Feeds

Microsoft offers alternative Lync-like web chat spec to W3C

Work by Google, Mozilla, Opera not good enough, it says

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

Microsoft has submitted a proposed standard for real-time web communications to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), in a move that could upset the apple cart for other browser vendors who have been working on their own such standard since early 2011.

Microsoft, like Google, Mozilla, and Opera, all want web browsers to be able to make use of cameras and microphones without additional plug-ins. But they have all hitched their wagons to WebRTC, a spec that's currently being developed by the W3C, the Web Hypertext Applications Technology Working Group (WHATWG), and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Although the WebRTC standard has not been finalized, portions of it have already been implemented in recent versions of the Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers.

Microsoft was widely expected to follow suit with Internet Explorer, but in a surprise move on Monday the software giant submitted its own, competing specification to the W3C's WebRTC working group, along with some less than complimentary remarks about the existing standard.

"[WebRTC] shows no signs of offering real world interoperability with existing VoIP phones, and mobile phones, from behind firewalls and across routers," Microsoft's standards team wrote in a blog post, "and instead focuses on video communication between web browsers under ideal conditions."

In order to be effective, Microsoft reps wrote, a real-time communications standard for the web must allow vendors to implement varying types of applications, including kinds that haven't been thought of yet.

Microsoft also said that the WebRTC standard is a poor fit with key web tenets. In particular, it is not a stateless technology, owing to its having been derived from Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) code.

But Redmond's own communications ambitions are broader than those of the other browser makers. Microsoft offers a unified communications platform for enterprises in the form of Lync Server, and in May 2011 it bought VoIP and video chat vendor Skype.

No surprise, then, that Microsoft's proposed communications spec – which goes by the rather tongue-tying title "Customizable, Ubiquitous Real Time Communication over the Web," or CU-RTC-Web for short – was written by Bernard Aboba and edited by Martin Thomson, who are architects in Redmond's Lync and Skype groups, respectively.

Back to the bad old days for browsers?

Microsoft has promised a version of the Skype client that integrates with its new Outlook.com web-based mail service, to allow users to place calls directly from within their inboxes. If the work on CU-RTC-Web is any indication, however, that client may not be based on WebRTC when it arrives.

Unless the other vendors agree to implement Microsoft's standard, this may put users of browsers in the awkward position of needing a plug-in to use Skype over the web, which is the exact thing the WebRTC effort was meant to prevent.

Microsoft's proposal does make use of some portions of the existing WebRTC work, most notably the getUserMedia API, which has been widely implemented in current browsers. But it also adds a peer-to-peer real-time transport protocol layer that WebRTC lacks.

This isn't the first time the browser makers have butted heads over real-time communications. For example, Google would like to see the open source Opus and VP8 audio and video codecs baked into the WebRTC spec, while some other participants favor H.264.

But this latest move from Microsoft may be evidence of a widening schism between the software giant and the other browser makers. Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Opera have all been working to accelerate the pace of web browser development via the WHATWG, but Microsoft has declined to join that organization, citing patent concerns.

Of the core WHATWG members, Google, Mozilla, and Opera have all been closely involved with the WebRTC work, although Apple has been a no-show, most likely because of its commitment to its own FaceTime video chat technology.

By introducing its own, competing communications standard to the W3C now, Microsoft seems to be suggesting that it would prefer to lead web standards developments in areas core to its business, rather than sign on to work being driven by its rivals.

When asked for comment, Opera Software's Thomas Ford told El Reg, "We always welcome new contributions when they are submitted through the appropriate standards bodies. We look forward to evaluating Microsoft's proposal on its technical merits."

Still, given how late in the day the CU-RTC-Web spec arrives, the difficult and time-consuming nature of the web standards process, and Microsoft's contentious history within it, it seems likely that a few groans will escape the offices of some W3C members this week. ®

Seven Steps to Software Security

More from The Register

next story
Whoah! How many Google Play apps want to read your texts?
Google's app permissions far too lax – security firm survey
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
Do YOU work at Microsoft? Um. Are you SURE about that?
Nokia and marketing types first to get the bullet, says report
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Big Blue Apple: IBM to sell iPads, iPhones to enterprises
iOS/2 gear loaded with apps for big biz ... uh oh BlackBerry
OpenWRT gets native IPv6 slurping in major refresh
Also faster init and a new packages system
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.