Thursday, October 01, 2009


You like Skype; I like Skype; everybody likes Skype!

When I worked for IBM, I didn’t use Skype. As with many large companies, they don’t allow the use of software on company computers unless the lawyers have approved the terms and conditions — the end-user license agreement, EULA — and the company lawyers didn’t approve the Skype license. It didn’t matter much to me: I had a Cisco IP telephone on my desk, and software on my computer to control the phone. I could make and receive calls from my computer as though I were at my desk.

As soon as I left, though, I installed Skype. I’d heard a lot about it, and I wanted to try it. But beyond just trying it: it lets you make free calls to U.S. toll-free phone numbers, and that made it very useful to use for conference calls. I could use a headset — including my Bluetooth headphones — on calls, giving me good sound and a nice, hands-free situation.

And then it got better: I found that for about five dollars a month, I could use it for unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada, plus get a telephone number for people to make incoming calls to. I went with it. And I love it.

It’s nice to have the same phone number available wherever I take my laptop. It’s nice to use a headset, but I can just use the microphone and speakers built into the Macbook, and they work fine. I’ve always had good sound in both directions. I’m not using minutes on my mobile phone, and my calls aren’t cutting in and out because of a flakey mobile signal. Of course, I do need an Internet connection, but that’s ever easier to find. When I need to make international calls, I can do that at a much lower rate than I’d get on my mobile phone. And for international colleagues who are also on Skype, it’s free (Skype-to-Skype calls are always free).

EBay bought Skype in October, 2005, but little seemed to change with the acquisition. The Skype software and services remained branded as “Skype”, rather than having “eBay” plastered all over things. And everything continued to work nicely. For Skype users.

Not so much for Skype management, which was hampered by control from the eBay mother ship. And not so much for eBay itself: by straying so far from their core business without an apparent plan for managing the expansion, eBay did not do well with the purchase. From the New York Times:

EBay acquired Skype in 2005, outbidding Google and Yahoo in a deal that has come to be viewed as one of the worst technology transactions of the decade. Including payouts to Skype’s founders, the price ultimately topped $3.1 billion. EBay later wrote down $900 million of Skype’s value, after it became clear that the company was not a good fit with eBay’s main e-commerce and online payment businesses.
So, as that article tells us, eBay is selling Skype off, to some “private investors”. Good for Skype.

Except that more trouble started looming, as the original Skype founders filed intellectual property claims against eBay in British court, and have just filed a new lawsuit in California. The suit names eBay, as well as the new investment groups to which eBay is selling Skype.

So, where things will go is uncertain. Skype is said to be working on replacing the parts of the program in question in the lawsuit, which would allow them to continue even if they lose... but a large award for damages could crush them financially, even if they’ve dealt with the intellectual property issue for the future. I haven’t looked at the details of the suit, so I have no opinion on who’s right.

I just hope Skype continues, win or lose. I like Skype.

[As to the title: see here.]

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