There are number of companies involved in the WebRTC project in its present state. They are Google, Mozilla, Opera on the browser side with W3C and IETF on the standards side. Only recently Microsoft have also shown an interest in this project but we are not expected to see any development from them until 2013. Having said that they are currently recruiting developers to work on a project combining Skype with WebRTC, so development could occur earlier than expected.
Google have been to the forefront of this project. They want to develop a standard based real time media engine available in all browsers. In order to drive the development of real time communication Google have released nearly $70 million worth of open source code to developers. This open source audio and video codecs came about through the acquisition by Google of companies such as Global IP solutions and On2 Technologies.
In early 2010, Google finalized its acquisition of On2, a video codec company that has developed the VP series of codecs, with the latest codec being VP8. On2 has always positioned its codecs as a patent free replacement to the H.26x series of codecs, which were standardized, patented and widely used. It then went about opening On2’s technologies to the world and open sources VP8 under the name of WebM. The idea was to replace H.264 for web videos and by that, reduce patent costs for everyone – especially Google itself.
Google went on and during 2010 acquired Global IP Solutions (GIPS), a company known for their media frameworks – a piece of technology that makes developing VoIP and video calling applications easier. At the time, GIPS had a large market share in VoIP, which caused most of the industry to scurry and search for alternative solutions. As with On2, Google took GIPS assets and open sourced them. This time they threw out all voice and video codecs that had patent owners and added an additional layer – a Java Script API as an integration layer to web browsers. The idea, have bidirectional media processing and media coding technologies available in every browser. It then went on to push it as a standard at the IETF and W3C, where such standards are set and approved . This real time communication is now called WebRTC. Google have a Google+ forum page which keeps up with the latest WebRTC developments.Google+ WebRTC
Mozilla Firefox has started showing off WebRTC support in their browser. Nothing stable enough to be able to release it in their main branch of the browser, but this is a positive step as developers can test in multiple browsers.
Mozilla attended IETF 83 in Paris, and showed an early demo of a simple video call between two Browser-ID-authenticated parties in a special build of Firefox with WebRTC support.
Mozilla have been experimenting with integrating social features in the browser, to combine it with WebRTC to establish a video call between two users who are signed in using Browser ID (now called Persona). The Social-API add – on, once installed, provides a sidebar where web content from the social service provider is rendered. In the demo social service, you can see a “buddy list” of people who are currently signed in using Persona.Mozilla.org
Opera released its new version of its web browser Opera 12 on June 14 last. The new version includes preliminary support for WebRTC. WebRTC will eventually enable standards-based audio and video chat in Web applications. There is also support for the WebRTC media capture APIs, which allow Web content to capture live media streams from the user’s microphone and web cam.
The WebRTC getUserMedia API works out of the box in Opera 12 and can be used by any website. Due to the potential privacy and security implications, the user is automatically prompted by the browser before the feature is allowed to be activated.Arstechnica.com
“Microsoft, Internet Explorer has put its weight behind WebRTC, a plugin-free technology for voice and video communications in the browser. However, it proposed a different approach other than the one currently favored by other browser vendors, and warned against implementing the technology before there’s a common standard.” Janko Roettgers
“Customizable, Ubiquitous Real Time Communication over the Web,” or short CU-RTC-Web, is Microsoft’s contribution to the W3C WebRTC working group. Microsoft have stated that they have been closely involved in the work on the WebRTC standard with both the IETF and W3C since 2010. Unlike other browser companies their work has been very quite and not as publicly available as other interested parties. This has of course now changed with the release of their version of WebRTC, CU-RTC-Web.
There are a number of reasons Microsoft have taking a different approach, the most notable being the VP8 video codec that has been put forward as the default video codec. Although Microsoft have and still have to some issues with this codec, they feel developers should not be tied down to individual codes. They also have concerns in the predetermined way media is proposed to be sent over the network, they prefer a more flexible and customised approach to implement the technology on legacy devices.
Aside from the issues with codecs and media management, Microsoft feel that eventually all parties concerned will agree on common standards. With CU-RTC-Web Microsoft envisage that the wall garden approach of Skype will come tumbling down and allow interoperability between Skype and other OTT operators such as Google Talk.
At present Apple have no part in the implementation or development of WebRTC in their Safari web browser, as they have vested interest in their FaceTime walled garden of audio/visual communication and in the H.264 audio codec, which isn’t part of WebRTC at present.
However WebRTC4all built by the Google development team is an extension for Safari and other browsers. This allows developers to add the WebRTC functions such as audio/video streaming in all browsers now and they will easily be able to switch to the official implementation when it’s added by Apple and others.
Allowing audio and video codecs to be open sourced under a very lenient open source license has made it very attractive to place WebRTC into commercial products. With Goggle, Microsoft, Opera and Mozilla backing WebRTC it would seem that all is well in the browser world. But until all the standards have been set by W3C and IETF, and adapted by all interested parties we won’t celebrate the dawn of a new communication phase just yet.
Aside from all the political posturing, WebRTC is here to stay. It will bring great innovation, vast commercial opportunities and most importantly real time communication for everyone.