Good news for those stung by Skype weirdness and reliability issues over the past several months: The problems have been caused by a transition to a more modern, mobile-friendly architecture and should be fully resolved soon.
Here’s what’s happening.
“The original genius of Skype is that it was a peer-to-peer solution, which made sense in the early days of broadband, when everyone used a PC,” Microsoft vice president Gurdeep Pall told me recently. “But over the past 10 years, things have changed, and we now use multiple devices, where syncing state from device to device becomes challenging.”
Adding to the challenge, mobile devices have what Pall calls “transient connectivity,” limited computing power, and battery life constraints. And Skype’s P2P architecture, originally a key part of the service’s success, has become increasingly untenable. So Skype is changing to meet the new needs of its user base.
“A couple of years ago, we started on a massive engineering project to transition Skype to a cloud-based solution,” Pall told me. “And much of what you’ve seen as new features in Skype, especially over the past year, has been connected to this new architecture.” This includes such things as audio and video chat, file sharing, photos and file sharing, offline access, Skype translator, bots, and more, he said.
But it’s a transition. And in the midst of this transition, Microsoft has been forced to keep both Skype architectures—the legacy P2P infrastructure and the new cloud infrastructure—online and working side-by-side. And that, not surprisingly, has resulted in the weird Skype issues that I and many others have reported, especially over the past year.
“We tried to hide [the complexity of the two architectures] from users, but it would leak out from time to time,” Pall said. “As we shut down legacy clients and get everyone on the new next-generation clients (NGCs), things will improve.”
As for timing, Skype should be fully transitioned to the new architecture sometime this calendar year.
“We’re not fully done with the transition yet,” Pall said, “and we still use P2P for some features. Some of the challenges we’ve seen in the interim—out of order messages, for example—are caused by this transition, by having to sync two different state machines and try to keep them both aligned.
As Pall noted, the transition will also impact legacy platforms—like Skype TV—that rely on the P2P technologies and cannot be upgraded to the new infrastructure. But the transition will be worth it, he told me, and will set up Skype for the future.
“Features like ‘conversation as a platform’ and bots can only be lit up when users are in the cloud,” he noted. “Now we can really start building apps in a good way and target the mobile first, cloud first world in which we now live.”
Pall’s biggest regret is that he didn’t communicate this change to Skype’s users until now. But all of the recent Skype announcements—Skype for Linux and Chrome, and the Skype UWP app for Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile—are built specifically for this new architecture and show the agility of the new Skype.
“The Skype UWP app is the first major Windows app built in a cloud-first way,” he said. “On Windows phone, it delivers low battery consumption, and on the PC desktop, you get the same feature-rich experience you’ve come to expect from Skype.”
The removal of P2P support also means that Skype’s clients will effectively shrink, becoming leaner and less complex to maintain and use. And it will lead to further enhancements, and address some complaints that users have had. For example, users who forget their Skype ID passwords will now have full reset and recovery functionality through the normal Microsoft Account (MSA) web experience.
“This isn’t an event,” he told me when I asked whether the new Skype architecture announcement was tied to some product release or upgrade. “It’s a journey. People have been seeing the effects of that journey already. Now they’ll know why.”