Skype built its reputation on peer-to-peer networking, connecting video and audio calls using technology similar to that originally popularized by decentralized filesharing. Over the past few years, however, Skype has been moving to a new cloud infrastructure which relies more and more on the company's own servers to do the heavy lifting. There's no question that opens up new possibilities for Skype, and that's what the company is highlighting today.
In an official blog post, Skype VP Mark Gillett explains how the move away from P2P allows everything from more battery life for smartphones (since they don't have to do as much computing locally) to persistent video and chat messages that you can receive even when you aren't logged in. Skype will also soon synchronize chat message status across devices, so you won't get bombarded anew each time you log in from a different machine.
Perhaps one of the most interesting new possibilities for Skype is that because you don't need much in the way of local processing power, you don't necessarily even need a dedicated Skype application running. The company can deliver Skype in a browser window now, and let you answer calls from the Windows 8 lock screen.
Augmenting P2P has privacy implications
That's not to say that original P2P scheme didn't have its benefits. It's hard to read Skype's blog post about how far the service has come without thinking about what the company was accused of earlier this year: helping US government agencies listen to private audio and video calls via the controversial PRISM surveillance program. In 2008, Skype said it didn't have the ability to help the government wiretap calls, for the express reason that the company's technology relied on P2P networks rather than servers under its control. If that was indeed true, and the PRISM report true as well, is it worth potentially trading that privacy for a little more battery life and the ability to see your missed calls?
Still, it's not like there aren't other important, legitimate reasons for Skype to move closer to the cloud. The company experienced some severe outages under the old model, and says it's making these infrastructure changes to provide more stability for more users than ever before. Privacy and utility are often at odds: the more a company knows about you, the better service it can provide. Hopefully that will be a minor tradeoff in the case of Skype.
Update: We regret that the post, as it originally appeared, was not in compliance with our editorial standards. It has been changed.