Does Microsoft care about WebRTC? Is Microsoft trying to kill or delay WebRTC? These are questions that have been asked since WebRTC became a more mainstream buzzword and one that I am asked all the time. I will address both of these topics below along with Microsoft’s new WebRTC prototype it announced last Friday.

Microsoft has been very active in its standardization. It has actually put in more effort for many years compared to most others in the industry. Microsoft originally drew some ire when it introduced CU-RTC-Web – an alternative implementation model to the current specification. Many interpreted this as an attempt to stall the WebRTC standardization process. However, over time the community has come around to many of Microsoft’s proposals.

The most important of these proposals was using standard JavaScript objects instead of Session Description Protocol (SDP) as part of the establishment of a session. When establishing a session between two parties, the browser or app needs to make decisions or negotiate aspects such as:

  • “What IP address can I reach you on?”
  • “Should we do an audio or video call?”
  • “What codecs shall we use?”

SDP encapsulates these questions and more and allows these parameters to be negotiated so the call can successfully set up.

SDP was first standardized in 1998, back when H.323 was the VoIP technology du jour and when Google was an unfunded idea. The WebRTC community has managed to leverage and extend SDP for its needs, but this can be clunky and ultimately limits WebRTC’s applicability. SDP is certainly not friendly to web developers without a VoIP background (follow the link to see what a WebRTC SDP looks like). Slowly, more of the community has sided with the “anti-SDP” camp. These efforts have coalesced into the Object RTC group (see my ORCA post for more on this). Many believe this implementation of WebRTC may be part of WebRTC 2.0 with the current specification comprising WebRTC 1.0.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced it would not support WebRTC 1.0. WebRTC ORTC is “under consideration” – so it is definitely on the Internet Explorer radar along with 68 other features in this category. Just last Friday, Microsoft announced an updated prototype implementation that uses ORTC to set up an H.264 call. It is implemented as an extension for Internet Explorer and Chrome.

So does this mean Microsoft is a driving force for WebRTC technology or does it want to kill it? It takes considerable resources to commit people to standardization activities and develop multiple prototypes – particularly ones that work across browsers. Clearly someone at Microsoft cares. However, for a company worth $330 billion, this development is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Internet Explorer has never been known to be at the forefront of browser technology. WebRTC is unlikely to be an exception. Assuming ORTC does become part of WebRTC 2.0, at least Microsoft will have a good chance of taking a more meaningful role in browser-based communications as a fast follower.

This is certainly not a positive development for those who were hoping that WebRTC would be a ubiquitous technology in all browsers within the next year. The good news is that WebRTC still works, just not everywhere. Efforts like ORTC will likely make WebRTC technology even more applicable and easier to use. Is this a hiccup for WebRTC? Some may say, “Yes.” Is it unsurmountable? No. Just use Microsoft’s plug-in for proof.

Want to learn more about WebRTC’s next move? Download the results of our 2014 WebRTC Impact Survey here.