Will Skype be another Microsoft license gotcha?

After Microsoft acquired Skype earlier this month for $8.5 billion, most of the questions revolved around how Skype's IM, voice and video calling features will fit into Microsoft enterprise products such as Outlook and Lync.

But an equally important question is: How will Skype fit into your enterprise license? And will you end up paying for it even as you don't use it?

"It's just one more nugget that Microsoft will bundle into an overall enterprise agreement," says Jeff Muscarella, and executive of IT at NPI, a consulting firm that advises enterprise IT buyers.

Muscarella compares Skype to Microsoft's 2006 acquisition of Softricity. This paved the way for App-V, an application virtualization technology that is rolled into MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack), Microsoft's suite of on-premise PC management tools for customers with an enterprise agreement.

"You have to have an EA to use MDOP," says Muscarella. "But most of our customers don't use MDOP and they don't want it. But they are paying for it. And they have to wrangle with Microsoft to unbundle it."

Like most big tech vendors, Microsoft is making an aggressive push into the mobile and unified communications spaces, with Windows Phone 7 and Lync, respectively. The Skype acquisition is a great way to round out the UC features within Office, says Muscarella, but he adds that many big companies already have UC products in place, whether it be through Cisco WebEx or Microsoft Lync.

"If you're moving down the UC path with some of the other players like Cisco, there will be UC overlap and you won't need Skype," he says.

"Skype will probably be part of an Office and Lync CAL [client access license], so customers will have to ask themselves whether or not they need Skype. If the answer is no, they need to know if they'll be able to unbundle it from the CAL. Microsoft will probably make that difficult."

Muscarella notes that enterprise vendors like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP often push back when customers try to unbundle parts of an EA.

"You go back to Microsoft with a list of 10 requests and they'll say no to eight of them," he says.

NPI has hired former Microsoft employees who understand the minutiae of the software giant's enterprise agreements and know the right lingo to use. For instance, many customers are not aware of the free testing and QA (quality assurance) services available to them if they are members of the MSDN or TechNet programs.

"There is a lot written in fine print and you have to go to Microsoft and quote chapter and verse from the user rights section of the EA," says Muscarella. "If you don't do that, or don't know where to find those EA clauses, Microsoft is happy to charge you for everything you do."

It's not clear yet how Microsoft will fit Skype into its enterprise product line or its enterprise agreements. Muscarella predicts that Skype will continue to be free for consumers and small businesses, but warns enterprises that Skype may be snuck into a suddenly more expensive CAL, even if it's a dollar here and a dollar there.

"If you have a lot of desktops - 500 or 1,000 or more - the license costs will add up quickly."

Despite the mainstream attention the acquisition received and Skype's popularity with consumers, it still ends up being just another technology that Microsoft can roll into an EA to potentially impose added or unnecessary charges on a business.

"It's potentially a license gotcha like anything else," says Muscarella."You have to make sure you are not forced into a one size fits all model and fight with Microsoft to whittle the EA down to what you need."

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

Read more about mobile/wireless in CIO's Mobile/Wireless Drilldown.

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Shane O'Neill

CIO (US)
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