Microsoft wants Skype to be everywhere. It got a little over-zealous with a poorly-designed version of Skype for Windows 8 that never caught on and is being discontinued, but it rallied this week with a new version of Skype that runs in a web browser.
Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. Like Office, it is now available on every platform – Windows and Mac computers, iPhones and iPads, and Android phones and tablets. Microsoft clearly hopes it will feel like the inevitable choice for online communication, just as the Office programs feel inevitable for documents, spreadsheets and presentations. There are many competitors but it feels like Skype is starting to take over. The best known alternative is Apple FaceTime, which is quite good but only available for Mac and iOS users. Google fantasizes that Google Hangouts will catch on but it shows no signs of life. Skype is the logical alternative for everyone else.
When Microsoft released Windows 8, it insisted that all programs would benefit from being rewritten as full-screen “modern” apps, touch enabled and better able to scale to all screen sizes. The modern version of Skype is shipped with all copies of Windows 8. It’s pretty awful. I routinely uninstall it when I’m setting up a Windows 8 computer. I’ve never seen anyone use it, to be honest.
Apparently everyone else disliked it too, because last week Microsoft announced that the modern version of Skype is being retired on July 7. It’s unclear whether the modern version will completely stop working but it’s likely that opening it will redirect you to where you can download the traditional desktop version.
Microsoft is not retreating from Skype – quite the contrary. The desktop version of Skype for Windows will continue to be pushed relentlessly, along with Skype for Mac, iPhones and iPads, and Android devices. At some point Microsoft will release simplified messaging, phone and video apps for Windows 10 that will be powered by Skype. (There are hints that the Windows 10 “universal” apps will be delayed until after the July 29 release of Windows 10.)
Meanwhile Microsoft decided to extend the Skype brand by renaming its enterprise communications program Lync to “Skype for Business.” It makes sense that Microsoft would set up confusing names for two incompatible programs; this is the same company that brings us OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, after all. There’s someone at Microsoft who thrives on confusion and simply hates clarity, I think. To be fair, Microsoft is working on making Skype for Business interoperate with the consumer Skype, but at the moment they are vastly different programs.
A few days ago Microsoft opened up final beta testing of a browser-based version of Skype at http://web.skype.com, allowing you to use Skype without installing the full program. It works on Windows and Mac computers in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. It makes more sense for you to install the desktop version of Skype on your own computer but the web based version makes it easy to Skype from a computer while you’re traveling or at someone else’s desk.
You’ll need to know your Microsoft account credentials to log into Skype. Desktop computer users need a microphone, either built into a webcam or some kind of headset with a microphone. (I get calls all the time from people who are concerned because the person at the other end of a Skype call can’t hear them. No microphone, no sound!)
Video and voice quality on Skype calls has been improving steadily for the last few years. It is settling down into a mature, reliable platform. Skype won’t replace telephones in small offices but it is becoming a useful extra tool for business communications, and it is invaluable for personal calls and video chats. If you’re not already a Skype user, it’s time to pay attention and try it.