By ignoring WebRTC, Redmond gives another reason for users to defect to other browsers
It was about twenty years ago when Microsoft got serious about the Internet because Netscape Navigator was becoming a crucial piece of the Internet puzzle and Microsoft missed the revolution. The company scrambled and released IE for free while Navigator cost $49 per machine. Moreover, they integrated IE into the OS much more effectively. The integration was so effective in-fact it became the focus of an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.
They won the browser war as we all know and didn’t face any real competition until December 2008 when Google released Chrome. As they understood, the browser could eventually become the OS thanks to the cloud and thin-client technology. Amazingly, over the past 7+ years, Chrome has gotten to the point where it has exceeded IE market share – an incredible feat.
Then again, it took many years for IE to get the speed improvements and security upgrades needed to compete effectively. Microsoft was as slow to respond to Google as Netscape was to alter course to fight Microsoft.
Assuming browser market share is important, and I believe it is, it’s worth pointing out how Microsoft is sacrificing its browser future because of other products and services.
For example, Skype was a multibillion dollar purchase for the company and Microsoft even touts Skype as a reason Surface is so awesome in its TV commercials. As a result, the company has not embraced WebRTC – the technology which enables the browser to provide voice, video and data sharing without the need for plug-ins or downloads.
Then there is Office 365, a smashing success considering iPad users are being forced to buy the service in the tens of millions in order to get access to Office apps. Of course there are other reasons to buy the service, but this is the only option on iOS devices and other tablets. We can expect Lync 365 at some point soon – yet another communications client that is all the more strategic to Redmond as it compliments what will soon be over 100 million Office 365 users.
WebRTC of course is something people want - as evidenced by the massive interest in the technology by equipment makers, software companies, startups, carriers and more.
Just this week, there is WebRTC news from OpenClove, GENBAND and AT&T among many others.
As a disclosure, I am CEO of TMC a co-producer of WebRTC Expo which is growing quickly and continues to draw a growing worldwide audience giving me perspective on this new market.
In order to take advantage of WebRTC, you have to use Mozilla’s Firefox or Chrome, as IE doesn’t support it. Apple's Safari doesn't either - most likely for similar strategic reasons (think FaceTime). This means people are pushed to try one of these other browsers and as a result, many keep using them because they like the experience.
In other words, Microsoft is protecting its communications division by not supporting this standard but in doing so, they are losing their browser dominance even quicker.
IE doesn’t generate revenue for Redmond, so perhaps this trade-off is better for shareholders. But with such strong competition from Google across a range of services, it would seem the browser is a strategic asset as it is a gateway to search and myriad web services – otherwise known as "cloud." All the reasons Google got into the browser business are the reasons why Microsoft should be concerned about losing share in the space. Especially true when Bing is the David to Google's Goliath.
If the company decides the browser is important, they will have to make the choice to support WebRTC quickly. Otherwise we can expect Redmond to knowingly sacrifice something that was once the most strategic initiative inside the company.
This will certainly be a topic of conversation at WebRTC Expo in Atlanta This June 17-19, 2014.
Phil Edholm, a partner on this event contributed to this story.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi