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The news that Skype will be absent from Windows Phone 7 when it launches later this year will doubtless be seen as a big blow by Microsoft, at least internally. The computer giant has yet to react to comments made by Skype’s Vice President in Asia and the Pacific in which he spelled out that the VoIP service would not be coming to the much-hyped new operating system, but there can be no doubt that its failure to land at launch will be felt keenly by Steve Ballmer.

Skype has become a byword for VoIP calling and not just over PCs and Macs. It’s spread to TVs this year, but it’s the company’s mobile proposition that has truly blossomed, thanks to tie-ups with 3 and INQ. Free calls using VoIP are the bane of networks, but Skype’s availability on the iPhone and its future plans for Android and the iPad have made it central to the smartphone experience.

This means it not rocking up on the first version of Windows Phone 7 is a big deal. Making VoIP calls is no longer a niche activity and Skype’s unavailability will add to concerns that Windows Phone 7 is in fact hamstrung by its lack of critical software. Adobe’s Flash is also going to be absent when it launches in Q4.

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A massive 521 million people globally have Skype accounts. But as it withdraws support for Windows Phone 7, many will either end up isolated, or, more likely, swerve the OS altogether and go with Android or iPhone. After all, both these systems are at the centre of Skype’s plans and already pack the VoIP software. Why try something different when you can stick with what you know?

So why exactly is Skype doing this now? It already said back in February that it was withdrawing support for older versions of Windows Mobile, citing the fact users were not getting the experience it had hoped they would from the operating system. Skype is maintaining radio silence about this latest move, with the exec who broke the news refusing to discuss why it’s steering clear of Windows Phone 7.

Microsoft will be hoping that this passes off without incident, especially as it’s mobile offering is starting to come under some intense scrutiny in the run-up to launch. Its launch back at Mobile World Congress drew plenty of warm praise, but by pulling development for Windows Phone 7, Skype is essentially suggesting it’s not up to scratch, just like its predecessor.

That is worrying, especially as Windows Mobile drew plenty of detractors. The last thing Microsoft needs is critics rounding on its system before it officially lands. The overall signs remaining promising: plans for its app store are coming on and the UI is ace. But Skype’s decision really does make one wonder just what’s going on behind the scenes. Is Windows Phone 7 up to the task of battling the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android? Only time will tell.

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