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Microsoft takes over Skype

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Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

Staff Sgt. Christopher Guilbault, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, and his wife, Cathy, recently discussed plans for their upcoming 25th wedding anniversary.

They'll celebrate in their native Rhode Island, with friends and family.

"After 24 years, we're still madly in love," Cathy beamed shyly, looking back to her husband on the computer screen. He smiled back.

Christopher's been deployed to Mosul, Iraq, since September. The pair has managed to talk nearly every day for about an hour through Skype, the popular Internet video-telephone service that Microsoft Corp. announced it was buying last week for $8.5 billion.

"I leave my Skype on all the time," Cathy, 44, said. "If I'm not here, he'll leave me a little heart (icon) or say 'I love you.'"

Christopher will get to say it in person next month, when he comes home for mid-tour leave.

"Face-to-face" chatting during this deployment has made the separation so much easier, Cathy said, particularly because she and Christopher, a one-time Navy seaman and truck driver, have spent so many years of their marriage apart.

Cathy hopes the Microsoft deal will make Skype even better, particularly in terms of customer service, but not more expensive. Although it offers some features for purchase, its basic connection ability is free.

"There's no customer support," she said of Skype. "You have to email them and then it takes forever. And if you do put your credit card into a Skype account, you can't get in touch with anybody to get it back."

Christopher, a computer enthusiast, prefers Linux to Microsoft, he said, but he thinks Skype is likely to improve as part of Microsoft. "It's probably going to get better with a bigger company behind it."

And that's a good thing, he said, as most soldiers he knows use it to communicate with their families.

So far, Microsoft hasn't announced plans to change Skype or introduce fees. The deal, announced May 10, is the biggest in the software maker's 36-year history.

Buying Skype gives Microsoft access to a user base of about 170 million people who log in to Skype every month, using the Internet and Skype user names as a complement to the traditional phone network and its phone numbers.

Microsoft said it will marry Skype's functions to its Xbox game console, Outlook email program and Windows smartphones. All of these platforms already have other options for Internet calling, but the addition of Skype users would expand their reach, making them more useful.

Yvonne Hill of Killeen uses Skype to talk with family around the world, and also hopes its customer service will improve under Microsoft's oversight. She speaks to her own family in her native Germany, and her husband's family in the U.S. and Iraq. Yvonne is married to 2nd Lt. Floyd Hill, who is between units.

"I'd really pay a little bit more if it's better."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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