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With Edge, Microsoft implements WebRTC browser support

The new Microsoft Edge browser interoperates with Chrome and Firefox for voice communication. So, is WebRTC browser support finally coming together? Not quite.

Ever since Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) emerged, one of the main concerns for the browser-based technology...

was the level of enterprise adoption. For widespread WebRTC adoption in the enterprise, users would want Internet Explorer (IE) to support it natively, but the browser does not.

But now IE's replacement, Microsoft Edge, is showing signs of WebRTC browser support. The Microsoft Edge browser now supports Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC). You can view ORTC as a variant of WebRTC -- so much so that Edge's initial release already interoperates with Chrome and Firefox for voice calls, and video could come later this year.

The ORTC and WebRTC APIs are different, but that should get resolved with time.

Now that this browser barrier is nearly behind us and WebRTC browser support appears to be ramping up, are the floodgates opening to WebRTC in the enterprise? Not so fast.

Let's take a look at three different aspects of Edge -- codec support, market share and IT intent -- and how they relate to WebRTC, an open source project that embeds real-time voice, text and video communications in Web browsers.

Codec support indicates Microsoft's interests

When Microsoft announced ORTC support in the Edge browser, the vendor made it clear that the following codecs are supported:

Microsoft, a dominant player, is now in the WebRTC mix -- that was the missing piece of the enterprise puzzle.
  • G.711: Offers least common denominator, as well as support for a mandatory WebRTC codec.
  • G.722: Offers interoperability on voice codec level with common enterprise deployments.
  • Opus: The mandatory high-quality voice codec mandated in WebRTC.
  • SILK: The codec supported in Skype, for the most part. Microsoft might ditch this codec once it gets most or all of its deployed Skype clients updated.
  • H.264UC: A proprietary video codec used by Microsoft in Skype.
  • H.264: Will be added later. Offers video interoperability on the codec level with common enterprise video conferencing systems.

No word on support of VP8 or VP9, the video codecs in Google Chrome; and nothing related to Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband, also known as G.722.2, which many people try to push in order to better support mobile devices.

The selection of codecs shows two prime interests of Microsoft. First, the vendor wants to make sure its Skype service works from day one with the Edge browser. Also, the codec announcements demonstrate Microsoft's focus on enterprise unified communications deployments, which will have an easier time getting Edge to interoperate with existing communication services.

Market share a concern for Microsoft Edge

While the adoption of Windows 10 is promising, the adoption of the Microsoft Edge browser is rather worrying. Users are not adopting the browser at the same rate as Windows 10. And Edge's adoption doesn't stem from capturing market share from other browsers, but rather from IE use.

Recent data from StatCounter, a website analytics company, detailed Windows 10 usage after its first month, ranging from late July through August of this year:

  • Windows 10 accounted for 4.88% of worldwide Internet usage -- that was more than Windows 8's 3.12%.
  • Edge usage by Windows 10 users was stable at 14% -- whereas Chrome had more than 50% usage by Windows 10 users.

So, even by offering Edge as a default browser in Windows 10, Microsoft cannot get users to shift away from competitors' browsers -- at least, not now.

IT intentions play a role in Edge adoption

Microsoft is pushing adoption of its enterprise edition of Windows 10 -- this means a setup where both Edge and IE coexist. The need for this setup is because Edge is not backward compatible with IE.

For example, Edge does not support ActiveX, a technology used by many enterprise-class products and services. A user needs to specifically state he wants to open a page in IE when the need arises.

This means an application that relies on IE and cannot migrate to Edge won't be able to use WebRTC since the mixed mode is built on a Web-page level. IT departments will need to decide if they want to work in such a mode or would prefer to continue standardizing on top of IE alone.

Edge exists only in Windows 10. So, the prerequisite for an enterprise would be to adopt Windows 10 and then decide to adopt Edge -- both of these decisions aren't simple.

Where are we headed from here?

With the introduction of Microsoft Edge, the obstacles of WebRTC adoption haven't changed in the enterprise. If anything, the decision matrix surrounding WebRTC browser support is now even more complex.

This move, however, brings Microsoft, another dominant player, into the WebRTC mix. That, by itself, is the missing piece of the enterprise puzzle.

By simply stating Microsoft has initiated WebRTC browser support, vendors that provide tools to the enterprise gain the credibility required in many of the use cases.

Next Steps

How WebRTC technology could revamp enterprise video

A guide to the basics of WebRTC browser support

Simplicity of Web-based collaboration tools gains appeal

This was last published in October 2015

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How do you think the Microsoft Edge browser will perform in the long term?
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I've been reticent about Edge.
I believe that Microsoft never goes to kill Skype. They payed a lot of money in the acquisition of the enterprise.
Looks like in the future, we´ll going to see WebRTC like Linux Distros: Debian and Ubuntu free, Sles and RedHat payed.
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RedHat is paid because of the support and maintenance part - the base distro is relatively free and can be seen as CentOS for example. People pay for the peace of mind and the SLA.

WebRTC will hurt Skype, but that's a different story altogether.
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