The markets were abuzz with rumour and speculation. Skype had been on the market for a bit and many were rumoured as suitors. Google was mentioned, as well as Facebook; both were well credentialed as purchasers of smart companies in the past. It was however another large tech company that did the deed in the end – one many considered the most unlikely. Microsoft finally bought Skype for a whopping US$8.5 billion and put paid to all the rumourmongering. Skype had revenue of $860 million and operating profits of only $264 million, which after expenses resulted in a small loss of US$7 million for the year 2010. What was of more concern to many was its long-term debt of US$686 million. The question that had to be asked was why Microsoft would buy a loss-making company with huge debt. And of even more importance was why Microsoft would pay an amount that made Skype its largest single acquisition ever. Skype has an interesting and, for some, rather chequered history. The creators of the Skype software were the founders of Kazaa, which was a peer-to-peer file-sharing application that was used to share MP3 music files, much to the horror of music companies worldwide. The founders of Skype, Niklas Zennström from Sweden and Janus Friis from Denmark, sold the company to eBay for around US$3 billion and shortly thereafter Skype reached 100 million users in early 2006. Skype became the technology of choice for anyone with loved ones overseas or who welcomed a simple and inexpensive way to communicate with anyone else who had a computer and a reasonable internet connection. The cracks began to show in 2008 with the Skype founders and eBay not seeing eye to eye on many issues, not least that the number of subscribers had plateaued, and financial metrics had not been met. In late 2007 eBay had taken a so-called "impairment", essentially a write-off, of its investment in Skype of US$1.4 billion. The marketing and the Skype product were revamped with greater focus on premium services aimed at business and consumers. These efforts resulted in solid growth throughout 2009. At this point eBay announced it would spin off Skype through an initial public offering or IPO. To cut a long story short, much legal wrangling ensued and the IPO looked somewhat uncertain. The key issue at that point was that Skype was valued at around US$2.4 billion and then they hit the big time. Microsoft bought Skype for three times its value 18 months ago. Microsoft has been in the news a lot lately and it is perhaps in this context that the purchase of Skype may make some sense. In my opinion it was an extremely strategic and well thought-out purchase. Microsoft is on a bit of a roll and has not been seen to put a foot wrong since its launch of Windows 7. After the huge failure of Windows Vista and the publicity nightmare that caused for Microsoft, the Windows 7 series – both the desktop and the new Mobile OS – have been a breath of fresh air. More fundamentally, along with the new software came a new outlook from Microsoft. Gone were the days of closed techie-based software, and in came an era of openness and apparent concern for what customers wanted from Microsoft, and what they wanted from its software. It is also clear that Microsoft realised that the future of communication was increasingly mobile and would become more and more integrated and converged. Microsoft already had a huge Skype-type service called Windows Live messenger, which offers free voice and video chat services to around 330 million active users on a monthly basis. Skype actually has around 120 million active users at any point in time, with a lower number of concurrent users than Windows Live messenger. The key differentiation here is that Skype has around 8.5 million paying users of the service whilst Windows has none. Skype also has outbound and inbound points of presence globally, allowing users to break out into traditional telecommunication networks on a global basis. In fact Skype currently is a major player in international call minutes across all networks, both mobile and fixed. These attributes alone would make Skype an attractive addition to the services that Microsoft currently offers, such as Lync, Live Messenger and various Exchange services. The other key issue is that the Skype service was predominantly a video service and with 180 million people actively using Skype to make video calls from all manner of computers and devices it was a compelling and attractive proposition, especially as more and more users are migrating to faster flexed landline and mobile platforms such as fibre to the home, and 4G LTE for mobile. Internet-based video calling is becoming one of the fastest growing sectors in communication. Microsoft is currently a bit of a slumbering giant: the bottom line is if Microsoft switched off all its current licences for all the servers and desktops out there worldwide, the world as we know it would stop. The same can't be said for Google or Apple. Microsoft has a huge portfolio of products and patents that run the entire gamut of technology, and almost all companies involved in tech today owe it some of their success – and may in fact be paying Microsoft for some technology in use in their offerings. What Microsoft currently lacks is a coherent – and may I say 'cool' – consumer strategy. The elements are there: Windows 7 on the desktop, Xbox in the lounge, Windows phone 7 emerging from your pockets, Bing pretty much everywhere, and much of the behind the scenes server technology that runs all the above. Skype represents another building block in Microsoft's determination to become globally cool and dominant once again. Mobility and converged communication is a given going forward, and despite the price Microsoft paid for Skype, and taking into account that much of Skype's technology is already owned by or could easily be replicated by Microsoft, the purchase of Skype was a canny one for Microsoft. Skype is a well-known and respected service. In the words of a noted magazine publisher: "It is personally, I think, the single most useful work tool I use in my daily life ... (It) just makes comms so easy." In a nutshell, that is why Microsoft paid what it did. Once we see Skype on our Xbox, TV, mobile phone, office phone, public phone, in fact everywhere, we will finally understand why Microsoft needed to buy Skype.