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Waiting for Microsoft on WebRTC: When Will it Ever Come?

April 08, 2015

In the quintessential absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, a common interchange between the main characters Vladimir and Estragon is exemplified by the following:  “Let's go." "We can't." "Why not?" "We're waiting for Godot.” This is sometimes followed by some version of “When will he ever come?”  Such is becoming the case with Microsoft’s supposed embrace of WebRTC.  We are still waiting. 

This point was driven home in a recent posting on PC Magazine by Michael Muchmore. The headline was inescapable, “Microsoft's 'Spartan' browser that will replace Internet Explorer - Still no WebRTC.” Kind of says it all doesn’t it?

For those of you not familiar with Spartan, it is the code name for Microsoft’s next iteration of the now branded/brand- tarnished Internet Explorer (IE).  As Muchmore points out, we all are going to have to wait a bit to get Spartan since it is currently only available for Windows 10 desktops. 

Source:  Microsoft

The choice of the code name is interesting.  One definition of Spartan is as it relates the infamous warriors of the ancient Greek City State of Sparta. Another definition that is more popular and related is that as a description of something sparse. This comes from the fact that the Spartan military, renowned for their skill and courage, led almost monastic lives.  They didn’t need much.

Surprisingly, the latest edition of IE at least on the latter definitional front seems hardly Spartan when it comes to functionality.  In fact, with another tip of the hat to Mr. Muchmore’s expertise, PC Magazine has extensive coverage of the new browser and its capabilities if you are interested.  In fact, you may wish to spend some time reading the comments as well.

While this certainly represents a major move forward on a variety of fronts for IE, there remains that nagging question about WebRTC.  A clue about all of this may be in a recent response on the Windows Insider Program site to the question, “is Microsoft planning to announce Spartan as open source?”  The answer was:

There is virtually no chance that Spartan will be Open Source as that would create too many Support and Security hassles for Microsoft. Of course developer information and tools will be available which you can find out more about on the MSDN Forums.

"Spartan is far from open source, but the work announced today shows that Microsoft may be opening it up a little bit to take advantage of contributions from other firms. Doing that will help Microsoft improve the browser to increase its compatibility with new web standards and features while potentially Microsoft’s engineering workload for adding those features."

Microsoft’s full embrace of WebRTC thus remains a “to-do” list item.  Given the amount of work that has gone into this latest browser upgrade, not having WebRTC support is a significant omission.  As has been pointed out in previous commentary, it is difficult to understand why in the browser world, where the user experience is king and ease-of-use and interoperability are vital, Microsoft and Apple don’t seem to understand that all boats really do rise when the tide comes in.

Maybe with the next tide, the waiting will finally be over. 

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