Microsoft Puts New Edge in WebRTC

As many of you know, I have been a strong advocate of the Web-based transformation that WebRTC is enabling for real-time communications -- and we have already seen the technology help usher in a number of telecom apps andUC/workflow entrants like Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit, as well as a range of new applications and integrations. However, a shadow has hung over WebRTC despite the forward progress.

For the last three years, the first comment out of naysayers is that Microsoft and Apple do not support WebRTC. Never mind that Chrome and Firefox are gaining in popularity; the fact that Edge and Safari did not support WebRTC has long served as the primary reason to continue with proprietary implementations, often based on last decade or even last millennium technology. Now the number of holdouts is down to one: Microsoft this week announced that it is stepping up to provide WebRTC 1.0 support, while increasing the drive for the additional functionality in Object RTC (ORTC).

Specifically, the preview is now available for the WebRTC 1.0 API, as is support for the H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs for real-time communications in the Edge browser, enabling interoperable video communications across browsers and platforms with use of a plug-in, as announced in an Edge developer blog written by Bernard Aboba, principal architect, Microsoft Skype, and Shijun Sun, principal program manager, Microsoft Edge.

The new WebRTC capabilities are available immediately in Windows Insider Preview builds, and will be in stable releases beginning with the Windows 10 Creator's Update, they added.

ORTC support has been available in Edge in EdgeHTML 13 (Windows 10 version 1511) for a while. Now, with the WebRTC 1.0 API implementation, the goal is to provide interoperability with legacy WebRTC implementations on existing websites that leverage the WebRTC API as previously deployed in other browsers, they said.

The Edge WebRTC 1.0 API implementation supports peer-to-peer audio and video based on a subset of the W3C WebRTC-PC API that become available in 2015, prior to the addition of the WebRTC object model, Aboba and Sun wrote. In its WebRTC 1.0 release, Microsoft is focused on legacy interoperability (including mobile applications built from early versions of the WebRTC.org source code). It has no plans to further update the native WebRTC 1.0 API beyond this release, they added.

In other words, the intent is to enable Edge users to interact with users in the current WebRTC world. Microsoft remains committed to making the ORTC capabilities part of the standard, and will focus there going forward.

The Edge RTC stack supports both the H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs, delivering interoperable video communications between Edge and other major WebRTC browsers and RTC services. In addition, Microsoft has implemented specific "congestion control and robustness mechanisms for both H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs," Aboba and Sun stated in the announcement blog.

While the Edge H.264/AVC implementation supports hardware offload within the encoder and decoder, VP8 is of software-only implementation and so may "exhibit higher power consumption and CPU load," they noted. While most modern PCs running Edge should have plenty of horsepower, they recommended caution on older or lower-powered devices.

With this announcement, Microsoft is clearly demonstrating an ongoing commitment to open communications in the real-time Web. As a further show of that, it is working on adding support for the W3C Screen Capture specification, as well as improved support for enterprise deployments, they wrote.

The WebRTC 1.0 preview builds are available now, and Aboba and Sun encouraged feedback from adopters testing out the release.

While WebRTC in Edge addresses the rapidly growing segment of the market that has upgraded to Windows 10 or Edge, Internet Explorer will still need to get their WebRTC support via plug-ins from companies like Temasys. However, I hope that many IE users see this week's news as a valuable reason to upgrade to Edge.

Microsoft is to be commended for realizing that open, interoperable Web-based communications is transformational and critical to creating a wide range of next-generation applications and user experiences. Personally, I look forward to using Edge and trying the WebRTC implementation with all of my favorite WebRTC applications, and to testing interoperability with other WebRTC browsers and mobile apps.

SO. Now there is just one holdout. Here's hoping Apple sees the light!

Learn more about WebRTC at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Communications APIs track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or get a free Expo Plus pass.