back to article Microsoft takes a pruning axe to Skype's forest of features

This time, Microsoft says, it really will be different: Redmond has promised to stop ruining Skype. Users who have stuck with the product through the frustrations may or may harbour scepticism, but Skype and Outlook design director Peter Skillman blogged a mea culpa of sorts on Friday. The Highlights feature, a misguided and …

  1. Mayday Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    You got me

    "Users who have stuck with the product through the frustrations may or may harbour scepticism"

    Very much so.

    So would this bloatware/feature reduction shrink the size from the ~100MB it is now? My guess is no.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: You got me

      The bloat is indeed a bad sign. Skype in its early day's could be downloaded and would do everything you wanted through a dial up connection. Anything bigger than that should have generated warning sounds within MS.

      Skype over dial up was remarkable - excellent call quality, etc. I bet it can't do that anymore.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You got me

        It works better on Linux.

        1. David A. Smith

          Re: You got me

          Yes, the Linux version of Skype does work better. Easy to use and smoother video and audeo.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "So would this bloatware/feature reduction shrink the size"

      Since it needs now a whole javascript runtime and framework to work, I won't bet on it....

      Ah, the good times when applications were native ones just calling the OS APIs....

    3. David A. Smith

      Re: You got me

      Strongly agreed!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

    Corporate-speak is such asswipary. Anyway, hands up whose going back? I used Skype for years, but MS couldn't stop hitting the kill-switch, which made it hard to stay in touch with people who need help maintaining a PC or who don't see any benefit in upgrading to 64-Bit / Win10. But hey, wish core scenarios meant a Ribbon re-think and a halt to Win10 Slurpage too!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

      Good luck with that, as I think you well realize. It's an industry-wide problem and I'm quite sure that the next really neat thing to come down the pike will somehow get shoehorned into Skype and whatever else product they can cram it into. Probably several at once.

      I'm Old-Skool. KISS exists as an engineering principle as every additional requirement creates not only a single point of failure but the constraints are also known for creating multiple points of failure. The edge and corner cases we speak to and desperately try to avoid. Usually doesn't work to well in the avoidance. Whatever. I don't use any chat or call software so this isn't my problem and I certainly won't even try to "fix it" for anyone. That's my rule for Windows 10 and "modern" Office software.

      1. Joe W

        Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

        'some'? What do you mean, 'some'?

        That thing is so bloated and slow that it is an absolute PITA to use on a cell phone - and they broke it on Linux (at least for me, and I have no real motivation to unbreak it). I'm actually back to using the phone as a phone in many cases[*], as my data plan does include free phone minutes, which I never use up. That's sort of telling you a lot, isn't it?

        In my offive we have a Skype for business thingy, this one is actually quite nice to use, much like the old version. No squiggly lines that distract, no weird UI things that make it impossible to find a contact and then actually text chat / call them.

        [*] and I use the voice call feature of other messengers for international calls, you know, programs that were designed to make it easy to contact people, like Telegram, Signal, Watsapp...

        1. Dave K Silver badge

          Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

          I agree with you about Skype, but have to disagree about Skype for Business. Leaving aside the similar name but lack of compatibility with desktop Skype, I personally find SFB's interface awful. It just looks too cartoony with awful, circular blobby icons. In fact, it looks about a "business" like as a Fisher Price toy.

          We used to use Cicso Jabber for IM and that had a far cleaner and more professional-looking user interface. It also didn't randomly log you out every now and then and didn't crash for no good reason every few days like SFB does...

    2. PhilipN Silver badge

      Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

      Above-quoted phrase and "asswipary"** - Great! I shall have many and varied uses for both from now on.

      Less subtle than the Department of Defense [sic] "implementing a pause" in deliveries of the F-35 as opposed to "told the manufacturers to fix these issues or stick their contract up their corporate ass [sic]".

      But nothing beats Ballmer's "We built too many Surface tablets" when writing off another billion dollars instead of acknowledging that "nobody wanted to buy this dog" and "our market research and projections were crap".

      **Hope I am not being pedantary but shouldn't this be hyphenated?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

        Skype for Business is on the chopping block anyway. Its features are now rolled into Microsoft Teams, and the core video-call is being shifted onto some better library. Hopefully it retains cross-Skype compatibility, because we still get a lot of people outside the organisation who want to use that. If they are amenable, we now just use Zoom for that - better quality all round and it doesn't break the bank.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

          Its features are now rolled into Microsoft Teams

          Unless it's a feature you use often in which case it probably isn't.

          While running Lync/SfB and Teams parallel, the first feature they should have implemented was make your status common across both programs. The fact they didn't shows they don't dogfood their own stuff.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

          To be fair, Skype for Business isn't really Skype. They just used the branding.

          However, due the damage they're causing to the "Skype" brand they're moving it to a different name.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: 'overcomplicated some of our core scenarios'

      Microsoft is in full "me too!!!" mode (and it's not about the #metoo movement). It's desperate about copying whatever had a breadcrumb of success somewhere else.

      I'm surprised they didn't add to Skype a taxi operation, or a food delivery system yet. Or to plug some AR/VR system within - when most people just need a simple way to communicate via voice or messages.

  3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Dear MS

    Please just return Skype to what it was on the day before you bought it.

    Thank you

    Former Skype User.

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Dear MS

      It's worth noting that Peter Skillman was only appointed to take over Skype design duties a mere five months ago (according to his LinkedIn bio). I'm a big admirer of his previous work both at Palm (webOS) and Nokia (N9 Harmattan, Asha Fastlane), so I'm hoping that he can do something to simplify the way Skype works, which is the problem it still has, rather than simply simplifying the way it looks, which is how Microsoft got into this mess.

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    It sounds like a lot of job justification was going with Skype along the lines of what they did to Windows. Things don't need a lot of bells and whistles and shiny. They just need to work and not get in the way which is something I think MS forgot.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Unfortunately "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is never going to work as a corporate mantra for big business. They need to find something for their developers to do, and buying other products and 'updating' them is easier than inventing something new & useful.

      Still, I suppose it keeps a place for the start-ups that really are inventing useful stuff.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        ""if it ain't broke"

        If it ain't broke, management will fix it - there will be meetings and the PHB will demand new features, that existing features be enhanced, renamed, moved and rewritten in Java, Ruby or VB. Management have to justify their existence by making decisions. And if these means the death of a product? Doubles all round at the annual bonus meeting.

        You only have to look at the rest of the stories in El Reg this week to see this, we are destroying our computing and working environment. When was the last time anyone here saw a truly NEW idea? We're just reworking old ones, the managers and CEOs are doing well but the users ... they are just users, they don't matter.

  5. Richard 12 Silver badge

    I need to see multiple conversations at once

    Is that really so hard?

    That is why I am running Skype 7, and why I continue to use Skype at all.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: I need to see multiple conversations at once

      I think MS realise many active users will drop Skype if they pull the plug on Skype 7, that's why they changed their minds and why they're now getting rid of idiotic features on Skype 8.

      (Links to Skype 7: Windows and Mac, Android)

      1. Shingo Tamai

        Re: I need to see multiple conversations at once

        > (Links to Skype 7: Windows and Mac, Android)

        The bloody bastards removed the ability to disable auto updates from version 7.41.0.101 (the one available from skype.com).

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    “maintaining simplicity while enhancing functionality is critical to usability,”

    The fact that a spokesdrone says that at all is nice to hear.

    Too bad it's just PR and nothing will change as far as Microsoft's mentality is concerned. It has been a long time since MS ever thought of _maintaining_ simplicity.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: “maintaining simplicity while enhancing functionality is critical to usability,”

      “maintaining simplicity while enhancing functionality is critical to usability,”

      Being in his position, I would be unable to keep a straight face while saying that; Opening Sgripe on my Win7 takes 6 pages just to sign in, the functions that bloat it seem to work when they feel like it and quit when they are bored.

      It's clear this guy is responsible for Outlook too as it shows a similar lack of basic functionality and over- complication along with similar recurring faults that should have been seen and fixed well before the release of each incarnation.

      Another upper manager that can't manage.

      It might be a blessing if someone could arrange as lahar from Mt Rainier to visit Redmond.

  7. Milton Silver badge

    Try just *asking* the users

    Although big tech and its enthusiasts keep wittering on about "innovation", there is actually very little of that going on. It is not "innovating" to find yet another field where an app can be levered in as a parasitic intermediary between a service and a customers (taxis, food, room lets, what's next?). It is not "innovating" to add yet another CPU core to the dozen or so already shoehroned onto a die. It is not "innovating" to make incremental performance improvements to a phone or a laptop or a tablet. And it certainly was not "innovating" to take a relatively simple application that just does what it says on the tin and slap on endless pointless and unwanted frills, furbelows and witless nods to social media.

    Microsoft could have asked Skype users what they wanted from the application and what improvements were needed ... but I'm afraid if you gave MS devs, marketurds and UI folks the design for a hammer—which has been basically the same for 10,000 years—they'd "innovate" and "improve" it to the point where (a) it was difficult to use it to drive nails in, and (b) the blinking lights and paisley-themed interface used too much battery power.

    I was so disgusted by the v8 Skype "up"grade that I reinstalled 7.44 on my phone and have killed autoupdates to stop it rising from the grave again.

    I suspect the problem is (as ever) that Skype is supposedly free, meaning that corporate greedmongers are obsessively looking for ways to monetise it. As with social media and search, a great many problems, ranging from usability to data privacy, would be solved if you simply had to pay for the software. Give MS a $10 credit and get 500 hours of calls or something. The pressure to tinker with the app would largely evaporate, and even better, would be driven only by what rivals could successfully offer, and that would mean only what customers actually prove to desire.

    (Paying for Skype and ensuring it couldn't become part of a data-collection 'monetise the user' paradigm would improve the product and encourage rivals to emerge for true competition, and this is also true of other currently "free" services. The solution to many search and social media problems is right there, too ...)

    Let me guess: even as I write some jackass is patenting the WebiHammer™, an Internet Of Shite-connected "nail driving innovation" which connects to an app to provide real-time user feedback about the force and strength of blows, with affiliate links to online nail purchasing opportunities. Worse, the USPTO will grant that patent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Try just *asking* the users

      I suspect the problem is (as ever) that Skype is supposedly free, meaning that corporate greedmongers are obsessively looking for ways to monetise it.

      Even if you paid for it, what makes you think that the corporate world would respect your privacy?

  8. John70

    I got rid of Microsoft Store Skype on Windows 10 and installed Desktop Skype instead.

    The main issue I had was when messaging people who have Skype for Business, after a couple of messages I end up getting "Messaging Unavailable".

    However it works fine on iOS and Android. Just the MS Store version screws up.

  9. Lee D Silver badge

    Seems to me that many companies totally fail at "design" instead opting for "designer".

    Just about everything about the Metro interface and similar "redesigns" gets in my way, removes productivity or just plain annoys and frustrates.

    I'd honestly rather programs stuck to their core purpose, provided the simplest way of doing that, and honestly ditched everything else in terms of UI.

    What annoys more - we still don't have "theming". Not properly. Sure, I can change the wallpaper and the border colours, but where's the option saying "I want this to look like Windows 95 / KDE / etc." that blanket-applies to all programs? It's all third-party software, like Classic Shell, etc. and overriding what Windows allows. Same for Office. Gimme an "Office 2000 theme" that looks, works and has menus like Office 2000. They just run the same damn functions under the hood, sure, but at least they could let you lay out your preferred interface to do them.

    I honestly don't care about your "designer" stuff. The second it isn't to my taste, I start ditching the program. And because you can't account for everyone's taste, don't. Provide options. Let people choose. Focus on the core product - how do I send audio/video over the net nice and fast. Everything else is none of your business and pointless trying to control how "my" desktop appears.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      @Lee >>>They just run the same damn functions under the hood,<<<

      - and have done for 20 years! Utility office software is the equivilent of baked beans, just pick the sauce you like.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Late post but I believe the reason behind not allowing we poor (l)users theming right down to menu structures, gadget placement, &c. is down to not making the Hell desk even more of a problem in trying to get to some sort of resolution. My systems are so bizarre once I'm done with them, no one ever, ever asks if they can use one temporarily. They wander off to find someone with more of a vanilla OS (Windows) and applications (MS Office 365/2016).

      If they were really serious about this, Skype and Skype for Business would have exactly the same interface, but where would the fun be in that. Then they couldn't extract more money from the enterprise.

  10. Potemkine! Silver badge

    "Skype and Outlook design director Peter Skillman" - There is a design director for Outlook? No kidding!

    I thought the design was made by a drunk monkey with a severe mental illness.

  11. Chands

    Skype has been trashed. It's official.

    Pre-Microsoft, I set up my Dad with a little hardware box that combined skype/landline and it was cheap as chips. He could use his landline phone and and hit *9 I think ? and it would route his call through skype. It was great. That's gone.

    He has a lot of his contacts in speed dial. that's gone.

    Adding people to a video call is now difficult as it fails to do anything sometimes, and just adds them to the group but you can't redial them.

    The UX is horrid and leaves you wondering how the hell to do simple things.

    I regularly skype with my Dad and Brother and all we do mostly on calls (after finally setting up) is just moan about how bad Skype is.

    However, at least i can send one of 5 or 6 emoticons to the callers, now that's SOOOOOO useful.

    Skype will be dead soon. All they will have left is Skype for Business.

    1. Cavehomme_ Bronze badge

      WhatsApp is replacing Skype rapidly. Simpler interface and does the basics well for personal use.

  12. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Windows

    Modern "design": more like "derpsign"

    These people know all their "-ilities" but then completely fail in the puerile quest to be cooler, more artsy and strongly more popular than the other kids (while pulling doing more salary and stock options, too).

    Can we burninate "flat design" now and then B-ark all the people who participated in this particular cool & fresh trend just to make sure? The cost of that have been passed on to the consumer already in any case (in that way, the regular outbreaks of "design" are quite a bit like war).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Modern "design": more like "derpsign"

      and then B-ark all the people who participated in this particular cool & fresh trend just to make sure

      Musk will need some volunteers to test the plans for Mars.

      Use these people, but point any rockets towards Jupiter to avoid any unplanned success resulting in the colonisation of Mars by idiots.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Skype, classic MS buy it and fuck it up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I wonder if they've made any money from spending $8.5 billion on Skype?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >I wonder if they've made any money from spending $8.5 billion on Skype?

        Yet another lemon bought from Ebay

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          pro-tip: Don't bid on eBay when drinking.

  14. tfb Silver badge

    Language

    This past year we explored some design changes and heard from customers that we overcomplicated some of our core scenarios. Calling became harder to execute and Highlights didn’t resonate with a majority of users.

    Was that written by a human being or some kind of half-working natural-language system?

  15. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    FaceTime

    I know it's Apple and I know that you have to have iDevices (or possibly a newish Mac) to use it, but I do like FaceTime. It is simplicity itself to use and since Skype has been given the Microsoft treatment (namely «improved»), I prefer FaceTime.

    I had the misfortune to try and use Microsoft Teams some months back. Myself and one of the techies spent 45 minutes trying to get it to work with a client in Spain before we gave up and I caleld her on the phoen instead.

    1. Cavehomme_ Bronze badge

      Re: FaceTime

      WhatsApp is multi platform unlike Facetime

  16. SeanEllis

    Skype appear to have been listening to serious user concerns on their user forums for years... and then moving in precisely the opposite direction. Personally, I will not "upgrade" to version 8 until it reaches feature parity with v7, and has a compact mode with screen-real-estate parity with v6.21, which was the last version without the wasteful speech bubbles.

  17. skrampen

    Skillman hmm - since when we are sarcastic in US companies?

    implies something?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can I have some features back?

    1) Being able to resize the message area when in a call. I don't use video, but I used to be able to use the message area to show code samples when talking to someone. This is now not practical as the "line length" is what you would get on a phone. Works ok when not in a call as the message region is then nearly the width of the app,

    2) Ability to use my headset for audio and still have the PC speakers ring when someone calls. Luckily I've just moved Skype from a Windows system to a Mac where I am now able to switch the audio quickly so I no longer miss calls when I'm not looking at Skype.

    Also, stop making the desktop version look like a mobile version. Different use-cases need different user interfaces.

  19. EricSF

    At least it finally works again on a Mac

    More than a year ago Skype stopped working on my Mac unless I entered the phone number manually. I could no longer "Call with Skype" from my Mac Contacts app; Skype was unable to parse the string it got from Contacts. And the UI was stuffed full of neat-and-keen graphics, weird sounds, and unnecessary complexity. I filed numerous complaints; they were all ignored.

    So I gave up entirely on Skype.

    I tried it again today, and I'm pleased to see that "Call with Skype" now works! I hope that this focus on usability and correct function will continue.

  20. boe

    Does the register get paid directly by Peter Skillman!?! If you go to the skype forum HOSTED BY MS you'll see that virtually NO ONE LIKES THE NEW SKYPE. Please, I IMPLORE YOU read the forums and even his own twitter account before regurgitating what Peter tells you to say. The new skype 8 is an abomination and all the features no one users are posted over an over and over again to return - including the ability to just make skype call without it dropping sound or dropping completely. Skype 8 is a turd from top to bottom and I'm not just one person - thousands of people are complaining about the new skype on many forums including MS' own web page - how did you miss this. You've posted a number of articles and my guess is you've never used skype or you'd know what rubbish the product is.

    The general consensus is to roll back to 7, skip 8 and fire Skillman.

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