich presence and location information to assist in determining the best communication modality to use ahead of the connection attempt.

Having the Messenger service "folded into" the Skype service makes sense from a Microsoft perspective; it advances the development of the Public Collaboration Network and ultimately is good news for end users. A single communication client to connect over 1 billion people is a good thing.

Q: But what exactly does this mean for consumers?
A: It is good news.

I would expect that a good portion of the current Messenger users also have the Skype client installed on one or more of their devices. Having a single client and a single identity is better. You can now sign into Skype using a Microsoft account. Having a single list of contacts is also better. Microsoft has indicated that with the latest version of Skype, users can "sign in using a Microsoft account, and their Messenger contacts will be there."

Upgrading Messenger to Skype also means that users will be able to connect with their contacts on a broader range of devices, extending support to iPad and Android (Messenger already provided support for Windows, iOS, BlackBerry and Mac OS X). Skype also adds screen sharing (great for remote assistance), integration with Facebook friends (video calls) and access to group video calling (although this requires that at least one person in the call has a subscription to the paid Skype Premium service).

As with previous Messenger upgrades, upgrading the Messenger client to Skype provides users with more features and functionality.

Q: And what specifically does this mean for enterprise users?
A: It is good news.

Despite the "unifying" of the Lync product team under the Skype team, Lync remains Microsoft's premier corporate communication and collaboration client, and I expect it to stay this way.

Lync already was able to federate (sharing presence, IM, voice and video) with Messenger contacts, and it was announced that Lync 2013 would federate (presence, IM and voice but not video) with Skype. Merging Messenger and Skype makes it easier to integrate the various enterprise internal and external contacts.

The ability for Lync to connect to Skype (and Messenger) users greatly extends the possibilities to support business-to-consumer use case scenarios (such as allowing customers to click-to-chat or click –to-call from a web site). One customer that I work with often uses Skype to conduct interviews with prospective candidates. The integration of Messenger and Skype simply extends the reach to more people. And because this customer uses Lync internally, all of this means a more connected world.

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.

Q: So what is the "bottom line"?
A: Merging Messenger and Skype is a smart move by Microsoft that benefits end users.

For Microsoft, having a single software client to advance and support is good business. This means development resources can be allocated to a single platform. For end users this should yield faster updates and more innovation.

Microsoft has been very successful in bundling applications and services. A key value proposition and success criterion for Office is the integration between the applications. Initially, none of the individual applications were leaders in their respective areas (although they have mostly evolved to be), but the market voted, with its spending dollars, that the overall ease of use through deep integration made up for any individual application weaknesses.

In the world of communications and collaboration, Microsoft is adopting a similar approach. Combine Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office, and now Messenger integrated into Skype, and you have a very strong offering. And as we saw last week, Microsoft is simultaneously looking to standardize the user interface and operating system across phones, tablets, PCs (and even Xbox).

Despite sensationalized headlines to the contrary, upgrading Messenger to Skype is a good-news story for everyone except Microsoft's competitors.

Agree? Disagree? Share your point of view below or connect with me on Twitter @kkieller.