Microsoft announced today that it has mostly wrapped up its acquisition of the Internet communications company Skype. The £5.4 billion deal has received approval from the major regulators, the US Federal Trade Commission and the European Union, although a few holdouts remain - Russia, Ukraine, Serbia and Taiwan - which are expected to fall into line shortly.
Now that Skype is in the Microsoft fold, the question in many consumers' minds - especially the 170 million that actively use the service - is what the change of ownership will mean to them.
If you're a user of Skype, chances are you won't see much change. Microsoft has vowed to continue support for the service's standalone client, which allows voice and video calls, as well as instant messaging, to be placed over an IP connection.
If you use Microsoft products, more intriguing possibilities may be in store for you, as the Redmond folks start integrating Skype into their offerings.
Windows Phone 7 integration?
One obvious fertile place for the application is in Microsoft's mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7. Skype already offers flavors of itself for the Apple iPhone and Android handsets, and a WinPho 7 version will no doubt be available in short order. Down the road, though, Skype could be tightly integrated into the mobile OS, giving it capabilities such as video conferencing that's more robust than in the Skype standalone app and VoIP connections over a wireless connection - although the carriers will have something to say about features like that.
If you use Facebook, you may see broader support of Skype on the network because of Microsoft's cozy relationship with the social network - it owns 1.6 percent of Facebook. This could result in you not only chatting with your friends live on Facebook, but to speak with them live, as well.
Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft Office and Skype
If you use Microsoft's cloud service, Windows Live Essentials, you could see Skype popping up in applications like Hotmail and Writer. You could have one address book for both Hotmail and Skype, for instance. From inside Writer, you might be able to launch collaboration chats through hooks into Skype. And you might find Windows Live Messenger looking very similar to Skype in the future.
Microsoft Office could be Skype-enabled, too. For example, calls to contacts in your Outlook address book could be placed directly to them through Skype.
In the gaming realm, Skype integration could be used to enhance Microsoft's Xbox LIVE and Kinect offerings by expanding the voice and video capabilities already supported by those platforms.
Skype integrated into Windows?
Most intriguing of all is the possibility that Skype will become part of the Windows operating system package. When you boot up a new version of Windows for the first time, you could be asked if you want Skype installed, too. That would be a real door-opener for Skype because it would remove much of the friction caused by many users reluctance to install products downloaded from the Internet.
In a blog item on the consummated merger, Tony Bates, former CEO of Skype the company and new CEO of Skype the division of Microsoft, declared, "By bringing together the best of Microsoft and the best of Skype, we'll deliver amazing new experiences for consumers and business around the world."
Let's hope that Bates can deliver on that promise and that Skype won't be left to languish in the bowels of the Goliath that gobbled it up.