How the Politics of Standardization Plays in WebRTC, WebAssembly and Web Browsers

June 25, 2015
Companies care little about standards. Unless it serves their selfish objectives.

The main complaint around WebRTC? When is Apple/Microsoft going to support it. How can that be when WebRTC is being defined by the IETF and W3C? When it is part of HTML5?


We learned last week on a brand new initiative: WebAssembly. The concept? Have a binary format to replace JavaScript, act as a kind of byte-code. The result?
  1. Execute code on web pages faster
  2. Enable more languages to "run" on web pages, by compiling them to this new byte-code format
If the publication on TheNextWeb is accurate, then this WebAssembly thing is endorsed by all the relevant browser vendors (that's Google, Apple, Microsoft & Mozilla). WebAssembly is still just a thought. Nothing substantiate as WebRTC is. And yet... WebAssembly yes and WebRTC no. Why is that? Why is that? Decisions happen to be subjective and selfish. It isn't about what's good for the web and end users. Or rather, it is, as long as it fits our objects and doesn't give competitors an advantage or removes an advantage we have. WebAssembly benefits almost everyone:
  • It makes pages smaller (binary code is smaller than text in general)
  • It makes interactive web pages run faster, allowing more sophisticated use cases to be supported
  • It works better on mobile than simple text
Google has no issue with this - they thrive on things running in browsers Microsoft are switching towards the cloud, and are in a losing game with their dated IE - they switched to Microsoft Edge and are showing some real internet in modernizing the experience of their browser. So this fits them Mozilla are trying to lead the pack, being the underdog. They will be all for such an initiative, especially when WebAssembly  takes their efforts in asm.js and build assets from there. It validates their credibility and their innovation Apple. TechCrunch failed to mention Apple in their article of WebAssembly. A mistake? On purpose? I am not sure. They seem to have the most to lose: Better web means less reliance on native apps, where they rule with current iOS first focus of most developers All in all, browser vendors have little to lose from WebAssembly while users theoretically have a lot to gain from it.


With WebRTC this is different. What WebRTC has to offer for the most part:
  • Access to the camera and microphone within a web browser
  • Ability to conduct real time voice and video sessions in web pages
  • Ability to send arbitrary data directly between browsers
The problem stems from the voice and video capability. Google have Hangouts, but make money from people accessing web pages. Having ALL voice and video interactions happen in the web is an advantage to Google. No wonder they are so heavily invested in WebRTC Mozilla has/had nothing to lose. They had no voice or video assets to speak of. At the time, most of their revenue also came from Google. Money explains a lot of decisions... Microsoft has Skype and Lync. They sell Lync to enterprises and paid 8.5 billions for Skype. Why would they open up the door to competitors so fast? They are now headed there, making sure Skype supports it as well Apple. They have FaceTime. They care about the Apple ecosystem. Having access to it from Android for anything that isn't a Move to iOS app won't make sense to them. Apple will wait for the last moment to support it, making sure everyone who wishes to develop anything remotely related to FaceTime (which was supposed to be standardized and open) have a hard time doing that All in all, WebRTC doesn't benefit all browser vendors the same way, so it hasn't been adopted in the same zealousness that WebAssembly seems to attract.

Why is it important?

Back to where I started: Companies care little about standards. Unless it serves their selfish objectives. This is why getting WebRTC to all browser vendors will take time. This is why federating VoIP/WebRTC isn't on the table at this point in time - the successful vendors who you want to federate with wouldn't like that to happen.

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