Messenger has been subsumed by Skype -- will Lync follow?

A collection of screenshots from Skype conversations. Credit: alaistaras via Flickr

The rumors were right: Microsoft will retire Messenger, transitioning the millions of users of the IM service onto Skype.

The timing of the move is curious, give that Messenger is integrated into both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, and brings up many unanswered questions.

In a blog post, Skype is instructing Messenger users to install the latest version of Skype and sign into it using a Microsoft account. When they do, their Messenger contacts will show up. Users have until the first quarter of 2013, when Microsoft will retire Messenger everywhere but China.

The move shifts a solidly consumer crowd – the vast majority of Messenger users are consumers – onto the Skype platform that serves a mix of consumers and business users. 

Shortly after the announcement was posted, confused and angry users started posting comments. They asked questions like: When logged in, which name appears for users – their Skype name or their Messenger name? And: What happens if you have two Messenger accounts, each with separate lists of friends?

Also, one person wondered if an influx of Messenger users will degrade service for Skype. If so, business users who may rely on Skype are likely to suffer.

Microsoft doesn’t appear to have released user figures for Messenger in recent years. In 2009, on the ten year anniversary of the service, Microsoft said it had 330 million active users. Around the time of Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype last year, it was saying that Skype had 600 million users.

It's bewildering that Microsoft made this move so close after the release of Windows 8, which integrates Messenger into the preloaded Messaging app. In fact, Messenger and Facebook are the only messaging services integrated into the app – Skype isn’t an option right now, and a Microsoft spokesperson had no comment on whether it would ever be. That said, users of the new Skype app for Windows 8 can place phone calls from the integrated Windows 8 People contact manager.

It’s a similar story for the recently unveiled Windows Phone 8, which will come with a Messenger app. Microsoft does plan to release a Skype app for Windows Phone 8 and has previewed it for some reporters.

Microsoft missed a golden opportunity to make the transition much easier by eliminating the Messenger apps from Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, guiding users toward Skype instead. The transition didn’t happen over night: The company appeared to have put the wheels in motion with the release of Skype 6.0 for Mac and Windows a few weeks ago, which let users sign into Skype with their Microsoft accounts.

Microsoft still has a third IM application – Lync, its enterprise messaging offering. Lync incorporates a much bigger range of features -- it can basically serve as a PBX replacement and online meeting service for one-to-many presentations, as well as offering IM, presence, and one-to-one video chat. Lync licenses have been selling pretty well -- in recent earnings calls, Microsoft has often cited Lync as the fastest growing product in the Business Division (which also includes stalwarts like Office and Exchange).

It obviously didn't make sense for Microsoft to have two consumer messaging services. Does it make sense to maintain two messaging services for businesses? 

Before Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype went through, it began talking about fully integrating Skype and Lync. “Lync, in some sense with Skype is a strategy that will allow the consumerization of IT to really proceed with full vim and vigor," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the time, according to Network World.

Microsoft is preparing a new release of Lync and is offering a Windows 8 app. That might be a tough sell to businesses that suspect some kind of integration with Skype is on the way.

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