Google and Mozilla, erstwhile rivals in the web browser world, have teamed up to show off the power of WebRTC by creating a web-based video chat app — think Skype without Skype.
The demo bypasses a centralized server and instead makes a direct peer-to-peer connection between browsers. The key component of the demo is a set of work-in-progress standards known as WebRTC.
WebRTC is a proposed standard — currently being refined by the W3C — with the goal of providing a web-based set of tools that any device can use to share audio, video and data in real time. It’s still in the early stages, but WebRTC has the potential to supplant Skype, Flash and many device-native apps with web-based alternatives that work on any device.
The app that the Chrome and Firefox teams developed is available on Google Code and there’s a demo app available on Google app engine if you’d like to try it out for yourself. To make it work you’ll need to use either Firefox Nightly or Chrome 25 (currently in the beta channel). In Firefox, you’ll need to go to about:config and set media.peerconnection.enabled to “true.”
Mozilla has previously showed off a demo of WebRTC with it Social API and Chrome has previously used parts of WebRTC for an interactive sand sketching experiment. This latest demo relies on a new WebRTC trick known as RTCPeerConnection, which should arrive in final form in Chrome next month and Firefox around the end of May. The RTCPeerConnection support in both browsers means there’s no need for plugins and developers can rest assured their apps will “just work” across browsers. Together Chrome and Firefox account for just under 60 percent of browsers on the web.
There is of course one other major browser that’s not yet coming to the WebRTC party.
Indeed Microsoft has proposed a WebRTC competitor to the W3C, though thus far little has happened beyond the initial proposal. As it stands now neither WebRTC nor Microsoft’s competing CU-RTC-Web proposal are actual W3C standards, but work is progressing on WebRTC and, with browsers already implementing it in the wild, it stands a much better chance of becoming a standard one day.
It’s still a little early to throw out Skype. For now you’ll have to content yourself with a very cool demo and the tantalizing possibility to one day soon you might not need Skype, Facebook or any other third-party server to chat with friends around the web.