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Microsoft, Skype, and EDU
May 12, 2011 - 9:30pm

My gut reaction is that Microsoft's $8.5 billion purchase of Skype is a good thing for higher ed, and probably a smart move on Microsoft's part.

I'm betting that you are critical of this acquisition, and worried if the free (or very cheap) Skype that you rely on so much will change or go away. I think Microsoft would be nuts to mess too much with the goodness of Skype, as Skype's large installed user base is more valuable than its technology.

In the Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps for Education battle for the hearts, minds and eyeballs of higher ed, the Skype purchase certainly makes the Microsoft cloud based e-mail/calendaring potentially more compelling (we will see).

Video conferencing is becoming a standard tool for collaboration. For teaching and learning, web based meeting spaces are critical for teaching, student collaboration, and virtual office hours. Today, we mix and match tools, using Microsoft Lync (what used to be called Live Communications Server), Skype, Google Video Chat, Adobe Connect, WebEx, Elluminate etc. None of these platforms, save Lync, integrates particularly well with Exchange e-mail or calendar (except Lync), and all of these platforms are necessary for different tasks.

With this Skype purchase, Microsoft has a shot of truly unifying communications across the use cases of one-on-one video conferencing and web meetings. Integrating Skype's technology with Lync would open up video conferencing between Microsoft and non-Microsoft users. A Microsoft customer could still schedule and manage meetings from within Exchange, but hold high quality virtual meetings with anyone who has the Skype client. Audio could flow from VOIP or a land line or a cell phone….again making the integrated platform more flexible while increasing the value proposition of the full Exchange.

It would be a very good thing for higher ed if the virtual meeting space had more players and more competition. I'm a fan of Adobe Connect, but I think the product has lots of room for improvement. With the Skype acquisition, Microsoft has the technology and the installed user base to justify investing heavily in this area.

Will Blackboard will be able to invest the resources necessary to make Elluminate a world-class platform?

Where I'm still fuzzy on is Skype, Exchange and mobile - as Microsoft's mobile offering is just not on my radar (trying to decide between the iPhone and the Android world's).

Where am I wrong? What do you think?


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