Skype’s development history is a bit checkered; a wide range of clients has been developed with disparate features and a lack of clarity over direction. This has been especially true on Windows, where two different clients were available—the “Classic” client is a Win32 application that can trace its heritage back to the days before Microsoft bought Skype, while the “modern” client shipped through the Microsoft Store—each with its own interfaces and features.
Microsoft has finally, however, managed to more or less unify its Skype development across Windows, macOS, Linux, and the mobile apps. This effort was itself years in the making (we reported on it in 2016), and with that work done, the company is at last working on new features.
Today, the application allows video chat with screen sharing at up to 1080p with up to 24 people. Messaging now supports the convention of using @mentions in a group chat to alert users and file sharing works with files up to 300MB. It’s also now easier to find historic shared media with a built-in gallery of media content.
Coming over the summer, Microsoft is going to add integrated call recording (something that previously required third-party applications and a deprecated API), read receipts to show when a message recipient has read a message, and end-to-end encryption of text and audio chat using the Signal protocol.
Microsoft is also making Skype audio and video calls easier to integrate into streams such as those used on Mixer and Twitch. Support for the NDI API means that streaming applications such as Xsplit and OBS can use a Skype call as an audio/video source. That means they can be overlaid on games or other content, just as is already done with webcam input.
Call recording and (openly documented) encrypted messaging are long-overdue features, and as a Skype user, it’s about time that Microsoft is finally making some meaningful improvements to the core application. The consolidation on a single version of the client should in theory enable a faster pace of development, because Microsoft is no longer in the position of having to develop each new feature multiple times—once each for the Win32 app, the modern app, and the mobile apps. The work coming this summer will put that theory into practice.
There is, however, a price to pay for this: the traditional Win32 Skype client is being end-of-lifed and will not be supported beyond the end of August this year. Users of the Win32 client will have to upgrade to Skype 8.0 (the desktop version of the new unified app) in order to be able to continue to use the network.