Just occurred to me that it's possible that Microsoft bought Skype for its potential to route-around the telcos. Or to put pressure on them to get better deals. Or it's possible that behind-the-scenes they weren't getting enough love from the telcos, who see Microsoft as a second-tier player in mobile comm (as do the rest of us) and that owning Skype was a good way to get their attention.
What made me think of this is that Bill Gates has said he was a big supporter of the deal. Then I thought back to a speech that Gates gave in 1981 in Palo Alto, just after the IBM PC came out. It was a pretty big speech, though at the time no one made a big deal about it.
Here's what he said (I'm paraphrasing, from memory): "I know the history of computers. Microsoft will be a huge company some day, and when we are, we'll tend to be like all the other big companies. And some upstart will come along and challenge us the way we're now challenging the leaders of the computer industry. But I will remember what it's like to be an upstart, and I won't let them have the advantage."
He probably wasn't quite that clear about it, but that was the point. And we know who the upstart was -- Netscape. Once he vanquished them, he relaxed, and let Google do the job Netscape was trying to do. And now Bill Gates looks like every other computer mogul to come before. Rich, but on his way to being forgotten.
Except Gates is still around, and if he was that history-aware when he was young, why wouldn't he still be -- only more so. Now he has all the experience he didn't have then. He's a voracious reader, now he has 30 years of book-reading that he didn't have when he was in his 20s. So If you're Gates, and you're watching your creation flounder into irrelevance, what do you think of doing? Disrupting, of course.
I floated this idea on Twitter, and people say that they don't think Microsoft is capable of doing anything but supporting the status quo. That's cause they're thinking of Ballmer's Microsoft. But Ballmer does not equal Gates.
On the other hand, the original potential of Skype, if you can remember back to its inception (I can) was that it would disrupt the telcos, the same way Netflix is disrupting the entertainment business. If Gates can somehow keep the mess that Microsoft has become from interfering with the opportunity, then he could still do some disrupting before heading off the to the Old Software Dudes farm.
Update: Kevin Fox blogged this before I did. Smart guy!