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Users might not want to hang up on Skype yet

Microsoft's $8.5 billion bid to buy Skype worries some Skype users, who fear another big corporate parent will ruin some of the product’s charms.
Image: Microsoft Announces Skype Acquisition For 8.5 Billion
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, shakes hands with Skype CEO Tony Bates during a news conference on May 10, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. Microsoft has agreed to buy Skype for $8.5 billion.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

To all those Skype fans who think Microsoft will ruin their beloved web video conferencing toy, analysts say: Stand down — for now, anyway.

Swiftly after the announcement that Microsoft would acquire Skype for $8.5 billion, comment boards on and elsewhere filled up with fears that Microsoft would ruin Skype, make the product unusable for people who don’t run Microsoft’s Windows operating system or bog it down with features they don’t want.

“I guess my days of skype'ing' are over. Whenever MS gets ahold of something it seems to always end up driving me away from it,” one commenter wrote.

( is a joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and NBC Universal, which is a unit of Comcast Corp.)

Those concerns are overblown, analysts said, arguing that Microsoft sometimes has a better track record with acquisitions than it does with in-house products.

“I think the Skype folks are worrying about nothing,” said Rob Enderle, with the independent firm Enderle Group. “Microsoft is not going to break this.”

Enderle said many of Microsoft’s most successful products — including its first computer operating system and some of the building blocks of its popular Office suite — were built in part with acquisitions.

He said other products, such as Hotmail, likely are better than they would have been without Microsoft’s investment in them.

“Hotmail is probably our best example of what’s likely to happen,” Enderle said, noting that web-based e-mail product also has remained free.

Enderle noted some of Microsoft’s biggest missteps have been with products that were built in-house, such as the Zune music player, and those that were far afield from its core business of making operating systems and business software. He cited WebTV as an example.

Skype, on the other hand, fits well with Microsoft’s business products such as Office and Exchange, and its consumer messaging and gaming offerings.

Users may be wary in part because Skype has already been down a similar road. The company was acquired by auction site eBay in 2005, but then sold again to a group of investors in 2009. It had considered a public offering before the Microsoft acquisition was announced.

Bern Elliot, a research vice president with Gartner, noted that Microsoft is leaving Skype Chief Executive Tony Bates in charge, a sign that Microsoft plans to give the group some measure of autonomy.

He also noted that it is in Microsoft’s best interest for the product to work across multiple platforms, including non-PC ones, so that it can attract the broadest audience possible.

Of course there’s a risk that Microsoft will mismanage the Skype product, Elliot said. But he doesn’t think it’s something people should be overly concerned by right now.

“They’re clearly interested in maintaining the Skype base,” he said.

Elliot noted that the acquisition has likely made a number of potential competitors nervous. Those range from technology companies that directly compete with Microsoft to telecommunications firms who may worry that a Microsoft-backed Skype product will make their traditional communications tools less necessary. He noted that it’s likely in those competitors’ best interest to bad mouth the acquisition.

“If I were a competitor, I would say Skype is going to be no longer independent,” Elliot said.