“We will continue to invest in Skype on non-Microsoft client platforms,” said Ballmer during a news conference announcing the company’s plan to buy chat and Internet phone software maker Skype for US$8.5 billion.
Skype currently offers versions of its software for Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux on the desktop, and on Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, RIM’s BlackBerry and Nokia’s Symbian mobile operating systems.
Ballmer was adamant that the new Microsoft Skype division would not ditch owners of iPhones, Android smartphones, Macs and more.
“A, I said it and I meant it,” said Ballmer when a reporter asked for assurances that Skype would continue to be available for operating systems and devices not sold by Microsoft. “B, we’re one of the few companies with a track record of doing this,” he added, citing Microsoft’s work on Mac OS X, where it develops and sells a Mac-specific version of its Office suite.
A senior analyst at ABI Research Aapo Markkanen took Ballmer at his word.
“Yes, I think they will continue to support Skype on other platforms. If they don’t, it will cut the size of the addressable market,” said Markkanen.
And that’s crucial, since in Markkanen’s eyes, the 170 million Skype users are the main reason why Microsoft’s spending spree – the deal is Microsoft’s biggest-ever acquisition – makes sense.
“It’s the customer base first, then the brand,” said Markkanen.
Ballmer and Skype CEO Tony Bates, who will report directly to Ballmer after the conclusion of the acquisition, did not spell out detailed plans for Skype going forward, instead saying only that it would add Skype support to the Xbox and Kinect gaming devices and Windows Phone, and integrate Skype and its users with Microsoft’s Outlook email client and its Lync and Xbox Live services.
Neither addressed how it would, or even if it would, change Skype on hardware powered by operating systems other than Windows or Windows Phone.
But Markkanen saw an opportunity for Microsoft to make good on its promise to support Skype on rival platforms while still emphasizing its own software.
“I can see them doing a basic version for other platforms, with instant messaging and calling feature on all handsets, but limit video and conferencing to Windows and Windows Phone,” Markkanen said.
Although it might be a long shot, Microsoft could also use this tiered approach to convince some users to switch platforms. “It might be a nice teaser to users of other platforms, and a way to market Windows phone,” Markkanen said.
Microsoft hopes to wrap up the deal, including any necessary regulatory clearances, by the end of this year.