Plugins or WebRTC? Skype Has the Answer!

06/05/2013

Skype is fighting back with its own browser extension.

Burned plug

I had a chat several weeks ago with Dean Bubley. We talked about WebRTC, and he had this notion of adding WebRTC into online email services. Before that, I didn’t really give it a thought, but after we talked, I had scheduled a post about that topic. While that post never saw the light of day, it will now – from a slightly different angle.

Email and video calling are the extreme ends of digital communication:

  • Email is asynchronous, slow, offline, textual in nature
  • Video calling is synchronous, immediate, real-time and rich in its content

Merging them isn’t the most obvious of choices, and the way Google has done it with Gmail and Gtalk leaves a lot to be desired.

Last week Skype got integrated into Outlook.com. if you are not the reading type, then here’s a video that explains the service:

This integration is closer to what Google has done with Gmail and YouTube and is definitely the way to go. That said, I have my own reservations from the decisions Microsoft/Skype took:

  • It works only on Outlook.com domain
  • It requires a plugin. Not a big deal, but this added friction will make some skip that step – I have skipped Google’s attempts to install video support for Gtalk more than once
  • There is still no way to embed Skype into websites – at least not to the same tight level that WebRTC enables
  • Video plugins have been availabe for years now, but they have never delivered. Will Skype be able to succeed where others have failed?

It is an important step forward for Skype on the web, but Microsoft will need to take it further – implement a native web client for Skype (using WebRTC of course), and provide integration APIs for developers.

I am not convinced that a Skype plugin is what will help Skype in deflecting WebRTC proponents.

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