Skype – Connecting the World

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Connecting the World: A Fascinating Journey through the History of Skype

In today’s digital age, it’s hard to imagine a world without video calls and instant messaging. One platform that revolutionized communication and connected people across the globe is Skype. Born out of a desire to bridge the gaps between individuals, Skype has a captivating history that traces back to its humble beginnings. Join us as we embark on a journey through time, exploring the evolution of Skype and its impact on the way we connect and communicate.

Skype is one of the most popular and widely used communication platforms in the world, offering voice calls and video calls, instant messaging, file sharing, and other features over the Internet between friends and family members. Skype is also known for its use of the voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP service), which enables low-cost or free communication across different devices and platforms without a phone number. But how did Skype come to be one of the most successful and influential communication tools in the world? Here is a comprehensive overview of the creation and evolution of Skype, from its origins to its current status.

The Founders

Skype was founded in 2003 by two Scandinavian entrepreneurs: Niklas Zennström from Sweden and Janus Friis from Denmark. The two had previously collaborated on another project: Kazaa, a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing service that was popular in the early 2000s but faced legal challenges from the music industry. Zennström and Friis wanted to create a new service that would use the same P2P technology as Kazaa, but for voice communication instead of file sharing. They teamed up with four Estonian developers: Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Jaan Tallinn, and Toivo Annus, who had worked on Kazaa’s backend. Together, they developed the Skype software, which was first released in August 2003.

Zennström and Friis were both experienced and visionary entrepreneurs who had a knack for spotting emerging trends and opportunities in the Internet sector. Zennström had a background in telecommunications and Internet services, having worked for Tele2, a Swedish telecom company, and Everyday.com, a European portal. He also co-founded Altnet, a secure P2P network that distributed licensed digital content. Friis had a background in media and entertainment, having worked for Cybercity, a Danish Internet service provider, and Get2Net, a Danish portal. He also co-founded Joltid, a company that developed P2P technologies.

Heinla, Kasesalu, Tallinn, and Annus were all talented and skilled programmers who had a deep understanding of P2P networks and protocols. They had met at the University of Tartu in Estonia and had worked together at Bluemoon Interactive, an Estonian software company that developed computer games. They later joined Kazaa as core developers and were responsible for creating FastTrack, the P2P protocol that powered Kazaa and later Skype.

The Creation of Skype

Skype was created with the vision of providing a free plan or low-cost voice communication over the Internet to anyone in the world. The name Skype was derived from “Sky peer-to-peer”, which was then shortened to “Skyper”. However, some of the domain names associated with “Skyper” were already taken, so the final “r” was dropped, leaving the current title “Skype”.

The software’s main feature was the ability to make free Skype calls over an internet connection to other registered Skype users, using a computer’s microphone and speakers.  With relative ease of use, a Skype account supported free video calls, instant messaging, file transfer, and group chat. Skype used a decentralized P2P network, in which all connected computers shared processing tasks and bandwidth, allowing its capacity to scale with its user base. This P2P technology was licensed from Joltid, founded by Zennström and Friis.

Skype quickly gained popularity among users who wanted to save money on long distance and international phone calls using broadband connections, and wi-fi hotspots. By the end of 2003, Skype had 1 million registered users. By 2005, it had 50 million users.

The eBay Acquisition

In September 2005, Skype acquired by eBay, the online auction giant, for $2.6 billion plus an eventual $500 million in incentives. eBay hoped to integrate Skype into its platform and enable buyers and sellers to communicate more easily and securely. However, the synergy between the two businesses was not as strong as expected, and Skype faced competition from other VoIP services such as Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger.

In 2007, Skype introduced a new feature called SkypeOut, which allowed users to make calls to regular, and mobile phones on Skype credit. This feature generated revenue for Skype and expanded its user base to people who did not have access to computers or broadband Internet. Skype also launched SkypeIn, which enabled users to receive calls from landline or cell phone numbers for a monthly subscription fee on premium plans. Users could also purchase a Skype number from different countries and regions, making it easier for their contacts to reach them on a second number.

In 2008, Skype added support for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Users could download the Skype app on their devices and make unlimited calls using their data plans or a WiFi connection. Skype also partnered with some mobile operators and handset manufacturers to pre-install Skype on their products.

In 2009, eBay announced that it would sell 65% of Skype to a group of investors led by Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm, for $1.9 billion. The deal valued Skype at $2.92 billion. eBay retained 35% of Skype’s shares and agreed to cooperate with the new owners on product development and integration.

The Microsoft Era

In May 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion and made it part of its online services division. Microsoft planned to integrate Skype with its existing products such as Windows Live Messenger, Outlook.com, Xbox Live, Office 365, and Bing. By integrating with a Microsoft account, the company also aimed to enhance Skype’s quality and reliability by moving it from a P2P network to a centralized cloud-based service powered by Microsoft Azure.

In 2012, Microsoft announced that it would phase out Windows Live Messenger and replace it with Skype as its main instant messaging and video chat service. Users could sign in to Skype with their Microsoft accounts and access their Messenger contacts on Skype. Microsoft also launched a new version of Skype for Windows 8 that featured a modern user interface and integration with other Windows apps.

In 2013, Skype reached 300 million monthly active users and 2 billion minutes of calls per day. Skype also introduced a new feature called Skype Translator, which used artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide real-time speech and text translation for different languages. Skype Translator was initially available as a standalone app, but later integrated into the main Skype app.

In 2014, Microsoft unveiled Skype for Business, a rebranded and enhanced version of its enterprise communication software Lync. Skype for Business offered features such as online meetings, screen sharing, file sharing, and integration with Office applications. Skype for Business also supported interoperability with Skype, allowing users to communicate across different platforms and devices.

In 2015, Skype launched a new app called Skype Qik, which allowed users to send short video messages to their device contacts. The app was designed to be a fun and casual way to communicate with friends and family. However, the app did not gain much traction and was discontinued in 2016.

In 2016, Skype introduced a new feature called Skype Bots, which enabled users to interact with automated chatbots from various brands and services. Users could access the bots from the Skype app or from the Skype website. The bots could provide information, entertainment, or assistance for various tasks such as booking travel, ordering food, or playing games.

In 2017, Skype underwent a major redesign that aimed to make it more social and engaging. The new version of Skype featured a colorful and customizable user interface, a new camera mode that allowed users to capture and share photos and videos, and a new Highlights feature that let users post stories that disappeared after 24 hours. The new version also supported group video calls with up to 25 people, reactions and stickers for messages, and third-party integrations with services such as Spotify, YouTube, and Giphy.

In 2018, Skype added support for end-to-end encryption for private conversations, using the Signal protocol. This feature ensured that only the participants of a conversation could access the messages and calls exchanged between them. Users could start a private conversation from the Skype app or from the Skype website.

In 2019, Skype celebrated its 16th anniversary and announced that it had over 40 million daily active users and over 100 million monthly active users. Skype also launched a new feature called Meet Now, which allowed users to create and join online meetings without signing up or downloading anything. Users could generate a unique link from the Skype app or from the Skype website and share it with anyone they wanted to invite to the meeting. The link would open in web browsers that supported WebRTC technology.

In 2020, Skype faced increased competition from other video conference platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many people to work and study from home. Skype tried to keep up with the demand by improving its performance and reliability, adding new features such as background blur and custom backgrounds, and increasing the limit of group video calls to 50 people. However, Skype’s market share declined as more users switched to other alternatives.

The Notable Competition to Skype

Skype has faced various competitors throughout its history, some of which have surpassed it in terms of popularity and market share. Here are some of the most notable ones:

•  Zoom: Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing platform that was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco engineer who worked on WebEx, another video conferencing service. Zoom offers high-quality video and audio calls, screen sharing, chat, breakout rooms, polls, and other features for online meetings and webinars. Zoom also supports end-to-end encryption, integration with various apps such as Slack and Dropbox, and virtual backgrounds. Zoom became one of the most popular and widely used video conferencing platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it enabled people to work, study, and socialize from home. Zoom reported having over 300 million daily meeting participants in April 2020, up from 10 million in December 2019. Zoom also faced some security and privacy issues, such as “Zoombombing“, where uninvited guests disrupted meetings with inappropriate content, and data sharing with Facebook and other third parties. Zoom addressed some of these issues by enhancing its encryption, adding passwords and waiting rooms, and updating its privacy policy.

 Google Meet: Google Meet is a video conferencing app that was launched in 2017 as a rebranded version of Google Hangouts, a communication service that was introduced in 2013. Google Meet is part of Google’s suite of productivity and collaboration tools, such as Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Google Meet offers video and audio calls, screen sharing, chat, live captions, noise cancellation, and other features for online meetings and webinars. Google Meet also supports end-to-end encryption, integration with various apps such as Outlook and Slack, and custom backgrounds. Google Meet became more accessible and popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it made its service free for anyone with a Google account and increased the limit of participants to 100. Google Meet reported having over 100 million daily meeting participants in April 2020, up from 25 million in January 2020.

•  Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration platform that was launched in 2017 as a competitor to Slack, a popular chat-based workspace service. Microsoft Teams is part of Microsoft’s suite of productivity and collaboration tools, such as Office 365, Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, PowerPoint, SharePoint, Stream, Sway, and Yammer. Microsoft Teams offers chat, video and audio calls, screen sharing, file sharing, and other features for online meetings and webinars. Microsoft Teams also supports end-to-end encryption, integration with various apps such as Zoom and Trello, and custom backgrounds. Microsoft Teams became more widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it enabled people to work remotely and collaborate effectively.

Microsoft Teams reported having over 75 million daily active users in April 2020, up from 20 million in November 2019.

The Future of Online Messaging

Online messaging is a dynamic and evolving field that is influenced by various factors such as technology, user behavior, market trends, and social events. The future of online messaging may depend on how well the existing and emerging platforms can adapt to these factors and provide innovative and satisfying solutions for their users. Here are some possible directions that online messaging may take in the future:

•  Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that enables machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as understanding language, recognizing images, making decisions, and learning from data. AI has already been applied to online messaging in various ways, such as speech and text translation, chatbots, voice assistants, and smart replies. AI may continue to enhance online messaging by providing more accurate, personalized, and engaging communication experiences for users. AI may also pose some challenges for online messaging, such as ethical, privacy, and security issues, as well as human-machine interaction issues.

•  Augmented Reality: Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that overlays digital information or objects onto the real world, creating an enhanced or modified perception of reality. AR has already been used for online messaging in various ways, such as filters, stickers, emojis, and avatars. AR may continue to enrich online messaging by providing more immersive, creative, and fun communication experiences for users. AR may also create some opportunities for online messaging, such as education, entertainment, and commerce applications.

•  Blockchain: Blockchain is a technology that enables a distributed ledger or database that records transactions or data in a secure, transparent, and decentralized way. Blockchain has already been used for online messaging in various ways, such as encryption, authentication, and verification. Blockchain may continue to improve online messaging by providing more privacy, security, and trust for users. Blockchain may also enable some innovations for online messaging, such as peer-to-peer payments, smart contracts, and decentralized applications.

Plans for the next generation of Skype

According to the official Skype customer support website, the latest versions of Skype for different platforms and devices are as follows: https://support.skype.com/en/skype/all/start/release-notes/

•  Skype for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Web: 8.96.0.403

•  Skype for Windows 10 & 11: 8.96.0.403/Microsoft Store Version 15.96.403.0

•  Skype for Android: 8.96.0.403

•  Skype for iPhone and iPad: 8.96.0.403

These versions began rolling out on April 14, 2023 and released gradually over the next few weeks.

According to the Microsoft 365 Roadmap, some of the planned releases for Skype are: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/roadmap

•  Home page customization for Teams admin center: IT admins can drag and drop widgets to customize their Home page in Teams admin center. Expected release: August 2023.

•  Chat with self: Users can send themselves notes, text messages, files and images/videos; helping them stay organized. Expected release: June 2023.

•  Data Export within Approvals App: Through the approvals app you can now export your approval data within a selected time period. Expected release: August 2023.

•  E-signature approvals creation on mobile: Users will now be able to create e-signature approvals on any mobile device. Expected release: July 2023.

•  E-sign approvals fully embedded within Team Approvals for a streamlined experience: Users can now seamlessly create and review e-signature approval requests directly in Teams removing the need to access the e-sign provider website. Expected release: July 2023.

Photo by Eyestetix Studio on Unsplash.

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