When it was announced last week that Microsoft had bought Internet phone company Skype for a whacking $8.5 billion, it caused many in the tech industry to carefully place their cup of coffee on their desk, furrow their brow slightly and say, “Eh?”
The news media was filled with stories trying to work out precisely why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was so excited about the takeover of a company that lost $7 million last year and charges nothing for most of its services.
At the announcement of the purchase, Ballmer spoke enthusiastically about how the companies promised “universal, next-generation communications…..[that will] empower [consumers] to communicate in new and interesting ways.” And now, just as people are pondering over exactly what the “new and interesting ways” might be, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has popped up to lend some support to Ballmer.
According to an interview with the BBC to be aired on Wednesday, Gates said that he himself advocated the Skype purchase. Talking to the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on his Hardtalk one-on-one interview show, Gates said, “I was a strong proponent at the board level for the deal being done. I think it’s a great, great deal for Skype. I think it’s a great deal for Microsoft.”
Looking ahead, Gates explained that the takeover was a strategic decision, not focussed on Skype’s immediate financial situation. He said, “The idea of video conferencing is going to get so much better than it is today.” He added: “It’ll be fascinating to see how the brilliant ideas out of Microsoft research, coming together with Skype, what they can make of that.”
Skype was founded in 2003 and enables its 663 million users to make video and voice calls online. Microsoft’s purchase of the company was its biggest ever acquisition.