Google building Skype-alike software into Chrome

The fruits of a 2010 acquisition will soon arrive in Chrome as technology for audio and video chat that anyone--including Google's Gmail team--can use.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Google Chrome logo

Heads up, Skype.

Shortly after releasing software for audio and video chat as an open-source project called WebRTC as open-source software, Google is beginning to build it into its Chrome browser.

The real-time chat software originated from Google's 2010 acquisition of Global IP Solutions (GIPS), a company specializing in Internet telephony and videoconferencing.

The obvious beneficiary for the project is Gmail, whose audio and video communications ability today requires use of a proprietary plug-in. Gmail chat is getting more important as Google's VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) efforts mature and integrate with the Google Voice service.

But Google has higher hopes that WebRTC will be used well beyond Gmail. Rather, it hopes WebRTC will become an incarnation of a nascent Web standard for videoconferencing and peer-to-peer communications and for the necessary underlying network communication protocols. In an introductory blog post, Google said it released the technology as open-source, royalty-free software and pledged to work with other browser makers Mozilla and Opera on the real-time chat project.

If Google and allies succeed in establishing the technology and building support into multiple browsers, that would mean anybody building a Web site or Web application could draw upon the communications technology. In other words, anyone could build a rival to services, such as Skype, with just a Web application.

Google is a prominent advocate of the idea of Web-based applications and the cloud computing approach it enables. Web apps more easily span different computing systems--not just Windows and Mac OS X, but also a profusion of smartphones. Google therefore is working hard to try to catch Web apps up with what native apps can do already. Ultimately, the company stands to profit by encouraging more people to lead an online existence where they're more likely to perform Google searches and perhaps pay for Google services such as Google Apps.

The WebRTC software soon will begin arriving in Chrome.

"Our goal is to enable Chrome with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities via simple Javascript APIs [application programming interfaces]," Henrik Andreasson, a Google programmer from GIPS, said in a mailing list message Friday. "We are working hard to provide full RTC support in Chrome all the way from WebKit [the open-source browser engine on which Chrome is based] down to the native audio and video parts."

WebRTC uses two audio codecs from GIPS, iSAC for high-bandwidth connections and iLBC for narrowband connections. (A codec is software used to encode and decode streams of data such as audio and video.)

For video, WebRTC uses Google's VP8 codec, another open-source, royalty-free technology the company acquired and released in an effort to lower barriers for new technology on the Web.

A diagram of the inner workings of the WebRTC technology at work.
A diagram of the inner workings of the WebRTC technology for real-time audio and video chat. Google established the WebRTC project to release the technology as open-source, royalty-free software and to build Web standards that can use it. WebRTC project