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article image'Skype for Life' to replace dizzying selection of Skype clients

By James Walker     Sep 20, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft recently closed down its Skype office in London for reasons that are now becoming clear. It is said to be building a cross-platform Skype client to run on any device, putting an end to the confusing mass of interfaces currently available.
Microsoft recently announced it will be cutting 220 jobs from its London workforce by closing its Skype development office there. The company said it wants to "unify" some engineering positions, suggesting it wants to centralise Skype development in the U.S.
Ars Technica reported today that the office is being closed because Microsoft is building an all-new Skype client codenamed "Skype for Life." Unlike the myriad of apps currently available, Skype for Life will be a single cross-platform client. It will be available on Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS and Android. What it will look like, how it will integrate to each platform and when it will launch remain unknown.
Microsoft is said to be concentrating all its resources on creating Skype for Life. As such, it has put all of its existing clients into "maintenance mode," effectively cutting off feature updates and providing only essential support. With Skype for Life development taking place at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, the team in London is no longer required.
The closure of Skype's London office marks Skype completing its transition to being led by Microsoft. Previously, it has operated mostly independently of its parent company. Microsoft vowed it would leave Skype largely to its own devices when it bought the UK-based firm for $8.5 billion in 2011. However, it has reined in control over the past few years, promoting Skype as a Microsoft service and drawing it closer to home in the U.S.
Skype for Linux
Skype for Linux
The creation of Skype for Life suggests Microsoft has taken a hard look at the current Skype clients and realised what everyone else has been saying for years: there are simply too many. Having a version for every platform is good, but not when they all function differently, have different features and are sometimes neglected for years at a time.
Microsoft's ambitions for its Skype clients haven't been the clearest of late. Since it started development of Windows 10, it has been talking about deep integration between Windows and Skype. However, the company has repetitively changed its mind on what this should like, potentially confusing users.
Initially, Skype was integrated with the Messaging app, letting you send Skype and SMS messages from one place. Then, Microsoft decided that approach was too limiting and stripped Skype back out of Messaging, as well as the SMS capabilities that accompanied it. In its place is the new "Skype Preview" app you'll find preinstalled on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, a sluggish, far-from-complete Skype experience that is barely ready for consumers. It doesn't support SMS messages.
Since then, the company has made another U-turn. It is patching back together the combined SMS and Skype functionality and installing it in the new app, based on the user outcry when it ripped apart the working implementation of the feature. You'll be able to send SMS messages from your PC as per the original plan, using your phone as a bridge.
Skype for Linux
Skype for Linux
If you're confused, you're not alone. That's just the state of Skype on Windows 10. There's also the classic Skype desktop app, for all versions of Windows, the old Windows Phone 8 app, the Skype Web Client, a new app for Linux and versions for macOS, iOS and Android.
The Windows 10 Messaging app also still exists. On the Anniversary Update, it offers no functionality whatsoever, but is still installed. If you own a Windows Phone, you can see your SMS conversations in the desktop app. You can also type a reply, but you'll find the send button has been disabled. The SMS integration no longer exists. You can't message Skype contacts because that feature has moved to the "Skype Preview" app.
Hopefully, Skype for Life will begin to clean up the confusion, replacing the various versions of Skype with a single version that looks the same, offers the same features and works reliably on every supported platform. Microsoft can then state once and for all what version consumers should actually be using, rather than changing its mind every six months.
By building the product in Redmond, it should be able to align the engineering direction to better fit in with the rest of its products. The move represents an end of an era for Skype as an independent company though. Its London office was its primary development headquarters before Microsoft acquired it, back when it was a simple instant messaging program with voice call capabilities.
More about Microsoft, Skype, skype for life, Windows
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