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When will WebRTC become a standard?

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

130325174653-un-cars-file-story-topHow about NEVER, at least in it’s current form. Surprised, well don’t be so naive. Google has taken some great intellectual property, execution and ideas and thrown them out into the market. But it’s not a standard and worse, the current WebRTC design doesn’t lend itself to becoming standardized.

To become a standard, you have to be able to provide a clear, complete (and absolute) definition of your proposed technology. It would be a document, you read it and if you implement all of if, you’re in compliance with the standard. You shouldn’t have to download someone else’s intellectual property to implement it either (open source or not) or spend months tweaking in some inter-op bake-off. ┬áIn short, I should be able to fax you the 400 page WebRTC standard and that would be it. WebRTC isn’t there.

WebRTC is riding at the connection point between the W3C Web standards and the IETF Internet standards. The W3C and IETF have totally different personalities. W3C requires hard core agreement amongst the heavy weights in the Web world before anything can be standardized. Loosey goosey they are not. The IETF is more of a “as long as everyone has stopped bitching” we’ll move forward often with competing “standards” or multiple ways to accomplish the same task. These operating principles have served each of the communities well, so I’m not saying one is right or wrong.

But WebRTC can’t be standardized in it’s current form (at least not within W3C). And Google well knows it. But there is hope as our little WebRTC boat sails between these seas.

A new working community group has been formed within W3C. It’s called ORTC (Object Real Time Communications). ORTC’s mission is to start a discussion regarding the API layer for WebRTC. Google is participating and the big surprise, Microsoft has numerous participants. It’s a community group not a working group, so think of this as a UN peace delegation. But it’s new, different and potential progressive.

Microsoft has argued (quietly) that they felt that the API design for WebRTC wouldn’t go the distance and needed some changes in order to be a “standard”. They’ve also stopped talking about the CU-RTC, a competing standard which was met with an icy reception by the WebRTC world. Nonetheless, their arguments about the current WebRTC design seem to have some validity at least in terms of becoming a standard. For WebRTC to be a W3C standard, you’re gonna have to have the Microsoft check-box.

What does this mean (I have no inside information BTW)? You can deploy WebRTC applications today recognizing the current browser constraints and continued evolutionary elements mean your application may periodically break. That’s how it will be. However this new community group does create a new plateau of industry acceptance of WebRTC and likely some morphing of the design, all of which is good news to an application developer. It would appear that WebRTC 2.0 is on the distant horizon and with Microsoft on-board the only outlier would be Apple. All quite positive as we trudge towards the land of standards.