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Microsoft still doesn’t know what to do with its messaging apps. Just look at Skype and Teams.

It’s been almost six years since Microsoft introduced Teams, which was initially focused on rivaling Slack as a communications platform for businesses. On the enterprise front, Microsoft has been quick to replace much of its legacy software. Teams replaced Microsoft Classroom in Office 365 for Education plans almost immediately, and Skype for Business was replaced by 2019.

In May 2021, the company introduced personal features in Teams, and it looked like it was about to dump Skype for consumers. This seemed even more apparent when, the following month, Microsoft announced Windows 11, which featured a brand new Teams integration, called chat with Microsoft Teams. Skype is no longer pre-installed in Windows 11 either. However, nearly two years later, there is still no clear target for Microsoft’s messaging platforms.

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Microsoft has a complicated history with messaging

Microsoft and Google face similar issues when it comes to messaging apps. You may remember that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Microsoft had its own messaging platform, MSN Messenger, or as it became known, Windows Live Messenger. I used it a lot back in the day, and I thought the app was solid. It had pretty much all the features I wanted in a messaging app at the time, including voice and video calls. It may also integrate with Windows Remote Assistance if you want to help someone with their computer.

Windows Live Messenger |
Image credit: Softonic

However, in the early 2010s, Microsoft was facing stiff competition from Skype, and rather than continue investing in its existing platform, Microsoft decided to acquire Skype for $8.5 billion. Microsoft will eliminate Windows Live Messenger in 2013. Skype will also become a corporate brand, as Microsoft will replace Lync, its messaging and calling service for enterprises, with Skype for Business.

This happened in 2015, and around the same time, Microsoft introduced Windows 10. With the release of Windows 10 Version 1511 at the end of that year, the company introduced a whole new Skype experience. Instead of a single app, Microsoft integrated the messaging side of Skype into the messaging app, which included SMS messages on phones running Windows 10 Mobile (similar to Apple’s iMessage). The video part of Skype was its own app, designed to look like a typical phone call on a Windows Phone. Truth be told, it was the closest we’ve ever come to true synergy between Skype and other Microsoft products.

This all closed just a few months later, and Microsoft would introduce a new Skype app in 2016. In the same year, it was reported that Microsoft was interested in buying Slack, but the deal didn’t go through. Instead, we got Microsoft Teams in 2017. Eventually, this replaced Skype for Business, and apparently, a consumer version of Skype was soon following when Windows 11 came out. I can’t help but feel Microsoft has found the investment more successful. More in their current products than constantly trying to start things over or buy the advantages of other services.

Skype isn’t dead, but it should be

While there have certainly been a lot of changes in Microsoft’s messaging services, the company has at least been somewhat consistent with ditching the old services in favor of its new ones. But with Skype, things are just confusing.

Microsoft started prioritizing Teams after its launch, but since Skype has remained its consumer-oriented brand, some features will still make their way to Skype. For example, Microsoft will introduce Together mode in Teams, which was added to Skype a few months later. A lot of this happened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of us turned to video chat services, so it made sense that Skype would still be around.

Screenshot of a video call in Together Mode in Skype

Together status in Skype |
Image credit: skype

However, in 2021, Microsoft introduced Windows 11, and Teams for personal users was one of the major new features. Teams is now available right on the taskbar, with messaging and calling capabilities. Microsoft also stopped bundling Skype with Windows 11, so you’ll have to do your best to install it. This should have been the end of Skype, however, about a week before the release of Windows 11, Microsoft introduced a major revamp of Skype with a completely new design and features. It appears that the Skype team was trying to distract from the fact that Teams seemed ready to replace it.

Skype added quite a few new features the following year, and again, with Teams officially established in Windows 11, you might have assumed that Skype was on life support. but not. At the end of 2022, Skype decided, once again, to introduce a major redesign, even adding a Today tab with quick access to news. And it gets worse. Microsoft recently introduced a new Bing chat experience, starting on the web, and two weeks later, it was added to Skype — but not to Teams. No matter how you feel about the new Bing, Skype still integrates with other Microsoft products better than Teams in some ways.

Various screenshots of the Skype mobile app showing more colorful themes, including colored headers

The latest version of Skype on mobile, released in late 2022

All of this makes me wonder why Skype was removed from Windows 11, and why Microsoft even bothered trying to get users to use Teams.

And Teams still isn’t great

Any effort Microsoft puts into the consumer version of Teams seems half-hearted. When Microsoft Teams was introduced in Windows 11, I complained about it Months On how to get stuck on video calls. For a long time, Teams wouldn’t create a floating overlay window during video calls, so you couldn’t see the other participants if you wanted to switch to another window. In fact, today you still have to specifically minimize the Teams window in order for the small floating window to pop up, and it won’t appear if you switch to another app.

Then, for a while longer, if I minimize Teams to see the small window, the other person’s video feed will freeze when I go back to the main call window. This was eventually fixed, but the core functionality Skype has allowed for years. Until now, it’s not uncommon for me to not be able to see the person on the other side of the video call, for Teams to act as if the camera is turned off, even when they aren’t. Teams is not as reliable as a video calling service.

But it’s not like Microsoft isn’t doing anything with Teams. Recently, it added a new Communities feature to the personal version of Teams, something Skype didn’t quite get. Windows 11 integration is also improved with a video preview built into the chat pane. Microsoft is putting no effort into the core functionality of Teams to make it a good alternative to Skype.

Graphic showing a screenshot of the Microsoft Teams mobile app, surrounded by various design elements

The consumer version of Teams feels like an afterthought. When you hear about new Teams features, they’re almost always exclusive to the business version, and we rarely get something like the Communities feature (which, by the way, requires you to set it up on mobile before using it on your computer). Microsoft wants you to use it, but doesn’t want to go to any lengths to make it attractive.

Microsoft’s messaging strategy is terribly complex and consists of a bunch of mixed signals that make it impossible to understand where the company is headed. Skype has been removed from Windows 11 and is barely getting any updates, but every now and then, it gets a major revamp as if it’s still a thriving app. It even gets features that Teams still lacks. And then, at the same time, Teams has a consumer version built into Windows 11, and also gets features that Skype doesn’t, but Microsoft has yet to prove the basics of a good messaging and calling app.

At this point, it seems like you’re better off using anything but any of these apps, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what people do. I only have one or two contacts using Teams, and none using Skype. And if Microsoft continues with this, I think things will only get worse for both services. Perhaps the company is considering getting another messaging service in the next few years, though I’m not sure if that would change much either.



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