Will WebRTC be delayed by Microsoft?


ORLANDO, Fla.-- The topic of WebRTC emerged over and over again at EnterpriseConnect this week. The conference kicked off on Monday with a full day of WebRTC panels, billed as a "conference-within-a-conference."

This was the first year that the topic of WebRTC justified having a separate track at the conference, which also had tracks on the usual suspects: unified communications, SIP trunking, cloud, contact center, converged networks, mobility, social apps and, of course, video.

WebRTC offers web application developers the ability to write multimedia applications, such as video chat, on the Web using Javascript application programming interfaces. WebRTC enables voice and video calling through browsers without the need to worry about using a proprietary client, codec capability or other bothersome interoperability issues.

WebRTC's long-term purpose is to build a real-time communications (RTC) platform that works across multiple Web browsers and platforms.

Potential enterprise uses for WebRTC include employee-to-employee communications, such as a unified communications client, and customer service, such as voice and video collaboration in the contact center, explained Val Matula, senior director of multimedia research at Avaya (see related story).

Microsoft waiting on WebRTC standards

The tone on WebRTC discussion was set early on when the Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) representative on a panel entitled "WebRTC and the Enterprise" stressed that the WebRTC standardization issue was a long way from being solved.

Albert Kooiman, senior product marketing manager in the Enterprise Product Marketing Group at Microsoft's Skype division, said that until standardization is sorted out, Internet Explorer (IE) would not support WebRTC.

"When you are designing a new API [application programming interface], the API that we are all hoping WebRTC to be, it not only has to be ubiquitous but it also has to be applicable to all of the applications that customers are using," he said.

The "key element is that you need to be interoperable with all that is out there. That is the big caveat we have with all of the standardization efforts that are going on around WebRTC. The stuff that is out there is either not documented well or is based on principles that are not working with the existing legacy installed base," Kooiman told the panel.

Kooiman said Microsoft is developing another approach called CU-RTC-Web. The prototype of this approach demonstrates that the "same principles that are being discussed in WebRTC can be implemented in a different way."

Later in the conference, Derek Burney, corporate vice president for Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Office Data, struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that Microsoft would incorporate WebRTC into IE when a standard had been finalized.

However, WebRTC could pose a challenge to Microsoft's Skype because it would eliminate the need for a proprietary client, so people would not need to use Skype to conduct voice and video calls over the Internet.

Firefox, Opera and Chrome have already implemented WebRTC, while IE and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL)Safari have not.

IE continues to be the dominant desktop web browser with 56 percent of the market, according to the latest stats from Net Market Share, while Firefox has 20 percent, Chrome 16 percent, Safari 5 percent and Opera 2 percent.

On the mobile browser side, Safari controls 55 percent of the market, Android 23 percent and Opera Mini 13 percent. Again, the dominant browser in that market is not supporting WebRTC.

So the browsers that are not supporting WebRTC make up a clear majority of desktop and mobile browsers in the market.

This fact alone should slow the deployment of WebRTC applications. With Microsoft's economic incentive to drag its feet on WebRTC support, it could be a while before we see widespread adoption of WebRTC, either in the consumer market or in the enterprise.  -Fred


Article updated March 24 to clarify that the Microsoft Skype client could be challenged by WebRTC, not the Skype service.

More about WebRTC:

WebRTC steps outside the browser, shows up in Vonage mobile apps
Enterprise Connect features WebRTC as a major theme for the first time
Google, Mozilla, Opera team to develop common WebRTC platform