What is Microsoft thinking, paying $8.5B for Skype?

It's hard to envision what Microsoft intends to do with Skype for corporate IT. So what can users expect to get out of Microsoft's $8.5 billion investment?

The people who paid $2.5 billion for Skype two years ago are starting to look very astute.

A week or two ago that wasn't the case. Skype's IPO had been delayed. Google and Facebook were sniffing around Skype, but a buyout didn't seem likely -- too many samolies for Facebook to muster, and all sorts of potential problems for Google, including an antitrust hurdle of Brobdingnagian proportions.

But this morning comes the announcement that Microsoft will purchase Skype for $8.5 billion. As a defensive move, Microsoft buying Skype has some merit: a Google Voice-and-Skype combination would prove a formidable challenge to Windows Live Messenger and Lync, both in the consumer market and in the enterprise. The Skype international telephone number inventory -- and Skype's long experience with local telcos all over the world -- would provide an instant presence that Google Voice is still struggling to establish.

But $8.5 billion?

It's hard to envision what Microsoft intends to do with Skype for corporate IT. Skype is widely regarded by network admins as anathema. Five years ago, at the BlackHat conference in Europe, Philippe Biodi and Fabrice Desclaux described Skype's obfuscated code, saying it "looks like /dev/random" and it hasn't gotten any better. Like any P2P program, Skype basically runs a backdoor, with random pings and relays going out even when there's nobody using the phone. Security people love software like that.

So if the software's no good in the corporate environment, what can enterprise IT expect to get out of Microsoft's $8.5 billion investment?

Not much, as far as I can tell. Speculation that Skype will integrate into the Lync or Exchange environment seem completely far-fetched: The architectures are completely different, and the software isn't reusable. Surely, Microsoft isn't expecting to keep many key Skype developers around, even with fat paychecks. Those international phone numbers and telco connections could help extend Lync, at least in theory. Skype has a good-sized user base, with 120 million active users every month, but that's small potatoes compared to Live Messenger.

Some analysts speculate that Microsoft will meld the Kinect (currently Xbox-only, but coming soon to a Windows 8 near you) with Skype, but that doesn't make a very compelling argument. Offering a $100 Kinect as a replacement for a $2.95 webcam makes about as much sense as ... as ... as buying Skype for $8.5 billion, eh?

The only positive note for IT, as best I can tell, is possible integration of P2P VoIP technology with Windows Phone. Microsoft may be playing a long game, with a Skype client for Windows Phone 8. Presumably the client wouldn't send chillls down the spine of Exchange and Lync admins. Having Skype available for free corporate calls worldwide certainly has a nice ring to it.

But $8.5 billion?

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