In welcome news for anybody who has fumbled around on an unfamiliar computer to download and install Skype for an important call, Microsoft has announced a beta version of the popular telecommunications application for web browsers. Skype for Web will at first be available on an invitation-only basis and for select browsers, with plans to roll out globally in the following months.
Through Skype.com, users will be able to log into their Skype accounts and access the instant messaging, voice and video chat functions without needing to download a desktop app. For Windows users, Skype for Web will support Internet Explorer 10 or later and the newest versions of Chrome and Firefox. Mac users will need to fire up Safari 6 or later.
Initially, Skype for Web will require a plug-in to function, though Microsoft claims this to be temporary. Last month in a blog post it detailed its grand plans to make Real-Time Communications (RTC) a reality for browser-to-browser video and audio transmission.
Predominantly, this means making browser calls as simple as possible by eliminating the need for plug-ins. But for this to eventuate, a standard must first be agreed upon for the best way to deliver audio and video across different browsers.
Microsoft's contribution to this has been a technology called ORTC (Object Real Time Communication) API for WebRTC, which it developed in collaboration with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international organization that watches over the implementation of internet-wide standards such as these. Microsoft says it has "momentum" from more than 80 parties representing various browsers, and has produced a solution capable of features ranging from standard video conversations to multiparty conferences.
The company hasn't indicated a timeline yet as to when ORTC API will enable plug-in-free browser communications, nor when support will arrive for browser types other than those mentioned above. In the meantime, users can keep an eye out for an invitation to try out the beta version when logging into Skype or visiting Skype.com.