Skype and Google Talk overlap in offering VoIP, video and instant messaging over the Internet, but the wild card that will determine whether one rival triumphs over the other is what Google might do.
Beyond their similarities lie a great number of differences. Skype offers interfaces to the traditional public phone network; Google Talk does not. Skype can receive calls from the public phone network; Google Talk cannot. Google Talk integrates with Gmail; Skype integrates with Outlook to deliver slightly different features. Skype has offerings designed specifically for businesses; Google Talk does not.
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These differences can be traced to the approaches the two companies made to their respective offerings. Skype started off strictly as a peer-to-peer VoIP service, while Google Talk started as a combination of instant messaging, chat and video chat that is an adjunct to its search business.
That said, Google does own the elements of a cohesive service more like Skype's, notably Gmail and Google Voice, that are not as integrated and neatly packaged as Skype's offering. Google's services are designed as free tools for consumers and target specific needs that augment Google's primary money-making missions: search and advertising.
On the other hand, Skype's main line of business is communications for consumers and businesses, offering both voice and video conferencing, with a thrust for high definition in both areas. On the consumer side, Skype has TV manufacturers LG and Panasonic embedding Skype software in their HD TVs, and it is partnering to create video cameras that support HD without requiring high-powered PC hardware. The company is expanding its Skype for Business offerings to interface via IP with traditional corporate PBXs.
Skype seems to be trying to wring whatever money it can out of its communication technology.
Google has an array of communications services as well as technologies it has bought, including media-sharing software for mobile devices, efficient audio and video codecs, a browser, a mobile operating system, touch-screen technology, an online photo editor, online applications and chip design. The company also is developing Google TV, an integration of an Internet browser, search and television, and it has bought mobile advertising company AdMob. It plans to build a fiber network and offer broadband services.
In short, Google has a lot on its plate, and whether it can muster the focus to develop well designed communications products is an open question. If it decides to make a run at Skype, Google's resources and affinity with consumers make it a formidable opponent. The question is whether that is on Google's agenda depends on what Google decides to do with its considerable financial clout and an every expanding collection of technology.
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This story, "Skype vs. Google Talk" was originally published by Network World.