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Skype plans to double number of Stockholm developers

o Håkan Ogelid
30.03.2012 kl 19:55 | Computer Sweden

Only a small cloud sporting the Skype logo indicates that inside the former brewery in central Stockholm is the company's development center, where 100 developers from 23 countries work on all of the Skype versions, most recently the one for Windows Phone.


Only a small cloud sporting the Skype logo indicates that inside the former brewery in central Stockholm is the company's development center, where 100 developers from 23 countries work on all of the Skype versions, most recently the one for Windows Phone.

Established phone companies see Skype as an ominous cloud, with its 200 million active users who spend more than 300 billion minutes yearly on Skype calls. Skype intends to continue its role in helping to crumble established telephony business models, with plans to double the number of developers at the center.

Karlheinz Wurm has been the director of the development center since April 2011, but he's not new to Skype. He spent five years at the development center in Tallinn, Estonia. He's so full of energy that he's almost boiling over, and he's excited to have a view of Stockholm's waters from his office in the old brewery. Besides the most recent work on the Windows Phone version of Skype, the development center was home to versions for the iPad, Android and iOS.

Being available on all platforms is basic to the Skype business model, unlike, for instance, Apple's FaceTime video-calling application, which works only with iOS.

"That's like having a notion of only talking to people whose shoes are a certain color. You're wearing black shoes. Then I won't talk to you," he says.

Skype became a division of Microsoft after the software maker acquired it last year. Skype CEO Tony Bates, who previously worked for Cisco, is based in Palo Alto, California, and reports directly to Steve Ballmer. Microsoft made a gigantic investment in Skype -- not only with the acquisition price of US$8.5 billion, but also investments in further development. Also, the acquisition opened doors for Skype to Microsoft's product development.

"Opening contacts to Microsoft Research gives us enormous opportunities," Wurm says.

Seventy percent of Skype's development efforts are in audio and video, with the remaining 30 percent spent developing the client versions. Next up for the latter is to turn the beta version for Windows Phone, presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, into a final version. Development is done in Microsoft's development environment, using the Scrum methodology.

Being a good programmer, however, is not all it takes to succeed with Skype.

"It's largely a matter of attitude. I don't care how good you are at C++, you also need to be self-directed and able to think outside the box," Wurm says.

He repeatedly mentions the development of video technology and that there are versions of Skype that work on television. For that, high video quality is essential. For audio, Skype has its own patented compression technology, SILK.

"If you want to know more about it, Google. Or, by they way, Bing it," Wurm says.

It goes without saying that he closely follows the efforts of mobile operators that want to curtail traffic from Skype and similar services.

"It's vital to fight for an open Internet and for network neutrality. Can you explain why there should be any difference between streaming video and a video phonecall?" he asks.

Here is a timeline of Skype's history:


Skype begins with the service Kazaa, launched by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. The service for music file-sharing over the Internet uses a proprietary communications protocol, which provides for peer-to-peer file-sharing with no need for a central server. All concurrent users share resources. The protocol creates so-called supernodes that eliminate the need for a central server.


The founders of Kazaa lose the battle against the U.S. music industry and sell the Kazaa business. However, the protocol still belongs to the company Joltid.


Skype, using the Kazaa protocol for Internet-based voice calls, is founded in the fall. The beta version of the client application is downloaded by 870,000 users. The average number of concurrent users is 37,000.


Skype now has 11 million registered users. In an interview with IDG, Niklas Zennström states that "in the long run, you cannot charge for phone calls." The first pay version of Skype is launched. The platform is 99.9 percent Windows.


Ebay acquires Skype for $2.6 billion. The plan is to deploy Skype for communications between eBay's customers, but that never happens. Zennström and Friis still control the proprietary communications protocol. Development of Skype stagnates.


Unofficial numbers indicate 600 million users of Skype. Twice, eBay and the founders, who own 14 percent of Skype, fail to make an initial public offering of Skype shares. Mobile network operators now begin to try to block the service.


On May 10, Microsoft announces plans to buy Skype for $8.5 billion. When the deal closes in October, Skype becomes a division of Microsoft. The service is now available on platforms other than Windows, and Skype begins collaboration with Facebook.


Unofficial figures state that Skype now has 900 million registered users. The official figure says that there are 300 million active users. Analysts at Telegeography calculate that Skype calls now are 25 percent of all international voice calls. Microsoft investment strengthens Skype's development muscles. At the Stockholm development center, which will be doubled, client versions are developed in parallel with new video and audio functionality.

Keywords: Internet  
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