Interview The controversial cloud filesharing functionality trumpeted by Microsoft for its chat platform, Skype, quietly moved from Insider-only to the big time this week, rolling out the day before OneDrive, er, rolled over.
Skype Product Manager Steven Abrahams dropped us a line at Vulture Central to talk Skype, platforms and life inside the Windows behemoth and also, of course, his pet project: OneDrive integration.
OneDrive integration goes big
The OneDrive integration allows a Skype user to select a OneDrive file from within the messaging platform and include it as link in a conversation. It was trialled with the hardy souls in the Skype Insider programme before being rolled out to most English-speaking markets this week. And the subsequent OneDrive wobble? "Probably not us," said Abrahams.
To the relief of those concerned about privacy, Abrahams went on to explain that, at its heart, the new functionality is little more than a handy wrapper for grabbing a link to a OneDrive file, something that can be done within OneDrive's own clients. The listing of files, the link, the preview rendered in the chat window are all done using OneDrive's APIs. Skype's involvement is merely hosting the extension which, as Abrahams put it, is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Microsoft's platoon of Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) are probably looking thoughtfully at their plastic MVP trophies at this point. The IT world does love an acronym after all.
Abrahams admitted that "it sounds very negative" but the new Microsoft likes to shovel software into the hands of users as quickly as possible before adding too many bells and whistles that may turn out to be unnecessary.
For those concerned about privacy, Abrahams was keen to point out that the function is targeted fairly and squarely at personal OneDrive users. Business users need not apply. And, of course, it is the OneDrive linked to the same Microsoft account used to log into Skype. As for the shared file itself? It remains sat in OneDrive.
The Skype team has aimed the function at collaboration at a consumer level. Abrahams offered a use case: "Let's say you're working on a kitchen remodel with your wife or something, and you want her to comment on your Power Point where you put together a list of potential options. Things like that or an Excel file where you're putting together like, 'OK. Here's some vacation ideas.' And things like that."
Rather than attach a file, or go full-on Office 365, Abrahams envisaged linking a OneDrive file to the chat without having to descend into the OneDrive client to actually do it.
Permissions remain a thorny problem in this MVP. At the moment, Skype leaves all that to OneDrive, as Abrahams explained: "It has to reconcile whatever details, permission details, read/write access people put on those files." However, depending on feedback, the extension may gain some more smarts: "And then you find out, 'OK. Well, people would really like the ability to preview online, or they want to be able to set permissions before they share, or things like that.' And then we would go and add those."
Yes, the Skype team does listen. Even though Skype Classic users may sometimes wonder.
Skype Classic? 'We have made our mistakes'
The axing of the beloved Skype Classic client has caused much anguish, wailing and gnashing of teeth for users wedded to the platform and, indeed, it wasn't so much feature gaps between the old and new versions, but chasms. The top three requests in the UserVoice forum can be summed up by "Make it just like Skype Classic".
Sadly, there won't be a resurrection of Skype Classic any time soon. But Abrahams insisted that the gang is listening to users. "I reach out to them directly, and try to kind of ... well the first thing I try to do is validate their concern, and then if there is a valid concern there, I take it right back to the team, we talk about it and say, like, 'Hey, did we change this because we think it's a better design and that we've proven that, or have we not had time to do it yet, are we going to get to it?'"
He went on to assert that the team was very much aware of the impact that tinkering with a long-standing product like Skype could have on end users. "Particularly in anything related to calling or window handling or things like that."
However, he admitted: "I'm not saying that we've always been that way, and we have made our mistakes."
As you would expect, Abrahams would very much like users to try out the new toys and "will give it a shot, and realize, yeah, they actually did my feature. They did multi-Windows. I'm not broken any longer."
Users who have stomped off in a huff after a beloved feature went inexplicably AWOL may well take a little more convincing, although Abrahams insisted that the shouting has quietened down: "I'm seeing internally, on our various Satisfaction Signals Report, that things have been improving quite a bit."
Abrahams is looking forward to a glorious future where all the Skype clients run from a single codebase. This week's rollout involved macOS, Windows, iOS, Android and even Linux clients. Maintaining those things and shipping simultaneously is "not easy".
14 years a Microsoftie
Abrahams has been with the Windows giant for 14 years, from MSN Messenger through to the acquisition and integration of Skype, and hinted at the challenges involved: "It's always tricky to migrate people between different products."
With breathtaking understatement, he observed the company had been through "many tumultuous eras of change, and stock prices, and directions, and priorities" over the years but, unsurprisingly, reckoned it was willing to be a much better corporate citizen these days. Compared to when he started, Abrahams thinks the external view of the company has changed, and internally there is a lot more self-awareness and empathy.
Devs on GitHub will be fervently hoping he is correct. ®