Microsoft builds a Skype Web client

Skype logoSkype is coming to the Web with in-browser instant messaging, voice, and video chat.

To start off, it's going to need a plugin to enable the voice and video portions, and it will support Internet Explorer 10 or newer, the latest versions of Firefox and Chrome, and on OS X, Safari 6 or newer. Rollout has started on an invitational basis.

That browser plugin should be temporary, however, as eventually it will use the open Web standards even for these parts. But this is more complex than it sounds, thanks to disagreements about the best way to support audio and video streaming on the Web.

Chrome (and other browsers using the Blink engine, such as Opera) and Firefox already have some support for interoperable audio and video streaming, using an API called WebRTC (RTC standing for "Real-Time Communications"). This API was developed to be the basis for a wide range of audio/visual applications in the browser, including interoperability with existing SIP-based telephony systems and more. Its development is now being handled by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization that oversees development of most Web standards.

However, Microsoft and others within the industry aren't keen on WebRTC, claiming it's too complex and too closely tied to SIP's particular model of call setup and communications.

They've developed a separate spec called ORTC (Object RTC), which is designed to offer similar capabilities but without mandating this same call setup system. Both Microsoft and Google are contributing to this spec, as are representatives from companies with video conferencing, telephony, and related products.

ORTC isn't currently blessed as a W3C project, though the ORTC group has proposed integrating ORTC into WebRTC to create WebRTC 1.1 and including parts of ORTC into WebRTC 1.0.

Microsoft has said that it will be implementing ORTC in Internet Explorer. Google has also announced that it's going to be implementing at least parts of ORTC in Chrome.

Microsoft builds a Skype Web client

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It seems likely that Skype for Web will use ORTC. This means that it will work in Internet Explorer when Microsoft finishes the ORTC implementation, but it won't work with the WebRTC implementations in Chrome and Firefox, so those browsers will continue to need a plugin. While Google is plainly interested in adding ORTC support to Chrome, eliminating the plugin there, it's less clear what Mozilla's plans are for Firefox. And Apple has thus far shown no interest in implementing either WebRTC or ORTC in Safari.

Eventually these differences are likely to get shaken out and a common cross-browser API will emerge, and Skype for Web will offer a streamlined plugin-free experience. But we're not going to hold our breath.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: browsers, Microsoft, Skype

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