Google Chrome To Challenge Skype With WebRTC

Google Chrome is set to get real-time voice and video chat tools in the near future, thanks to WebRTC, says Clint Boulton

Google released WebRTC software to open source in May and now the company is tucking the technology into its Chrome browser, according to some sleuthing by CNET.

WebRTC comprises real-time chat software that Google has gained from buying Global IP Solutions (GIPS) in 2010, a deal that frankly I’d forgotten about.

Open technology

Open-sourcing that technology recalls what Google did with On2 Technologies codec, which it turned into WebM.

Just as Google launched WebM as an open source codec to encode and decode video and audio content in the web browser, WebRTC is positioned as an “open technology for voice and video on the web.”

To this point, real time communications required proprietary signal processing technology delivered through plug-ins and client downloads.

Through WebRTC, Google will give developers access to signal processing technology under a royalty-free BSD license. This will allow developers to create voice and video chat applications via simple HTML and JavaScript APIs, said Google engineering director Rian Liebenberg, and Google product manager Jan Linden.

Those engineers said WebRTC would work with browser rivals Mozilla and Opera – its fellow WebM cohorts – to introduce this software into the computing world, but the first instantiation is clearly coming via Chrome.

Chrome integration

Linden said June 20 the WebRTC code is now about to land in Chromium as third party software to bring real-time communication to the open source browser project. Linden added:

“We are working hard to complete the remaining steps for a full integration in Chromium and Chrome including JavaScript APIs in WebKit and handling of the native audio and video capture and rendering. When we are done, any web developer shall be able to create RTC applications, like the Google Talk client in Gmail, without using any plugins but only WebRTC components that runs in the sandbox.”

Ah ha! Many of us have long been waiting for Google to stitch VoIP across other web services besides Gmail, something it added last summer. Adding chat capabilities to Chrome is natural, though I expected it to come via Google Talk/Google Voice integration.

Clearly, WebRTC is that same play, albeit for Chrome and other browsers that choose to embrace it.

Building unified communications

Why Chrome? Think of Google’s search engine as a big, banal canvas, with its myriad web services serving as a broad palette from which the company can colour in its quest for ubiquitous web advertising.

Chrome is becoming a bigger part of the palette, serving as the front door for Chrome OS-based notebooks. Google just added Voice Search for the desktop to Chrome as well.

Soon, we will see real-time chat in Chrome, not unlike Facebook Chat but with video capabilities as well. Think Google Talk, only in the browser.

There are a lot of fun things about this. Start with the fact that Google would add another piece in its unified communications puzzle, joining Gmail, Google Apps, and Google Voice.

It would also be another way for Google to attack Microsoft, which is acquiring Skype.

With voice and video delivered in the browser and backed by Google’s cloud, you can kiss some of those Skype downloads goodbye. CNET certainly addresses this well, noting that there could be several rival web apps as a result of WebRTC.

This is assuming the technology works and Google lures users with free domestic and low-cost long-distance calls via Google Voice.

Very exciting!