Microsoft pushes ahead with its own take on WebRTC

webrtc

Microsoft’s Open Technologies unit published a prototype implementation of browser-based video chat today that allows a user of a Mac OS-based Chrome browser to chat with a user running IE 10 on Windows. The demo shows both how serious Microsoft is about web-based video chat and how far away the industry still is from a common, open standard for real-time communication.

Microsoft has been working for some time on web-based real-time communication, and could one day use this kind of technology to take Skype to the browser, as well as make it interoperable with other messenger platforms and applications. The company started to participate in efforts to standardize this kind of browser-based communication last summer, albeit with a somewhat different take than others.

Previous efforts around web-based, plugin-free voice and video chat were largely driven by Mozilla and Google, with the latter contributing a lot of its technology to an effort dubbed WebRTC, which is short for web-based real-time communications. Work on WebRTC had been progressing in 2012, and parts of the technology has already been implemented in Chrome and Opera.

However, Microsoft argued that some of the core assumptions of that approach were wrong. In particular, the company took issue with efforts to make Google’s VP8 video codec the default choice for WebRTC. Microsoft’s own proposal, dubbed CU-WebRTC, would instead leave it up to the developer of each app to settle on a codec as well as on other specifics, like the data formats used to communicate.

The company reiterated this position in a blog post Thursday, which was co-authored by Skype Senior Architect Martin Thomson, Lync Principal Architect Bernard Aboba and Microsoft Open Technologies Principal Program Manager Adalberto Foresti. In it, the trio writes:

“A successful standard cannot be tied to individual codecs, data formats or scenarios. They may soon be supplanted by newer versions that would make such a tightly coupled standard obsolete just as quickly. The right approach is instead to support multiple media formats and to bring the bulk of the logic to the application layer, enabling developers to innovate.”

The post also admits that Microsoft’s initial proposal wasn’t exactly embraced by everyone: “The proposal generated both positive interest and healthy skeptical concern from working group members,” it states. However, the trio believes that the industry is nonetheless making progress towards a common standard – it may just take a bit longer to get there.

Image courtesy of Flickr user  Tsahi Levent-Levi.

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