Microsoft is retiring Windows Live Messenger, but it’s not stepping out of the chat game. In fact, Microsoft is doing the opposite by integrating its messaging services into Skype and positioning itself in direct competition with other chat clients, including Google’s array of services. This is a good move on Microsoft’s part since Google is eclipsing Skype’s services in many ways.
Microsoft has already started transitioning Skype from its previous peer-to-peer server onto the Messenger backend, and the newest version features notable innovations. “We have been silently re-architecting basically the entire way Skype works,” Derek Snyder, Skype’s head of mobile marketing, said in an interview with The Verge.
Google’s communications suite – Google Talk (also known as Gchat on your desktop), Google Voice, and Google+ Hangouts – has slowly but surely encroached on Skype’s territory over the past few years. However, since Microsoft is beefing up Skype’s chat potential, it may stave off Google’s communication services’ slow takeover, leaving us wondering which company will reign supreme in the chat world?
Skype is still primarily used for its voice and video services, so shifting focus to messaging could entice a whole new group of users to the service. This shift would make it easier for people who already use Skype for video and voice to migrate more of their online communication to Skype. However, Skype faces an uphill battle attracting users away from Google Chat. Since many people keep their email open throughout the day, and since Google Chat is linked to Gmail accounts, it offers a convenient way for friends and co-workers to stay in touch. Though their core services overlap, there are some real differences between the competing services.
Skype stood alone at the vanguard of mainstream video chat services for a long time, and it remains a common way to stay in contact, especially for long distance calls. It offers voice-forwarding feature to home and mobile phones, and you can pay for a Skype phone number as a cheap alternative to a landline. You can also pay for Skype Premium, which allows group chats, or you can add credit to your account, which lets you make calls to phone numbers in addition to Skype members at a reasonable rate.
Skype exists as a single service, whereas Google offers a host of communication options. Google’s competing VoIP service, Google Voice, lets you make free voice calls to the United States and Canada as long as you sign into your Gmail account. This is markedly different from Skype, which allows you to make calls to anywhere as long as the receiving line has Skype. However, if you want to make a call within the United States to a landline, you have to use Skype credit (in other words, it costs money to use Skype to call a landline). As with Skype, you can forward Google Voice calls to your mobile phone.
Google Video allows video chats in a similar way that Skype does. Google+ Hangouts provides a free alternative to Skype with several bonuses. Up to ten people can participate in a Hangout for free, whereas group video chats through Skype will cost you. To use Hangouts, users must create a Google+ account, which may deter some since you’re making a public profile with your Google account. If you’re able to get past that hangup, the Hangout interface is cleaner and more modern than Skype, and it offers a greater breadth of features, including the ability to add silly graphic hats and beards to your face (which stay on you throughout the entire chat), and the ability to add sound effects. When you’re in a group chat and want to get a better view of the person currently talking, the software will switch whose face is prominent on the screen depending on who is talking.
But Skype isn’t resting on its laurels. Skype 6.0 allows logins through Facebook and Windows, and the latest version supports chat from Windows Live Messenger, Outlook.com, and Hotmail if you log in through your Windows account. Skype is a program you need to download to use, whereas Google’s services simply work within a browser (a plug-in is required for video chats in Hangout, though). Google has an advantage in this area since there are plenty of people who don’t want to deal with updating Skype or having the program take up memory on their computers.
The nice thing about Skype is that there’s only one app you’ll need to download for your phone. On mobile devices, you’ll have to download each Google app individually (Google+, Google Voice, and Google Talk). That being said, you can access all of Google’s services through your phone’s browser. As with the desktop experience, everything goes through your browser, and you can get voice messages transcribed (poorly) as text messages right to your phone for free with Google Voice.
Overall, Google’s suite of services work better and offer more than Skype, but now that Skype is bulking up its messaging services and revamping its features, it may stave off a total Google takeover. Incorporating Windows Live Messenger into Skype is an extremely smart move. For now, Google+ Hangouts are the way to go if you have a pre-arranged time to sign into Google+ and meet a group of friends, whereas Skype is still better for spontaneous chats since more people keep it open on their computers and mobiles. Google Voice is superior to Skype’s voice services, hands down– if you are in North America. If you’re out of North America, Skype is advantageously priced. Right now Google Chat is the superior chatting client, but that could all change. One thing is for certain: Microsoft needs to keep innovating with Skype, or it will be left in the dust.