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Why Microsoft & Google are cooperating on ORTC?

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

orangatanStandards. What would the Internet be without standards? It wouldn’t exist that’s for sure. Standards are often driven by well meaning individuals & companies who devote hours of their time to contribute for the benefit of many. Standard groups are not without egos, arguments and opinions but for the most part they strive to do what’s best (or sometimes easiest). Unfortunately, capitalist and standards members don’t often sit on the same side of the table.

Google introduced WebRTC as part of their do no evil motto because it seemed like a natural for browsers to support real time 2-way communications. While they may have done 10,000 things wrong and over looked another 10,000 things – what’s important is they did something and moved the needle forward. The first move is always the hardest.

Microsoft, by default, didn’t like WebRTC. They hadn’t thought it up and they had 10,000 reasons why WebRTC was a bad idea. Mostly though it was because Microsoft have huge investments in Skype and Lync and weren’t all that eager to see that business heading to zero. Nonetheless, if communications in the browser were to be, they had little choice. Microsoft proposed fixing WebRTC to create what effectively is an entirely new version of WebRTC and this would be called Object RTC (shortened simply to ORTC). Their proposals had validity for some (or rather for the only vote that counted, Google).

So off into the night Microsoft & Google sit at the dining table together working away on ORTC which most of us still call WebRTC but it really isn’t and there will likely be another name (hopefully with fewer letters) at some point in the future. You’re following this right? Try and keep up.

The natural question is why are Microsoft & Google working together. But that would be the wrong question. The correct question is who is not working with Microsoft & Google on ORTC.

The answer to that question is as clear as chalk n’ cheese. Fundamentally, many of the technical aspects of ORTC put the heavy lifting into the browser. The reason for this is simple, your computer/mobile has huge CPU capacity (and will clearly get more powerful). Why not let your device do the work?

Mostly missing from the table on ORTC are the folks who sell stuff inside the core of networks.  In their world, they want all the heavy lifting to be done in the core, where they can sell {insert name of expensive applications and boxes} and preferably by the truck load.

Microsoft & Google are not in the business of building data centers (having built plenty already) and mostly they have a disdain for those who sell {insert any number of vendor names}. For Google/Microsoft, it’s simple, get the browser to be uber powerful so they can develop & offer services without needing an uber data center.

Microsoft & Google are interested in selling services that can be operating without a huge cost. They’d rather use your PC and your utility bill to power their service.

ORTC is really about fixing some issues that were found in the early implementation of WebRTC. It’s also about recognizing that the early version of WebRTC had elements that were beneficial to those who serve core network functions. For example, WebRTC was going to only support VPx and Opus codecs. But this meant that if WebRTC was going to talk to something that didn’t support those codecs, it would need some man in the middle element. So now, WebRTC supports more codecs. Win for the browser, lost for those selling stuff in the middle.

Microsoft & Google both have existing communication services and the progression of ORTC will enable them individually to likely offer more services in the future and services that will work on both their respective browsers (Mozilla is mostly brooding on ORTC BTW). The battleground though would be about incompatible standards but who has the best application (as it should be).

This is good news for those who are looking to develop ORTC applications (whether stand alone or embedded into your existing application). Google & Microsoft attempting to lighten their data center load benefits you as well. Sadly, the ones selling outside of the limited circle don’t benefit (note how many of them are moving to cloud communication services themselves).

ORTC is indeed moving forward, issues remain, not every nail head is hammered down, but progress is being made.