Skype on Friday announced Skype for Web, a new version of its VoIP service that can be used in a browser rather than through the dedicated application.
“Perhaps you’re sitting at a computer that doesn’t already have Skype downloaded,” explained Jonathan Watson, a senior product marketing manager with Skype. “Or maybe you’re on the go and using an Internet cafe or hotel computer where you can’t download Skype at all. Using Skype for Web makes it more convenient to get to your conversations.”
To use Skype for Web, users simply sign in on Skype.com. From there, they can connect and start instant messaging directly from their browser. Voice or video calls will require a small plug-in.
Now in beta, the service works with Internet Explorer, Chrome on Windows, Firefox and Safari, but it initially will be available only to a small number of users. It will be rolled out worldwide in the coming months, Watson said.
A Boon for Employees
The new service promises to be “quite useful, because it opens up the number of computers that can use Skype significantly,” Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, told TechNewsWorld.
In particular, it will make Skype available for the first time to employees at companies “where the IT department locks down the computer and doesn’t let you install software,” Entner explained. “I’ve worked in quite a few companies like that.”
In addition to its Voice over Internet Protocol functionality, Skype is also a useful messaging service, he added.
“That’s one thing a lot of people don’t realize,” Entner said. “I have Skype chat channels with 40 or 50 people in them.”
Thanks to the Web feature, that’s now possible on “all the computers being held hostage by IT departments,” he pointed out.
‘A Long Time Coming’
Though a plug-in currently is required for voice and video calls, Skype is working with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team to implement the technology necessary for real-time communications on the Web, Watson pointed out.
“With WebRTC, there won’t be any downloads or installs — you can just get straight to your conversation,” he said.
“Skype for Web has been a long time in coming,” Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano, told TechNewsWorld.
“Microsoft is late to the party when it comes to WebRTC,” he said. “The optics are not in their favor, so they are trying to do something to correct that.”
Firefox and Google Chrome both support WebRTC, while Apple’s Safari and Internet Explorer require a plug-in, Abramson pointed out.
In many ways, “this is nothing more than a catch-up play for Skype vs. Google Hangouts,” he said.
The Benefit of WebRTC
It could take some time for WebRTC to become commonplace.
“While I think WebRTC services will become more pervasive over time as mobile carriers move all voice, text and data to IP-based LTE networks, mainstream use is years away,” said Ritch Blasi, Comunicano’s senior vice president for mobile and wireless.
“There will always be early adopters and Skype enthusiasts who will find the browser-based service easier to use — that’s the fundamental benefit of WebRTC,” he told TechNewsWorld.
However, “it will take some time for it to reach the scale of use seen by mobile services,” Blasi added.
Efforts Better Spent Elsewhere?
In any case, while Skype’s availability through the browser “may be of interest to people not already using Skype or other messaging/communications apps,” it doesn’t really offer any advantage to mobile users or to anyone who has already downloaded Skype on their PC, Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst with Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld.
“The company would be better off work working on more distinct features, especially for mobile users,” he added, “because the other mobile apps are often preferred over Skype.”