Microsoft announced plans Tuesday to buy the popular phone service in an $8.5 billion deal. The marriage would bring Skype's 170 million connected users to Microsoft's empire of business and consumer tech services and products.
"Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world."
Analysts say much of the Internet phone company's value lies in its wide customer base and Microsoft would do well to keep their experience unchanged.
"Skype's value decreases if Microsoft starts to muck around with it," said Om Malik, founder and senior writer of the technology news site GigaOm. But, he added, "Nothing is going to happen... definitely for the foreseeable future."
Microsoft to Integrate Skype Across Xbox Live, Outlook, Lync
If all goes according to plan, Skype's video chat services will be integrated with Microsoft's Outlook, Messenger, Hotmail, Xbox Live and Lync platforms, the companies said.
For example, in the next 12 to 18 months, you could potentially open up a screen in Outlook and click your way to a Skype-enabled chat with an email contact, Malik said.
Or, you could have a call with a friend while playing a video game with them or watching a movie on Xbox Live.
But though the merger means a more seamless way to make Skype calls from Microsoft services, Malik said that people who use Skype from the company's original applications - on the iPad, iPhone or computer -- will likely find that it's business as usual.
"It doesn't impact the consumer very much," he said. "More business users will find that Skype is getting more value to them."
For those worried that Microsoft will pester Skype users with unwanted ads or other intrusive tactics, experts say Microsoft's big bank account means that monetization isn't an immediate necessity.
"With Skype, you get this built-in well of consumers and businesses too," said Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of PCMag.com. "So the great thing about Skype being a part of Microsoft is it doesn't necessarily have to worry in the short-term about turning a profit. It's part of a big company that can use its capital and slowly but surely find ways to monetize it."
Skype Calls Through Facebook?
Ulanoff said it's possible that Microsoft could eventually monetize Skype through upselling, or offering a basic level of the service for free but charging for premium options. Skype's video conferencing tool, for example, comes with a price tag, so it's possible the company could offer multiplayer video conferences to Xbox Live players for an extra fee.
Skype services might turn up is on Facebook, industry watchers say. Facebook and Microsoft already have a partnership, including a Microsoft investment in the social network. It's possible that Facebook Connect (the platform that lets third parties integrate with the social network) could be used to find contacts and place Skype calls, Ulanoff said.
"I think that's certainly a possibility because right now Microsoft and Facebook, to a certain extent, might want to join forces against Google, which is looking to enrich its social services," Ulanoff said.