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With Skype, Microsoft's messaging strategy looks coherent at last (almost)

It'll probably change next week

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Analysis In 2015 we compared, after many years' experience, Microsoft strategy to "a heavily armed octopus trying to shoot itself in the head". But relatively speaking, there's one product category where its hard work is beginning to appear coherent – at least compared to the competition.

After a year in beta and several false starts, Skype for Windows 10 emerged from beta this week. Version 11.13.115.0 of the UWP app – which runs on Windows 10, Xbox, the HoloLens nerd goggles, and mobile – now does SMS messages. Being clunky old Microsoft, it does so in two ways – only one of which provides a return path for replies. But it finally unites the product formerly known as Lync – now Skype for Business – in one product after two years. Lync was an unexpected success for Microsoft, but fell victim to the strategy battles at Microsoft which pulled the product first one way and then another. At one stage Skype had three strategy shifts within a nine month period.

If Microsoft for once looks coherent, it's because its business rivals have been chaotic. Google, which is perennially obsessed with Facebook, has flung new messaging clients at the market – some of which do voice, some of which don't – leaving their predecessors to wither from bitrot.

Once upon a time Google had Voice, Buzz and Talk. People liked Talk, which played nicely with XMPP, so that had to be deprecated. Then it introduced Hangouts, the purpose of which was to lure people into the Google+ social network. People liked Hangouts, but that didn't matter either. Along came Google Spaces, a sharing app in which you chatted, Google Allo, a chat app in which you can talk to a robot, and Google Duo, a very simple video calling app, similar to the original Skype.

Is that all? Of course not.

Last year Google bought Jibe, which does telco-approved OTT messaging, with the intention of turning its Android Messages app into an RCS client. RCS is the protocol suite big mobile operators developed years ago in a futile bid to fend off OTT messaging clients like WhatsApp. The move was unexpected. And now apparently Hangouts is split into two: Chat (group conferencing), and Meet (a Slack-a-like).

Confused? You should be, as it even confuses Google's staff. Shortly after posting this explanation of Google's messaging strategy...

... product manager Brenden Mulligan had to add a clarification:

How Microsoft has managed to keep Skype on the same course for more than a few weeks is down to two things. Ignoring what Facebook and Google are doing – wisely, as these are Snap-obsessed consumer plays. And by spurning the opportunity to use Skype's installed base to take on Slack. Instead, Microsoft's Slack-competitor Teams is another Office product. Phew.

Microsoft still has its legacy products too: Yammer and GroupMe – products that hark back to years of a wild uncoordinated M&A spree – still take new signups.

You can find the app in the Microsoft Store. ®

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