Skype Coming to The Browser – But Only for Internet Explorer

Posted by at 12:25 pm on October 28, 2014

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Microsoft announced today that it’s supporting the new ORTC API as part of WebRTC standard, and it has begun work to implement it in the Internet Explorer browser. This will eventually lead to IE users being able to make Skype calls directly from the browser, without needing to install the Skype application or any browser plugin.

There’s just one catch: it will only work with IE (possibly version 11+, or even 12+), at least for now. The ORTC API, that Microsoft is adopting, is similar but incompatible with the WebRTC standard that IETF and W3C have chosen as the browser-based P2P video-chat technology that doesn’t require any plugins. WebRTC was created to work with traditional telecom lines, and it contains some complex legacy code. If developerswant to change certain controls, they can’t do so without browser-level modifications.

ORTC (Object RTC), on the other hand, is completely based on Javascript code, and it is much easier to implement by third party developers in their video-chat web apps.

ORTC also has one other feature Microsoft cares deeply about since it created the WebRTC-competing standard, CU-RTC (Customizable, Ubiquitous Real-Time Communication) – the ability to use other codecs than Google’s open source VP8 codec, which was also chosen by the IETF standards body. Microsoft wanted to be able to use the h.264 codec instead, so it created the CU-RTC API.

Unfortunately for Microsoft that initiative never took off, but the new ORTC already has a strong W3C community formed by 80 companies. Because ORTC allows Microsoft to use the h.264 codec, the company supported the ORTC project from early on. However, even Google, one of WebRTC’s biggest supporters, is now a member of the ORTC group; however, it hasn’t said when it plans to adopt it in Chrome.

The new version of WebRTC 1.1 will maintain compatibility with the old WebRTC standard, but video-chat web app developers will be encouraged to transition to using the ORTC standard. To have truly interoperable P2P video-chat from browser to browser, Firefox and Safari will also have to adopt ORTC. Mozilla is likely to follow Google and adopt it, too, but whether Apple will implement it in Safari remains to be seen.

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