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skypeLast week, people who use the Microsoft-owned Skype phone/IM/video chat system on desktop computers received an unwelcome surprise. Via a notice embedded in their software, they were told that third-party applications that they use with Skype would no longer be supported as of December.

The nearly 10-year-old desktop software, based on a computer-to-computer (P2P) structure, is being replaced by a cloud-based system that opens the door to what Microsoft believes will deliver better functionality across platforms while conserving processing power and battery life.

Practically speaking, that meant that the community of third-party developers, who supplied Skype users with everything from recording software to multi-IM chat support (e.g., AOL, Yahoo and other independent chat services) would no longer be able to include Skype among those services. The changes were first announced in July by Microsoft.  A petition was subsequently launched by third-party developers asking Microsoft to reverse the decision to kill the desktop API.

And this afternoon, Skype relented, a bit — announcing in a blog post that will extend support for both call recording and compatibility with hardware devices “until we determine alternative options or retire the current solution.” No date was given for how long the support would be extended.

The post further noted, however, that chat via third-party applications will no longer work.  A Microsoft spokesperson clarified that the chat serviceswill be cut off by year’s end.

According to some developers contacted by GeekWire—those who would talk about these changes — there has been virtually no communication with Microsoft about the end of the desktop API.  “We’re as much in the dark as anyone else,” said one developer who asked that his name not be used.

Some developers who record video and audio directly from a computer screen rather than hooking into the desktop software will be little affected.  According to Bill Dettering, CEO of Applian software, at least one of their applications, Replay Video Capture, will be unaffected by Skype’s changes.  He said in an interview, “Bottom line: it’s pretty good for us [because we can record directly from the screen].  Actually we’re pretty psyched about it.”

However, Infoworld’s Woody Leonhard reported this week that many recording apps using the Skype API will need to be overhauled, assuming they can adapt to Microsoft’s as-yet unannounced cloud-based changes.  Popular messaging apps such as Trillian, fring and others may not work with the new Skype. Ultimately, existing headsets designed to work with Skype will work only as standard headsets; and control buttons built into the headsets won’t work.

Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion two years ago.

Skip Ferderber is a Seattle-area journalist and former Los Angeles Times staff writer who edited Millimeter Magazine in the motion picture and television technology industry. He contributes to, Seattle Business Magazine, HD Video Pro Magazine and others.

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