Following the reinvention of Windows, Microsoft is now busily reinventing Skype. As part of that continuing effort, on Thursday the technology giant unveiled Skype in the Workspace (SITW).
The new, free online platform is intended to foster the creation of a community for small-and medium-sized businesses, where users post and respond to opportunities, and follow up with IM, phone calls and video demonstrations. The launch of the free Skype community comes after a six-month beta trial in which 500 businesses tested out the platform.
One of those users cited by Microsoft is Alison Coward, owner of a London creative collaboration agency called Bracket. She told news media that SITW is "the perfect platform for me to promote my business and connect with the people who can help it to grow," because the service can be used to find "quality leads without ever leaving my office."
Users can logon onto SITW with their Skype or LinkedIn IDs, and then post or reply to offers or opportunities. Some opportunities are presented at logon, and there is a basic search engine to find additional connections. Users first connect through email, and then can graduate to voice or video sessions if both parties so desire. There is also a meeting notification service, and the ability for contacts or customers to provide a testimonial about a given product, service, or company.
The newest incarnation of Skype follows a series of announcements by Microsoft, as it works to find new ways of utilizing its $8.5 billion purchase of the popular, Net-based voice-and-video communication service.
Coincident with the official launch of Windows 8 at the end of last month, the company announced a "re-imagined Skype" for Windows 8 devices that utilizes the tile-based user interface formerly known as Metro. Skype for Windows 8 uses the Windows Messenger for storing pictures, video and other content on Windows' cloud platform, Azure, as the Messenger brand and service get folded into Skype.
'Octopus with No Control'
But Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that the various incarnations of Skype "worry me a bit," in that they seem like "an octopus with no control over its arms."
He pointed out that, in the collaborative business space, Microsoft also has Lync, which is more focused on inside-the-firewall communications while Skype focuses more on outside. Recently though, the company has said Lync is targeted at large enterprises while Skype in the Workspace tackles small businesses. There's also Sharepoint, Shimmin noted, and Office 365, which integrates with both Lync and Sharepoint. Earlier this week, Microsoft began transitioning Messenger users to Skype, and it has begun to integrate Skype throughout its Office productivity suite.
"What Microsoft needs to do," he said, "is create an infrastructure that supports" all of these services, along with an integrated branding and marketing that is more oriented toward the needs of businesses and less oriented toward "trying to turn an infrastructure tool like Skype into a destination."