May 10, 2011, 11:52 AM — Mac and iOS enthusiasts wondering what Microsoft's $8.5 billion Skype purchase means to them can take some comfort from a single stoic sentence in Redmond's press release announcing the deal: "Microsoft will continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms."
That line may treat Mac OS X and iOS as entities that shall not be named, but it at least provides some small bit of reassurance that the existing Skype clients for the Mac and iPhone won't be whisked off to a farm upstate. Microsoft hasn't provided any further details on its specific plans for Skype on Apple-branded devices, but that's OK—it gives us room to speculate.
Microsoft, of course, has a long history of developing software for the Mac, and a short history of developing for iOS. Still, the company's reputation amongst the Mac crowd isn't always sterling. So what does this $8.5 billion Skype deal mean for Mac and iPhone users?
The once and future Skype
Before we look ahead, though, let's take a look back at the history of Skype on the Mac. Skype—founded by the developers who created the file-sharing software Kazaa—launched in 2003. In October 2005, eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion. A year later, Skype 2.0 was released, marking the first time the Mac version of the software supported video calls. In 2007, the Mac Skype client finally integrated with the OS X Address Book. In 2009, Skype added support for higher-quality calls. That same year, the company first launched its iPhone app, which netted more than one million downloads in its first two days. At that time, iPhone Skype calls could only connect over Wi-Fi.
In 2010, sadly, Skype the Mac client and Skype the iPhone client diverged sharply—the former getting much worse, and the latter getting much better. The iPhone client added support for placing calls over 3G and for multitasking background functionality. But the Skype 5 for Mac betas and subsequent official release client traded usability and intuitiveness for... Well, for whatever the opposites of those nouns are. As Lukas Mathis wrote on TidBits: