WebRTC Expert Feature

April 16, 2014

What's the Catch for Microsoft with WebRTC?

Andy Abramson posted a nice blog entry on the convergence happening at Google with regard to its Hangouts product.  In effect, Google’s previous purchases of Grand Central, Gizmo and the codecs already bundled into Google Hangouts, combined with Google Voice’s on-net, off-net capability, make Google Hangouts a Skype that does not need to charge for in and out minutes.

Now Andy’s belief is that Microsoft can fight back by further integrating Skype with Lync to deliver calling between the consumer and the enterprise, which is very close to the original intent behind Jeff Pulver’s Tello solution.  I will leave the free calling discussion to thread on Andy’s blog, though, and turn instead to the discussion of WebRTC and its relationship to Microsoft (and Apple, as long as we are at it.)

First of all, Microsoft has not been silent on the WebRTC front, seeing the value in it and not allowing codec concerns to hinder its efforts. I have written before about the codec wars and have no interest in being pigeonholed on the topic, so I will just acknowledge such concerns and move on.                                                                                                 

Next, I believe that WebRTC is meant to be a closed network solution, this despite the adoption of gateways and handsets. Just as websites either share link love or ignore each other completely, I see a closed call path model, and if we end up with a federation it will be through a series of links.

Finally, as a result, like Skype WebRTC is an alternative network to the PSTN and not a replacement. We can discuss whether the use of phone numbers will become obsolete some other time (as well as other addressing concerns), but for now let’s just acknowledge that the communications that are being enabled are different than the universal service offered by the PSTN.

Andy’s observations caused me to ask myself, “What would I do if I with WebRTC if I were Microsoft?” Would I make it part of Office 365 and put my version in the Web client? Would I embed it into Azure’s Node.JS implementation? How about in delivering enhanced features to Lync? Would I enable Skype Web solutions?

Here is where it gets tricky. If it isn’t going to be universal, then what difference does it make whether WebRTC is used or not?  The truth is that Microsoft has done or can do just about everything listed here without making use of WebRTC. So where is the hook for them to implement WebRTC?

I come away with a willingness to use WebRTC, but not a compelling reason to migrate to it today. Likewise with Apple, I don’t see the drive to implement. What I do see, however, is another place where I would let the W3C serve as my focal point. Let the Web standards bring it along, and when it makes sense add the capability to the browsers. Since HTML5 represents a migration path in and of itself, however, WebRTC must be a secondary consideration to all the work being done to enable the browser. Thus, strategically, the innovator’s dilemma may apply here for Microsoft and Apple to act as laggards, but frankly I think they will have time to recover. 

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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