WebRTC Plugin Free World is Almost Here: Apple and Microsoft joining the crowd

September 8, 2015

There are indications out there that soon we won’t be needing plugins to support WebRTC in some of the browsers out there.

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Alexandre Gouaillard

[Alexandre Gouaillard decided to drop by here at BlogGeek.me offering his analysis on recent news coming out of Apple and Microsoft – news that affect how these two players will end up supporting WebRTC real soon.]

Apple Safari news

  • When the webrtc-in-webkit project was first announced through the voice of its main members: Stefan H. from Ericsson, and myself, not everybody was a believer.
  • For some, it was even an exercise in Futility
  • A further post was even written in webrtcHacks to explain how to let apple know about one’s interest in having webrtc on iOS
  • In my November 2014 presentation (slide 20) with JO Hache about the Temasys Plugin, we indicated that the goal was indeed to have an implementation in the Apple version of things by end of August 2015, to have a chance to see it in the next version of Safari which traditionally is shipped along new OS in September/October, every year
  • Early July the webrtc-in-webkit project has delivered the media streams fondation, and getusermedia in webkit, with a full functional implementation in the Linux browser WebKitgtk+
  • Right after that, Apple put his own resources to support GetUserMedia in the Apple specific version of the code, and worked on it until mid-August. A detailed analysis of the code changes by Apple and their technical implications can be found here

It is still unknown when this (GetUserMedia only) will find its way into Safari, and more specifically in Safari on iOS. Hopefully before the end of the year. (high, but probably unrealistic, hopes for a Sept. 9 announcement).

We can also only hope that the WebView framework apps are forced to use to display web pages according to the Apple app store rules will be updated accordingly, which would open WebRTC to iOS apps directly, catching up a little bit with the WebView on android.

How much the webrtcinwebkit project helped making this happen is also open to debate but I want to believe it did (yes, I am uber-biased). It is also possible that the specifications for Device API being stable (last call status at W3C) motivated Apple to go for it.

In any case, what is important is that it is now undeniable that Apple is bringing WebRTC to its browsers and devices, and that answers a question left open for almost 4 years now!

WebRTC on Safari and Edge

Microsoft Edge news

  • In May 2015, the Edge team announced support for the same media streams and getuserMedia API we spoke about earlier
  • In June 2015, philippe Hancke extended Google and Mozilla’s provided adapter.js to support Edge
  • More recently, some action has been visible on the ORTC side of things, but with nothing testable so far (Release version 10525)
  • Today (Sep. 1st) three separate announcements were made:
    • support for webm container is now in development
    • support for VP9 is now in development
    • support for opus is still under consideration but is now high priority

Here again, a lot of good news. For a long time, it was unsure if Microsoft would do anything at all, and even now, nobody is clear on exactly what API they are going to implement and how compatible it will be with the WebRTC specs. The convergence of the WebRTC Working Group and ORTC Community Group within w3c is raising hope of better interoperability, but it was not substantiated. Until today that is. There is no other web API that would use VP9 than WebRTC. Ok, it could be to provide a better YouTube experience, but Opus is WebRTC only.

So here again, while the exact date is unknown it is undeniable that Microsoft Edge is moving in the right direction. Moreover, it’s been moving faster than most expected lately.

All good news for the ecosystem, and surely more news to come on the Kranky Geek WebRTC Live event on september 11th where three browser vendors will be present to make their announcements.

Toward a plugin free experience (finally)

During my original announcement of a plugin for IE and Safari I stated that the “goal [was] to remove the “what about IE and safari” question from the Devs and Investors’ table long enough for a native implementation to land.

I also stated that “We hate plugins, with a passion. Some browser vendors put us in the situation where we do not have the luxury to wait for them to act on a critical and loudly expressed need from their user base. We sincerely hope that this is only a temporary solution, and we don’t want people to get the impression that plugins are the magical way to bypass what browser vendors do (or don’t do). Native implementation is always best.”

I truly believe that the day we can get rid of plugins for webrtc is now very very close. If I’m lucky, Santa Claus will bring it to me for Xmass (after all, I’ve been a good boy all year). There will still be a need for some help, but it will be in the form of a JS library and not a heavy duty plugin. Of course, you still have to support some older versions of Windows here and there, especially for enterprise market, but Microsoft, and I am writing this from Redmond, next to the Microsoft campus ;-), is putting a lot of ressources behind moving people to auto-updating versions of their software, be it Windows itself, or the browsers. Nowadays, the OS do not bring value per themselves, but bring in a lot of maintenance burden. It is in everybody’s interest to have short update cycles, and MS knows that.

For those who need to support older versions of IE for some time (Apple users will never be seen with an old Apple device :-D), there are today several options, all converging toward the same feature set, and a zero price tag. You can see more about this here.

Tsahi and I have this in common that we hate plug-ins, especially for video communication. I think we are seeing the end of this problem.

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  1. I don’t think that Apple updates the version of WebKit in Safari throughout the year, but only with the launch of the next major version of their OS. So, if getUserMedia does not ship in Safari 9 when it’s released, we will have to wait another full year, at least. I could be mistaken.

  2. Šime Vidas, yes, we have the same information concerning updates of Safari. However, the timing of the changes (july/early august) fits the schedule for changes that go into new releases, so the hopes are high.

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