Mozilla today announced that it has partnered with TokBox to experiment with building a WebRTC-based communications feature right into its browser. For now, these experiments will happen in the Nightly release channel, so most users on the browser’s regular release channels won’t see them anytime soon, but this is definitely an interesting move by the organizations.
WebRTC is a standard for sending real-time data, audio and video between browsers without the need for a plug-in. Both Firefox and Chrome now support it out of the box, though Microsoft has said that it won’t support the current version in its browser and has issued a proposal for a competing standard.
According to Mozilla’s Director of Product Management for Firefox Chad Weiner, the organization looked at the communications and social networking market and noticed fragmentation is only increasing.
“So, we asked, what if Mozilla could help tear down these walls?” Weiner writes. “What if the browser, with near universal adoption, could become the keystone of an open, interoperable communications system.” Looking ahead, Weiner says, Mozilla wants to create a WebRTC ecosystem that will across all devices and operating systems. That, of course, has always been the promise of WebRTC. While there are quite a few production-ready services available already that support this standard, it’s mostly been an experimental feature for many.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Mozilla would choose TokBox as a partner for this feature. TokBox, which was acquired by Spanish carrier Telefonica in 2012, has long championed the ideas behind WebRTC. The protocol itself has some shortcomings, though. It doesn’t adjust for different bandwidth conditions, for example, and once it’s locked into a connection speed, it can’t step up or down. It also doesn’t support chats with multiple users out of the box, so it takes a middleman like TokBox to offer advanced features like this. TokBox first launched support for Firefox more than a year ago.
As far as I can see, the new WebRTC app isn’t available in the Nightly channel just yet (or it’s well hidden), but you can always download this highly experimental (and — be warned — often unstable) version of Firefox here to be among the first to try it.