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Mozilla plans plugin-free in-browser video chat for Firefox

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Mozilla says it will soon begin experimenting with a new streaming video communications system that users can access using only their web browsers.

"And that's all you will need," Mozilla's Chad Weiner said in a blog post on Thursday. "No plug-ins, no downloads. If you have a browser, a camera and a mic, you'll be able to make audio and video calls to anyone else with an enabled browser."

Of course, that last "enabled" bit is the catch. The system will be based on WebRTC, a nascent spec from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that still has spotty support from current-generation browsers. Internet Explorer, in particular, doesn't support it at all, and Microsoft still isn't sure it's keen on the tech.

Mozilla goes gaga for anything sufficiently webby, however, so it's eager to see what it can build using WebRTC, even though the spec is still under development.

Last year, the not-for-profit group got together with Google to demo real-time, WebRTC-based video chat between users of the Firefox and Chrome browsers, both of which are said to have "advanced implementations" of WebRTC.

What Mozilla plans to do now is add a WebRTC-based video-chat client into Firefox as a built-in feature. Initially, the code will only appear in the bleeding-edge Nightly branch, but Weiner said he hoped it would eventually work across "all of your devices and operating systems" (and in fact, WebRTC is already enabled by default in Firefox for Android).

To help it realize its vision, Mozilla has enlisted the aid of TokBox, makers of the WebRTC-based OpenTok video and voice communications platform, which Weiner said will "power the service" that Mozilla creates.

In a blog post, TokBox said there was "not much to add" to Mozilla's announcement at this stage, but invited interested parties to download the Nightlies to get a look at the new tech once it's released.

TokBox's involvement does raise some questions, however, such as just what form the Firefox feature/service will take and, more importantly, what it might cost to use. Although a free trial is offered, OpenTok is a commercial service that starts at $50 per month.

When The Reg asked about this, a Mozilla spokesperson told us, "The WebRTC experimental product is free, and any further plans regarding monetization will be disclosed in due course." So take that as you will.

Weiner didn't say when the first Nightly build with the experimental version of the chat tech would make it into the channel, but a spokesperson said Mozilla would keep us posted when there was anything more to say "from a user perspective." ®

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