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Firefox Hello adds video chat to Mozilla's browser

With its online chat feature, Mozilla works to break down the walls around services like Microsoft Skype and Google Hangouts.

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Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes 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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  • I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Stephen Shankland
2 min read

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Eager to infuse the Web with the communications interactivity of mobile apps, Mozilla on Thursday announced a video chat service called Hello.

The technology, built into the beta version of Firefox, lets people set up free video or audio calls with others using Firefox. Mozilla will gradually enable the feature in coming weeks.

There was a day when video chat was hard to do. Skype arrived just as Internet connectivity and video compression technology made it more feasible. Video calls once were a fixture for world's fair predictions of a sci-fi future. Now it's downright commonplace.

So what sets Firefox Hello apart? It's busting loose from the silos that can isolate users of today's video chat technology.

With Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype and many other services, you have to set up an account. With Firefox Hello, the first person just sends a website link. The second person clicks it, and presto, they're chatting.

That may not sound like much of a differentiating feature, but it does sidestep a significant problem: making sure two people can communicate with each other without having to install software or join the same service. If you're a FaceTime person and your mom is all about Skype, that can be a hurdle. Firefox Hello just needs a browser.

Well, OK, it's got a hurdle of its own: it has to be the right browser.

Mozilla has been testing the feature for months but now is ready to promote it more widely -- including the new name.

Firefox Hello is based on the WebRTC video and audio chat technology that sets up a peer-to-peer connection between browsers. Firefox, Google's Chrome and Opera Software's Opera support WebRTC, but so far Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari don't.

Firefox Hello is based on the OpenTok platform from Telefonica subsidiary TokBox, which specializes in WebRTC services.