Photo: AP photos
Microsoft has taken a big step toward a browser-based version of Skype. But in doing so, it has picked another fight with Google and Mozilla.Microsoft has thrown its weight behind a technology called Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC), a way of doing live communications as part of HTML5. (HTML5 is the next version of the language for documents and apps on the Web.)
The WebRTC standard, once it gets figured out, will provide a way to run audio and video communication through Web apps in your browser without the need for plug-ins. It will let you just fire up your browser use apps like Skype and Google Talk.
Google long ago submitted a proposal to do this. Mozilla, which makes Firefox, and Opera, another browser maker, have already signed on to support Google’s method. They already have browsers out now that support Google’s technology.
But today, Microsoft submitted its own technology to the the W3C WebRTC working group, reports GigaOM.
So instead of joining the others, Microsoft picked a fight. If it wins, it will send Google, Mozilla and Opera back to the drawing board to get WebRTC working in their browsers.
There’s money involved, too. Google and Mozilla want to use a video technology known as the VP8 codec. Google open sourced it in 2010. Microsoft and Apple have backed an older, more established tech for this, known as H.264. There’s reason to use H.264 over V8. Chip manufacturers such as Intel and Texas Instruments offer processors to H.264, which helps devices handle lots of video really fast. But using H.264 also means having to pay royalties—at least for any use of it that isn’t a free service.
We do know that Microsoft’s Skype unit has been working on a browser-based version.
There’s a long history of drama around browser-based Skype that predates Microsoft’s ownership. Way back when eBay sold a big chunk of Skype to a group of investors, the founders of Skype sued. Part of the plan was to redesign Skype for the Web, leaving out technology that Skype’s founders had licensed to eBay to run Skype. One Index Ventures partner, Mike Volpi, had previously worked for Skype’s founders at another company, Joost, and was heavily involved in the Web effort.
The lawsuit got settled and Index Ventures ended up not investing in Skype’s buyout. But it’s interesting to hear about a Web-based version of Skype now—we might have seen one years ago if things had turned out differently.
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