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Native Skype for Chromebooks Just Got a Step Closer

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Unofficial: Skype for Android on Chrome OS

“Can I use Skype on a Chromebook?” — a question we all see frequently asked. But until now the answer has been: “No, at least not officially“. But could that be about to change?

Microsoft, by way of Skype, has announced it plans to bake in support for “Object RTC API for WebRTC” in Internet Explorer.

Under the title of Bringing Interoperable Real-Time Communications to the Web, they say the feature will ultimately allow users to “…open [the browser] and make a Skype call to friends, family.”

“It’s all about convenience“, they add.

Microsoft is one of 80 companies collaborating with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help hammer out the nitty gritty of ORTC features, support and implementation.

ORTC? WebRTC? API? IDK?

The WebRTC standard — Web Real Time Communications — allows web browsers on any operating system to make video and voice calls without the need for plugins. It has been baked into Mozilla’s Firefox browser for some time, and has shipped in Google Chrome since v23.

But although comparatively well supported so far, WebRTC doesn’t tick every box. The standard is saddled with legacy code (to allow it to work with traditional phone lines) and is said to be unwieldy to work with and integrate into web apps.

Object RTC (ORTC), backed by Microsoft, Google and others, is a leaner “alternative” to WebRTC. It’s less complex, supports advanced features, like scalable video coding and simulcast, and is written in JavaScript for easy, flexible development. The video side of ORTC will use the H.264 codec, while audio will feature Opus, G.722, and G.711 support. Google favours royalty-free codecs like its own V8/V9.

Despite the differences both projects have the same goal: to let web users communicate in the browser without the need for plugins.

Developers say they ‘are not sure’ if the projects will eventually merge, but to make things easier for developers in the mean time WebRTC 1.1 will support features of ORTC.

So…Chrome OS?

Microsoft/Skype offered up little detail of how Skype is to work over the standard, nor whether Skype access would be “locked” to only work in Internet Explorer.

But there is reason to be positive.

Microsoft acceding to Skype over real-time communication in the browser is, of itself, a very encouraging step. It shows that Redmond are willing to adapt to ensure that its services remain relevant to all.

With no sign of an official Skype app for Chrome OS on the horizon, and an Android  ‘ARC’ app unlikely to get the nod, ORTC support may be the only ‘official’ solution we get — so cross those fingers!