Mozilla Collaborating with TokBox on WebRTC is Fine, but Why Firefox?

May 30, 2014

Mozilla’s efforts with TokBox is all about Firefox OS, so why don’t they just say so?

Mozilla & Tokbox

Mozilla just “announced” in one of their blogs an “experimentation” taking place in their nightly builds. The post itself is rather cryptic:

Soon, in Firefox Nightly, you will see our first experiments in creating a WebRTC-powered communications feature that aims to connect everyone with a WebRTC-enabled browser. And that’s all you will need. 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.

The above quote is about as good an explanation about what WebRTC is as any. browser enables, no plugins, no downloads. Where’s the news here?

Oh. And they have a partner for this one:

we’re proud to have a partner in TokBox who have provided invaluable help in getting this project to where it is today, and whose OpenTok video and voice platform powers the service.

TokBox followed suit with a post of their own, with even less information:

You can read more about it from Mozilla here. There’s not much to add at stage.

Thanks a lot.

The most amount of information about it on the net is found on The Register:

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.

Which isn’t much either.

What does this mean anyway?

While I am just as clueless as anyone else, here’s what I am thinking about this one:

  • There are 4 browsers today if you ignore Opera: Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox
  • Browsers today are operating systems of sorts:
    • Internet Explorer has Windows and Windows Phone
    • Safari has iOS and Mac
    • Chrome has Android and Chrome OS
    • Firefox has Firefox OS
  • And operating systems have their own messaging clients
    • Microsoft has Lync & Skype
    • Apple has FaceTime
    • Google has Hangouts
    • Firefox has… NOTHING
  • If you are a browser and an OS, you can’t ignore having built in messaging capabilities
  • And this is where this new cryptic project comes to play – it is about adding a messaging service into Firefox OS
  • It has nothing to do with Firefox (or at least very little in terms of the end game) and everything to do with Firefox OS
  • The missing pieces in WebRTC to achieve that for Mozilla are numerous:
    • NAT traversal – someone needed to host this service
    • Signaling to reach other clients
    • Identity
  • Mozilla is relying on TokBox to offer NAT traversal and signaling, and will probably hold on tight to the identity management part – directory services are worth money
  • The choice of TokBox as their partner is a simple one:
    • Telefonica has a bear-hug on Firefox OS, and TokBox was acquired by Telefonica
    • TokBox isn’t going anywhere – no one is going to buy it off the market
    • TokBox is a very decent platform for video calling and mobile first solutions
  • This has nothing to do with WebRTC. It doesn’t impacts its acceptance or adoption
  • The big winner here is TokBox

My open questions

I am left unsatisfied from the information provided. It is too little to fit in such a blog post – it reveals a grand scheme, but leaves too many pieces of it hidden.

Here’s what I want answered:

  • Is there anything other than WebRTC that gets crammed into the Firefox browser? Maybe a few HTML and JS files, but is there anything proprietary?
  • Is Mozilla using here the TokBox SDK as a wrapper to WebRTC, or are they using native WebRTC and getting some private hooks into the TokBox platform?
  • This being free, who pays to TokBox for hosting, if anyone?
  • Will there be a business model around premium features?
  • Why now? What are we supposed to do with this Mozilla post?

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