Microsoft's Skype acquisition may impact Linux users

Countdown for Skype for Linux's end of life begins

After a week of rumors about Skype being heavily courted by buyers such as Google and Facebook, it looks like the winning bidder may be Microsoft.

According to a story the Wall Street Journal broke late Monday evening (and later confirmed early Tuesday morning), Microsoft has closed a nearly $8 billion deal for the popular voice-over-IP company.

(In the video below, Keith Shaw talks with CIO.com's Shane O'Neill about Microsoft's $8.5 billion offer to buy Skype, and what it means for Microsoft's consumer and enterprise voice offerings.)

This deal will represent a pretty big sea change for not only the VoIP sector, but also the broader Software as a Service (SaaS) industry. Microsoft has not gained a lot of ground in the cloud, with Bing still behind Google, and not much success reported for Office 360 in comparison to other cloud services like Google Docs, either. Getting a hold of Skype, though, would be a big brand-name acquisition for Microsoft and put it right into the middle of the cloud game.

Skype has been a hot little property in the cloud market for some time, since eBay, the former owners of Skype, sold a majority share to an investment consortium in late 2009. For most industry watchers, it was only a matter of time before the consortium polished Skype up and trotted it out on the open market again. Now it looks like Microsoft may be the winning suitor.

The WSJ article speculates that Microsoft may be acquiring Skype to bolster their lagging Windows Phone offerings. It certainly couldn't hurt, since Google's Android and Apple's iOS are effectively kicking Windows Phone's metaphorical butt. But, the article adds, Microsoft would have to be careful, if indeed this was the plan.

"Microsoft will likely need to tread carefully, though, in integrating Skype into its mobile software because of the potential for pushback from wireless carriers, whose support Microsoft badly needs. Skype could give consumers a way to make cheap phone calls over the Internet from mobile phones, without paying higher rates to the carriers," the article states.

More carefully, perhaps, than even the article suggests, since Microsoft is already receiving grumblings from mobile device vendors about it's oh-so-cozy partnership with Nokia.

That Nokia partnership may worry a lot of Linux and open source users. Nokia didn't waste a lot of time dropping Symbian and before that off-loading commercial licensing and support of the open source Qt library to Digia. Nokia denies these actions were taken on behalf of its new partner, and that these moves made sense given Nokia's new focus on the Windows Phone platform. That may well be, but I, for one, am skeptical.

And I am skeptical on the continued health of the Skype for Linux application. Skype for Linux has never seemed a high priority for the Skype team, with features and support lagging behind Windows, OS X, and even mobile platforms. Still, Skype for Linux is a perfectly usable application, and I personally used it to keep a single VoIP service across all my machines.

Now, though, I am wondering how long Skype for Linux has to live. Since the application is decidedly not open source, if Skype's new owners decide to kill it, then it will certainly die. Such is the curse of proprietary software.

I may be overly pessimistic, of course. Microsoft could decide to keep Skype for Linux alive after all is said and done.

But I doubt it.

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