Firefox 22: Look Ma, No Plug-ins!
Firefox 22, launched by the Mozilla Foundation on Tuesday, supports voice calling, video chat and peer-to-peer file sharing through the browser without plug-ins, thanks to full support for the WebRTC application programming interface.
Firefox and Google Chrome support WebRTC, but currently Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari browser do not.
WebRTC will be on by default in Firefox 22, but the developers are still working out some kinks.
"What's great about WebRTC is that we can have true cross-platform communications that are vendor independent and work between mobile and desktop platforms," Mike Kaply, founder of Kaply Consulting, told TechNewsWorld.
However, true cross-platform communications might not be realized with WebRTC because Microsoft and Apple are not on board, and "I'm sure Microsoft will provide a competing standard that will be a different flavor of WebRTC," commented David Stein, a principal at the Stein Technology Consulting Group.
"There's core functionality, and then you have functionality that vendors have to use -- proprietary technology -- to deliver the functionality that users want to buy," Stein explained.
Firefox 22 is still evolving, and new features will continue to be added, Mozilla said. It's based on Gecko 22.
New Stuff in Firefox 22
Firefox 22 implements the HTML5 data element. Support for the multipart property on XMLHttpRequest and multipart/x-mixed-replace responses in XMLHttpRequest has been removed. Devs can use Server-Sent Events, Web Sockets, or inspect responseText from progress events instead.
PeerConnection and DataChannel, which enable P2P data sharing and video/audio calling respectively, have been added to Firefox 22.
Mozilla and game-engine developer Epic ported the latter's Unreal Engine 3 to asm.js, and published a 3D first-person shooter game called "BananaBread" to run natively in Firefox without any plug-ins.
More on WebRTC
WebRTC lets devs integrate video and voice calls and file sharing into Web apps with a few lines of code.
"You'll be able to lower development costs," Stein told TechNewsWorld.
Initially, plugins will be required to use WebRTC, "but I think that as people work towards one standard, that will go away," Kaply said.
In that case, why bother to use WebRTC? wondered Stein. "Why not just go along the way we have and use Skype? You've got a billion users that have a third of all the minutes in the world over Skype. Why is a new solution necessary?"
In the future, WebRTC will be used to communicate between mobile devices and desktop PCs, Kaply predicted.
Issues With WebRTC
Mozilla devs are working to improve video calls with multiple participants, which currently may be sluggish with Firefox 22. They are also working on improving echo cancellation, and are working on a fix for a problem that causes audio delay relative to the video.
Users may have trouble connecting if they're protected by a particularly restrictive network access terminal or firewall, and the Mozilla devs will add support for media relaying employing the Traversal Using Relays around NAT, or TURN, protocol to resolve this in Firefox 23.
More work is needed to fully enable WebRTC on mobile.
"The issue is the mobile devices -- their power and battery life," Stein said. "The horsepower of the smartphone is an issue, and then there's the quality of the experience. WebRTC will eventually get to be a standard, but I think it will take time."
WebRTC "is just an incremental improvement, although I think it will be a keeper," Stein opined.