Opening the gate to their walled garden yields value to service companies
Microsoft’s announcement of their Skype for Web, plug-in free, voice and video calling was expected.
For those using WebRTC enabled services such as Hangouts for years it sounds like an out dated announcement, kind of like someone announcing today they finally upgraded from a feature phone to a smartphone.
2 things bother me with this announcement.
They make it sound as if it is a breakthrough technology coming out of the labs of Microsoft but in reality they released a limited solution that works only in their walled garden of Edge, a browser with marginal market share and the Microsoft browser share in general (IE) is shrinking.
We’re lucky to have so many industry-leading engineers within the Skype and Microsoft Edge teams. They have combined their knowledge to deliver the very best plugin free calling experience during this Preview period. Because the Skype and Microsoft Edge teams work so closely,…
WebRTC should have been available in Internet Explorer (IE) long ago, WebRTC is an available technology, what took Microsoft so long to embed it in the browser?
Going for ORTC is a technical decision Microsoft took but the decision to wait for the advancement of it and the other limitations Microsoft introduced for fencing their WebRTC implementation are more than anything business decisions that work against the interest of the users.
They could have simply integrated WebRTC as it is without changing it and going for ORTC as a second phase (together with Google).
The limitations Microsoft introduced for closing their WebRTC-Skype for Business garden has played against their business interests. Eventually, based on their latest announced plans (details below), they are now starting to lean towards more interoperability with other browsers.
The second bothering item is facts, simply putting them right.
Microsoft’s announcement says:
we will continue to work on enabling audio and video interoperability with Chrome and Firefox browsers, once they both support the H.264 video codec.
Reality is that Firefox already supports H.264/AVC for a long time (using the Cisco, royalty free, binary package) and Chrome added it not long ago behind a flag.
Microsoft’s OS and productivity applications (office and Office 365) user base puts them in a unique position to offer integrated services. Microsoft does make use of this advantage, anyone using their productivity tools including Skype for Business benefits from this close integration (let’s see how their acquisition of Linkedin falls into this – Skype for Business based interviews right from your Linkedin profile is just one thing). Not jumping on the WebRTC bandwagon early was a mistake of Microsoft now being fixed, hopefully to an interoperable state.
Interoperability needs to be in 2 areas:
- Allow any WebRTC 1.0 application to run on Edge – hopefully this will happen, not only for ORTC but also for WebRTC 1.0
- Allow developers to build browser based applications that connect with Skype for Business – I have my doubts to what level Microsoft will open it up. They will probably leave some functionality for their SW clients only. The more they will allow the better for Microsoft and its users as developers will build great stuff. Microsoft is into selling the service, not the browser web client.
What’s missing for cross browser WebRTC interoperability with Microsoft?
2 things need to be taken care of to enable a call between current WebRTC supporting browsers to Microsoft Edge.
The 2 browsers need to have common voice and video codecs. But just having the same codecs is not enough. They need to be verified for interoperability because there are many details to a codec. As Dr. Alex mentioned in our monthly WebRTC Q&A webinar last week, at the last IMTC interop they found issues even in H.264 to H.264 call tests.
At first Microsoft only supported their proprietary video codec H.264UC. In their April announcement, Microsoft talked about their plans to support H.264/AVC and not just the Microsoft proprietary H.264UC. Lately, Microsoft has lived up to this promise.
In the same announcement Microsoft also mentioned planed support for VP8. An important steps that will hopefully take place and give more flexibility to web applications and integration with other video systems avoiding the need for transcoding.
The other part that needs to be taken care of is APIs.
Microsoft opted for ORTC. This means that a web application built for Chrome/Firefox will not work with Edge.
Different from what is mentioned in a post covering the Microsoft announcement, ORTC is not part of WebRTC 1.0. There are some elements of ORTC already in WebRTC 1.0 but that is not the real thing.
ORTC will probably be part of WebRTC 1.1, that’s not sure yet and it is unknown when WebRTC 1.1 will be released.
ORTC uses a different mechanism to exchange media descriptors and it doesn’t use SDP. See details on ORTC vs. SDP here.
In that April announcement Microsoft also promised to support WebRTC 1.0. Will that happen and will it be interoperable with other browsers, that’s still an open question.
Companies such as Microsoft are shifting their revenue mix to services. In such a business model, opening the service to developers for integration is a power multiplier, not in R&D resources but in creativity and innovation.
That is a paradigm shift from PBX vendors closing their systems for their phones only to making it as open as possible (making money from the service, not from the phone).
The more open Skype for Business will be to developers, the better it will be for Microsoft and its users. The more Edge will be open for standard WebRTC, the better it will compete with other browsers.