Almost four years ago to the day I was at a local tech event and suggested to my producer at a Toronto TV station that I should Skype into the newscast instead of fighting traffic to get back in time for a live hit in studio. I had been using Skype for a couple of years, but this was my first foray into using the popular software for a mainstream TV chat. At the time, the concept was fairly new. Jim Courtney documented that interview, complete with pics and oohs and ahhs.
Two years later, Jim wrote about a much more famous Skype milestone when talk show host Oprah Winfrey started to use the free tool to beam guests from Nunavut and Antarctica into her Chicago studio. As Courtney explained in the headline, "Taking Skype's 'Jetson Technology' to the Extremes."
While moments like these showcased Skype to a mainstream audience, the company's history as the Internet phone company of choice dates back to its launch in 2003. During those early years, founders Niklas Zennstrom and Dane Janus Friis embarked on a journey that would disrupt the telecommunications industry around the world. Long-distance calling suddenly became free.
What Skype did, and did well, was to make software accessible to everyone with an Internet connection, and really easy to use. It was, and is, easy to install, make calls and buy credit for anyone using its premium service. With one click, I can dial my parents whether they're working in Moldova or at home in Canada and show them - on video no less - how quickly their two-year-old grandson is growing.
Today, Skype has changed communications habits. Recently, my engaged cousin suggested we use the software to allow my grandmother, who couldn't travel to the wedding, watch her walk down the aisle. These moments were never possible with traditional telephone calls, making a physical phone more of a necessity for emergencies than a device "to reach out and touch someone."
In my world, it's fair to say that Skype is a necessity. Aside from Gmail, it's the one piece of technology that I'd hate to live without. With more than 100 million active users around the world, I'm not alone. Sure, Facebook has more subscribers, but I'd ditch that social network any day of the week if I had to choose between it and Skype. I can't say I remember any memorable Facebook messages, but there are Skype video calls I can't forget.
I've been thinking a lot about what the Microsoft news means to the tech world. After all, $8.5-billion is a lot of money. However, the truth is that I don't care. I don't really care how much the giant software company paid. I don't care if it gives them a stronger foothold in the web world. All I care about is that I can still make free video calls to Mom and Dad on my son's birthday and invite them to share in a little virtual cake and a singalong.
So, Microsoft, don't screw up Skype. There are a 100-million people and growing who won't be very happy if you do.