Plugins are Dead. Time to Migrate to WebRTC

April 16, 2015

What were you thinking with your plugins for Chrome?

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3 years now we have WebRTC. We are at a point where it is stable and ubiquitous enough. Chrome 42 has just been released. Besides improvements in WebRTC, it comes with a “minor” modification long announced – NPAPI plugins.

Chrome 42

If you wish to learn more about the various plugin systems for browsers, then ArsTechnica offers a good explanation. The gist:

  • NPAPI is old and outdated (think Netscape old)
  • It has been announced to be removed from Chrome a long time ago
  • Google is now phasing it out – requiring an option change that needs to be specifically opted in for it
  • Come September this year, that option will be gone as well
  • There’s an alternative – Google’s NaCl

Many of the video conferencing services for the enterprise are built in top of plugins for browsers. If you need a desktop client, you get to download *something* with the intention to have it seem and operate inside the browser. The reasons behind this are various, the main one being reduction in the number of clicks needed for installation of a full fledged application and handling administrator permissions on enterprise machines making the top of that list.

These proprietary plugins usually rely on NPAPI, though they might be using the more modern NaCl.

What are these vendors going to do now? Here are the 4 alternatives:

  1. Drop support altogether. Unlikely. Those that do send a strong signal to their market about their irrelevancy: “Don’t buy from us” is the message
  2. Switch to a full fledged app. Very likely. But reduces convenience for their end users. Not a good thing to do in 2015
  3. Replace NPAPI with NaCl. Very likely. Not sure how much effort this takes. Those that do send the message of clinging to the horns of the altar
  4. Switch to WebRTC

Hmm… If I had to guess, most would chose the NaCl route over the WebRTC one. That’s sad.

I was invited to speak at WebRTC Global Summit in London this week. The session I was asked to present was titled “Timeline and Forecast”. When I sat down to create my presentation, I was clueless as to what to talk about. So I started off by adding “are we there yet?” as a subtitle and everything clicked into place for me.

Here’s the presentation:

Back to Chrome 42.

With so many vendors moving towards WebRTC – now over 600 of them – how can a company in the enterprise video conferencing market choose to go for a browser plugin on Chrome instead of WebRTC is beyond me.

Are we there yet? Yes.


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  1. Tsahi! Great article as always.
    We couldn’t agree more with you. WebRTC is here and companies of all sizes will gradually move over and away from the plugin.
    However, what other services are going to spawn from this? Are we going to become browser dependant with all of our communication and activities going through the browser?

    1. Laurence,

      I am not really sure, but what is it that you do today out of the browser? Office has moved to the browser (or at least starting to move there). All that’s left now is “Skype”.

  2. Tsahi,

    I have been looking your posts since last autumn as I am intersted in WebRTC. I see the drive of WebRTC comes from two aspects: from server side, WebRTC is a simple stack/solution to deploy video service; from client side, no need to install client or plugin.

    However, the drive from client side seems not strong enough, as it is just one time effort for end user to install plugin, isn’t it?

    I think the drive from client side is not strong enough so that we don’t see the highly and quickly adoption of WebRTC in more large scale.


    1. Roger,

      There’s cost associated with any action you ask a user to do. That’s why Whatsapp has been so successful in passing companies like Skype – it didn’t require people to build a buddy list in order to use it – it depended on the address book you already had on your phone.

      The same thinking goes for many use cases. A store trying to capture a customer on its website won’t ask him to install a plugin – it will nudge him for a call directly. The less the potential customer has to think, the better it is for the seller.

      To top it off, your thinking is deeply rooted in looking at communication as a service. It is not. It is a feature within another service. Embedding it into a workflow and a service on the web is rather impossible without something like WebRTC embedded within the browser.

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