Microsoft's Skype Embraces WebRTC on IE

While the wireless operators were busy fearing Skype cannibalizing their voice minutes, Skype was fighting off an enemy of its own -- WebRTC. That's changing today, however, as the Microsoft voice-over-IP (VoIP) division says it will support its "frenemy" in Internet Explorer.

WebRTC is an open-source protocol that enables peer-to-peer real-time communications from any supported web browser. One of the most oft-cited reasons for the three-year-old technology's slow adoption in the industry has been the lack of ubiquitous support. Firefox and Chrome have been long-time supporters, but Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Internet Explorer and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s Safari have stayed on the sidelines for fear it would compete with their own telephony services. (See WebRTC: A Double-Edged Sword for Telcos.)

That's starting to change, as Internet Explorer senior program manager Shijun Sun writes in a blog post Monday that Microsoft is developing the Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC) API for WebRTC, which will remove the need for a plug-in on the Internet Explorer browser. The company's Skype division is leading the charge, in recognition that it can't beat the standard, so it might as well join it.

Read up on real-time communications on our dedicated WebRTC page on Light Reading.

In fact, Skype has always seen the writing on the wall, as Neil Ward, general manager of global business operations at Skype, last year called it a "welcome innovation" and said that it would help drive partnerships for Microsoft. However, it has taken a while for Microsoft to actually welcome the innovation into the fold, and now the next step will be to see what partnerships arise from it. (See MW13: Skype Waits for Operators to Woo It.)

Sun writes that Skype is "working closely with the web community to improve other existing standards for richer video interoperability, for example, features to adapt to changing bandwidth conditions and more." He also says that Microsoft will ensure interoperability with web browsers and SIP-based VoIP endpoints, PSTNs and teleconferencing systems. (See WebRTC & the Rise of the WebCo.)

It sounds like he sees room for partnerships with wireless service providers, which badly want in on the WebRTC action and can provide transport to ensure the quality and security of any browser-based call. But they, too, will have to be willing to partner smartly with over-the-top guys, including Skype, which they've proven resistant to do in the past.

Either way, Internet Explorer support is positive momentum for WebRTC, and represents an important roadblock removed on the path to ubiquitous browser-based data sharing, voice and video calling.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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sarahthomas1011 10/27/2014 | 5:03:27 PM
WebRTC advancing Important to note for those that follow the specs, Microsoft is supporting ORTC and H.264 for video, and it's working with 80 others within the W3C and IETF to advance the standard beyond its current form.
Liz Greenberg 10/27/2014 | 9:31:28 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing This is great news and underscores the effort that MSFT puts into supporting both existing and developing standards.  Yes one could say that their back was against the wall but it wasn't really and I hope that they continue this trend.
smkinoshita 10/28/2014 | 12:24:40 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing I agree with Liz Greenberg; this is refreshing news.  I wonder if Microsoft will learn a bit and embrace open source a bit more.  It doesn't have to throw in the towel, just learn to play nice with others.  It's something MS has had difficulties with but not surprising since it's cut-throat policies with competitors paid off so well in the 90's.
Liz Greenberg 10/28/2014 | 1:02:57 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing It is fun to look back historically at both MSFT and Apple and their embrace or lack thereof for standards.  Early on, Apple was the true embracer of all standards and Microsoft did their own thing (early 90s), now it is flipped for the most part so that Apple can tie folks to its ecosystem.  I am a firm believer in standards and I won't support anybody who doesn't play nice.
smkinoshita 10/28/2014 | 1:23:31 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing Funny thing with Apple is that their priority nature actually helped them in some ways since under Jobs second leadership they were more fashion than anything else.  That's a factor Microsoft just doesn't undrestand.
mendyk 10/28/2014 | 2:48:36 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing Apple was a true embracer of all standards?
Liz Greenberg 10/28/2014 | 4:13:23 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing So true...Microsoft has a lot to learn on that front.
Liz Greenberg 10/28/2014 | 4:14:31 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing Believe it or not they were great!  It made it possible to not only run their software but to load Windows on top and run it too.  Not true anymore inspite of the Unix underpinnings - unfortunately.
mendyk 10/28/2014 | 4:18:39 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing This is the same company that made it almost impossible for its users to customize their hardware with non-Apple products, right?
Liz Greenberg 10/28/2014 | 4:39:05 PM
Re: WebRTC advancing Exactly, one and the same.  Hard to believe isn't it?  I used to love Apple products but now I won't touch them because I want to own my product and do what I want with it, not what I am told that I should want. 

In other words, I prefer Microsoft or even Android to anything that Apple delivers.  Their products have great engineering, beautiful design but the idea of everything having to be what Apple tells me to like doesn't sit well with me.
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