Microsoft buying Skype for 7 billion?

Despite rumors that Google and Facebook were sniffing around, The Wall Street Journal is now claiming that Microsoft is about to break open the Redmond money bin and fork over $7 billion $8.5 billion for Skype. It could be announced as soon as tomorrow.

A deal represents Microsoft's most aggressive move yet to play in the increasingly-converged worlds of communication, information and entertainment. Skype connects more than 663 million users around the world via Internet-based telephony and video, making it a key technology platform for a new generation of Web-savvy consumers. During 2010, those users made 207 billion minutes of voice and voice video calls over Skype.

Obviously, Skype is a hugely popular app not just on desktops but on mobile devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Would Microsoft keep it free and freely available across platform? Would they try to build it into Windows and Windows Phone? Would they simply not be able to support it and just let it wither and die the way so many great technologies do once acquired by a gigantic corporation?

Will we have to stop saying "let's all jump on Skype" and start saying "let's all jump on Microsoft P2P VoIP client for Windows Live Communications 7 Home and Student Edition"?

UPDATE: Kara Swisher of Boom Town says the deal is confirmed. [AllThingsD]

UPDATE 2: The deal is confirmed now as well as the amount $8.5 billion in cash. Microsoft PR Skype PR

“Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world.”

Skype will become a new business division within Microsoft, and Skype CEO Tony Bates will assume the title of president of the Microsoft Skype Division, reporting directly to Ballmer.

“Microsoft and Skype share the vision of bringing software innovation and products to our customers,” said Tony Bates. “Together, we will be able to accelerate Skype's plans to extend our global community and introduce new ways for everyone to communicate and collaborate,” Bates said.

“Tony Bates has a great track record as a leader and will strengthen the Microsoft management team. I’m looking forward to Skype’s talented global workforce bringing its insights, ideas and experience to Microsoft,” Ballmer said.

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