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Originally published Friday, August 16, 2013 at 7:01 PM

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Microsoft to bundle Skype into Windows 8.1

Microsoft purchased the video- and audio-calling Internet phone service in 2011. Skype has about 300 million users today. Will the move raise antitrust concerns similar to the Internet Explorer-Windows case?

Seattle Times technology reporter

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Skype is the newest addition to Windows 8.1, the major update to Windows 8 that is expected to arrive in mid-October.

It was already known that a number of Microsoft’s services and offerings would be bundled with Windows 8.1, including search engine Bing, personal cloud-storage service SkyDrive, Web browser Internet Explorer (IE) and Xbox Music, Video and Games.

Earlier this week, Microsoft added Skype to that list. Microsoft purchased in 2011 the video- and audio-calling Internet phone service, which today has about 300 million users.

But given that Microsoft previously had to settle with the Department of Justice over its bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, and that a judge had ruled Microsoft a monopoly on that issue, could the company face similar antitrust concerns now by including Skype with Windows 8.1?

“It’s probably still too early to say” if it will be an issue, said Prasad Krishnamurthy, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Differences exist between the current Skype-Windows 8.1 situation and the previous Internet Explorer-Windows antitrust battles which took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One of the issues that the government had with Microsoft bundling IE with Windows was the argument that by doing so, Microsoft was trying to use its dominant position in the marketplace to prevent programmers from writing applications for other operating systems, including middleware such as Netscape’s Navigator browser.

“Here it’s not so clear that by adding Skype features to Windows that Microsoft is making the market for operating systems any more anticompetitive,” Krishnamurthy said.

Also, as long as Microsoft allows consumers to remove the Skype app, it could help the company avoid anti-competitive arguments, he added.

Windows 8.1 (and Windows 8) also has an applications store where, presumably, competitors could sell their own apps to be loaded onto Windows devices.

Finally, the market has changed since the days of the antitrust suit.

While Windows still is the dominant operating system on desktop and laptop computers, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are the dominating operating systems on mobile devices. And the market for mobile devices is growing while that for PCs is slowing.

Also, these days, consumers expect their devices to come with some features or applications packaged in. Android devices, for instance, typically come packaged with some Google services, while iOS devices come with FaceTime video chat.

“I think Microsoft could much more plausibly say (now) that the operating-systems market is much broader than just the PC market,” Krishnamurthy said.

Apple and Google declined to comment on the issue.

Ultimately, Krishnamurthy said, whether bundling Skype with Windows becomes a big issue may come down to details — the specifics of “the way the bundling is done.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.

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