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Microsoft's €5.9bn Skype slurp to get EU rubber stamp

Just Russia, Ukraine, Serbia and Taiwan to convince

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The European Union is set to green-light Microsoft's €5.9bn acquisition of VoIP behemoth Skype, putting 145 million users under Redmond's control.

An announcement is due today, but according to the Financial Times, approval will come and without interoperability requirements, as long as Microsoft commits to maintaining non-Windows versions of the dominant VoIP and video-calling platform.

That follows a similar ruling from the FCC, and leaves just four countries investigating the competitive impact of the acquisition. But the EU was the big one, and a region where Microsoft has had problems before.

Italian competitor Messagenet had demanded interoperability, something Microsoft pointed out was technically fraught. Skype has always eschewed the industry standard, SIP, in favour of proprietary protocols – which the founders claimed, with typical modesty, were superior to everything else.

That makes interoperability much more difficult, and (Microsoft successfully argued) as long as Skype remains available for iOS and Android, there's really no need to enforce interconnections to maintain competition.

Supporting those additional platforms strays into markets where competition is fierce, in the form of Google Talk and Apple's FaceTime. That enabled Microsoft to argue that dropping Skype into Windows would not result in unfair domination of the market, an argument the EU's competition commissioner seems to have accepted.

Interoperability would be nice, especially for owners of BlackBerry's PlayBook, who recently got Video Chat but are having a hard time finding other PlayBook owners with whom to talk. But when there are so many options available there's no clear monopoly on VoIP services as yet.

When Windows was the dominant computing platform, bundling a VoIP client might have given it unassailable leverage. It is not often Microsoft has cause to be grateful about its slipping market share, but on this occasion it is just that which has cleared the way for the company to enter a new market entirely. ®

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