WebRTC World Feature Article

January 22, 2013

Microsoft Plots its Own Route to WebRTC

The recent development of WebRTC has not been lost on Microsoft. But while the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has recently established a set of standards for the system, the proposal that Microsoft submitted vis-a-vis the standards for WebRTC has fallen on deaf ears, rejected in a vote that ended and weighted heavily against Microsoft. Microsoft isn't taking this snub lying down, though, and is thus getting ready to go its own way when it comes to WebRTC. The overall situation, though, is much more complex than might be thought from first blush.

Basically, the W3C establishes a variety of standards for several different kinds of programs, applications and languages. One of the biggest standard-settings they were involved with of late was HTML5, and WebRTC is also figuring in there as part of the future in computing that the W3C has a hand in. But Microsoft doesn't exactly approve of the route that the W3C is looking to take. To that end, while most people would say that the thing to do here would be to get a presence on the W3C and get a proper say in the operation, Microsoft instead seems to be using its marketing power to establish its own standards for WebRTC for use among its own user base, which, let's face it, is substantial.

A similar matter reportedly happened with WHATWG, who believed that the W3C wasn't exactly up to snuff when it came to HTML5, instead focusing on XHTML. WHATWG believed that XHTML was never really going to take off, and so it got down to making HTML5, which it's still working on to this day at last report. Enter Microsoft, which appears to be doing something similar for WebRTC.

Microsoft appears to believe, much like WHATWG did with HTML5, that the technology used in WebRTC is at its root basically flawed. Additionally, Microsoft seems to be chiding the W3C somewhat for a lack of vision, believing that, instead of a way to allow browsers to communicate directly together with video, audio, pictures or what have you, Web browsers should instead be able to intercommunicate by any means available, and with any device available. What's more, under WebRTC, browsers would use SDP, an open IETF standard, to accomplish the streaming connections. Microsoft commonly doesn't use SDP in its apps, and that's likely another point that Microsoft would sooner see changed in the W3C's standards for WebRTC, so that a non-SDP solution is more likely to work with Microsoft's wide array of other non-SDP solutions.

But with 22 to four votes against Microsoft's proposal, Microsoft picked up its own path with Microsoft's Real Time Communication API now implemented for IE 10 and Chrome in a “working prototype” form. Firefox users, however, will likely be sticking to the W3C's version, as Microsoft isn't offering its API for Firefox.

While it might seem to the casual observer that Microsoft is just throwing over a standard for a more Microsoft-friendly version, there's quite a bit of evidence to suggest that, maybe, Microsoft actually has a better idea. Microsoft's API, for example, doesn't use SDP, but there's room enough for developers to add an SDP-style interface to the system. Technical arguments for Microsoft's version actually seem pretty sound, and the overall result may well result in the W3C taking at least some parts of Microsoft's API for their own WebRTC standards. Only time will tell who ultimately emerges successful, or how successful they actually emerge, but it's clear that Microsoft is sticking to its collective guns.

Edited by Brooke Neuman


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