Skype will go the Hangouts Route with WebRTC (or vice versa?)

25/04/2016

Well… Almost.

Yellow brick road

For those who haven’t been following the path Skype is taking, here’s a quick recap of the last year or so:

  • Lync got “merged” with Skype, rebranding it as Skype for Business – so now all of Microsoft’s voice and video calling services are Skype
  • Skype for Web was announced at about the same time
  • A Skype SDK was launched
  • And now, Skype for Web is running on Microsoft Edge without any plugin installation
  • Oh, and they announced bots too

Skype on Edge sans plugins was to be expected

That last bit near the end? Of Skype not needing plugins when executed on Edge? That was rather expected.

Microsoft is hard at work on adding RTC to Edge – be it ORTC or WebRTC – or both.

The main UC and consumer messaging service of Microsoft are based on Skype, so it is only reasonable to assume that Skype would be utilizing Edge capabilities in this are AND that Edge would be accommodating for Skype’s needs.

This accommodation comes by way of the first video codec that Edge supports – H.264UC – Skype’s own proprietary video codec. Edge doesn’t interoperate with any other browser when it comes to video calling due to this decision. In a way, The Edge team sacrificed interoperability for Skype support.

Browser vendors tend to care for themselves first. And then for the rest of the industry:

Google Hangouts route to plugin-less world

Hangouts today is in the same predicament as Skype in a lot of ways.

  1. Its support for the browser of the mothership is native (Chrome-Hangouts; Microsoft-Skype)
  2. Both require plugins on browsers other than their own – and will stay that way for the forseable future
  3. Both are no consumer/enterprise services, trying to cater both
  4. Both aren’t as big or as active as their newer competitors (Facebook, WhatsApp and WeChat to be specific)

Where do they diverge?

No Plugin+SDK=Interesting

Skype has added the SDK bit before Hangouts.

Skype now offers its large user base and infrastructure to 3rd party developers to build their own services. The documentation is quite extensive (too much to go through to get things done if you ask me – especially compared to the WebRTC API platforms) and the intent is clear.

Skype doesn’t have a glorious record with developers. Maybe this time around it will be different.

And it added bots.

They did that ahead of the rumored bot support by Google.

Where’s Hangouts?

Meanwhile, Hangouts is just the same as it were two or three years ago.

The backend probably changed. It now sometimes do P2P calling. And it has a new UI. And the old one. And you can never know which one will pop up for you. Or where to write (or read) that text message.

Something needs to change and improve with Hangouts.

Skype seems to be moving forward at a nice pace. Cisco Spark has its own forward motion.

But Hangouts has stalled – especially considering we’re talking about Google – a company that can move at breakneck speeds when needed.

I wonder what’s ahead of us from both these services.

Responses

Randy Resnick says:
April 25, 2016

I think when you go to https://hangouts.google.com/ you’ll always be in the “new” p2p hangout. After you start a video call, you can go to the old interface via the menu, which then nags you to say why, even if you already have answered once.

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    April 25, 2016

    I almost always start my calls either through a gmail calendar invite or from the gmail interface. And it tends to use whatever UI it pleases

    Reply
Philipp Hancke says:
April 25, 2016

it will be much more interesting once video interop comes. Surprisingly, the infrastructure for both Chrome and Firefox is already in the javascript.

Maybe some people assume people don’t snoop around 😉

Reply
Shair Khan says:
April 26, 2016

“Its support for the browser of the mothership is native (Chrome-Hangouts; Microsoft-Skype)
Both require plugins on browsers other than their own – and will stay that way for the forseable future”

Does it not defeat the whole purpose of WebRTC as vendor independent

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    April 26, 2016

    WebRTC has no purpose. People do. You can decide its purpose is to be vendor independent or you can decide its purpose is something else – like reducing time to market, lowering costs, reducing friction to users, etc.

    In the case of Hangouts and Skype, WebRTC fits many different purposes. One of them is being able to run natively in browsers without the need to install anything. This can’t be achieved yet with WebRTC, so the next best thing is to achieve it where possible (each defines where it is possible differently), but prepare to run it everywhere.

    Reply

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