Last week, Microsoft took pains to emphasize its "cloud first, mobile first" strategy. CEO Satya Nadella cites the virtues of connectivity, intelligence and ubiquity in today's networked world while the company reorganizes to become more agile, move faster, and hold employees more accountable. One expected outcome of reorganization is fewer layers of management in order to accelerate the flow of information and decision-making. WebRTC adoption is a useful a benchmark for the newer, faster, speeder Microsoft.
Microsoft had been pushing a concept called CU-RTC-Web, a competing standard to WebRTC. Now it is lining up behind Object RTC (ORTC), a concept which is getting rolled into the WebRTC 1.0 specification and be in a future release of Google Chrome. While the ORTC work coming out of the Microsoft Open Technologies group is all well and good, how much time and energy did Microsoft spend on CU-RTC-Web that could have been spent on being an early adopter of WebRTC by embedding support in Internet Explorer (IE) at the earliest opportunity?
Instead, third-parties spent time and energy filling the leadership vacuum, developing a WebRTC plug-in for Internet Explorer (IE)—a contraction in terms since one of the primary goals of WebRTC was to avoid browser plug-ins to provide voice, video and other forms of real time communications. The cost to Microsoft is not only in simple time to market, but in developers and enterprise customers spending more time working with non-Microsoft solutions. It's a slow, steady erosion of influence and mindshare that only hurts the company over the long run while boosting the prospects of Google and others.
Numerous pundits are forecasting Microsoft will ultimately support WebRTC given all the noise the company has made about putting ORTC into Internet Explorer, going so far as to put it as "Under Consideration" for a future version of IE.
However, the clock is ticking. Microsoft knows it needs to move faster with Nadella's talk of becoming more agile and faster. Faster revisions to IE and incorporation of WebRTC into Microsoft products would prove it can more than simply talk about change. It would also revive interest in IE on the corporate side, slowing Chrome penetration.
WebRTC could also put Microsoft back into the game in the mobile space, where it trails badly. App developers and WebRTC service providers are working with two mobile operating systems, Apple iOS and Google Android. Windows Phone is not in the mobile WebRTC-based solution discussion. If Microsoft is serious about "mobile first," it will have to have a native Windows solution supporting WebRTC on both phone and tablets.
How WebRTC might affect Skype is an open question. Microsoft could take one step to Skype/WebRTC interoperability by incorporating Opus and VP9 codec support into a future release. Converting Skype into a WebRTC-based application while still supporting "legacy" Skype architecture would be interesting, but may be too radical for the newer, faster Microsoft to even contemplate. I suspect Skype will be managed for cash—in other words, without a lot of resources spent on it—at some point in the future.
Edited by Maurice Nagle