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TokBox gives WebRTC chat standard a real-world boost

The technology for adding video and audio chat abilities to Web apps is now built into a customer-chat product from TokBox used by Doritos, Diet Coke, and more. Microsoft doesn't like WebRTC, though.

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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

A nascent Web standard called WebRTC just got a notable boost from TokBox, a provider of online chat services for companies such as Ford Motor and Coca-Cola that need a mechanism to communicate with customers.

WebRTC is designed to enable real-time video and audio chat with a Web browser, enabling Skype-like services on the Web. TokBox released a version of its software that adds WebRTC support, a move timed to coincide with today's release of Chrome 23, which includes WebRTC.

Having browser support for a standard is crucial to its success, obviously. But developers wanting want to use it is important for convincing browser makers to add that support; it helps crack the chicken-and-egg problem of organizations' waiting for others to embrace the new technology. Mozilla has endorsed the technology and built WebRTC into the current Aurora version of Firefox. Opera is on board, too.

But Microsoft, which now owns Skype, is backing a competing proposal of its own. That proposal is called CU-RTC-Web, and the company is sticking by it even though it's late to the game. "We think there are very serious problems" with WebRTC, Paul Cotton, who leads Microsoft's Web standards work, said in an interview.

In any event, TokBox has workarounds including Google's Chrome Frame plug-in, which endows Internet Explorer with Chrome's engine for displaying Web pages and running Web apps. The company also uses Adobe Systems' Flash Player, the browser plug-in that WebRTC and a host of other technologies are designed to obviate. TokBox customers building apps for iOS and Android also can build the company's technology into custom apps.

Here's what CEO Ian Small has to say about the spotty support:

OpenTok on WebRTC allows companies to take advantage of WebRTC on WebRTC-equipped browsers. As of this week, that means only Google Chrome, but we expect shortly to add support for Mozilla Firefox and for Internet Explorer through Google's Chrome Frame extension. For right now, OpenTok also supports Flash-based audio/video, so a company using OpenTok can communicate with the vast majority of its customers...

Between Chrome 23 support, Google Chrome Frame for Internet Explorer, and Mozilla's upcoming support for WebRTC, WebRTC will be usable across a significant proportion of the web browser market, so developers can safely start to work on this functionality now. Our focus on mobile applications -- iOS and Android -- fills out the picture.

TokBox has some pull with the market, too. Brands that have used its technology to let companies communicate with customers include Bridgestone Golf -- the first to use the WebRTC technology -- and Diet Coke, American Idol, Major League Baseball, Ford, Doritos, and Double Robotics.

Updated at 1:47 p.m. PT to correct that Chrome 23 was released today. Chrome OS 23 was released Friday.