Skype users can soon call and chat with their contacts from their web browser.
Microsoft is rolling out a beta version of Skype for Web, which allows a limited number of beta testers to use Skype's instant messaging, voice and video calling services on their web browsers without having to download the Skype application on their computer or mobile device, while the worldwide rollout is scheduled "in the coming months".
In a blog post announcing the new product, product marketing manager for Skype Jonathan Watson says the new Skype for Web is the perfect service for users who prefer using the web instead of an app and is particularly useful for people on the go and do not want to download the Skype app in a public computer.
"You can use Skype for Web without having to download an app before you get started, which means anyone new to Skype can get chatting even faster," Watson says. "Simply sign in to Skype for Web on Skype.com and you'll be able to connect and start instant messaging directly from your browser."
Using the web client is on an invitation-only basis. Users can check if they received an invitation by logging on to their Skype accounts on Skype.com. Once they accept the invitation, Skype for Web will automatically sync their contacts and messages and allow them to chat with their contacts right away.
For now, Skype for Web requires installing a plug-in to use the voice and video calling services, but Microsoft says the Skype team is working with the Internet Explorer team and the World Wide Web Consortium to develop ORTC (Object Real-Time Communications).
ORTC is an API designed to provide support for interoperable audio and video streaming. Google and Firefox already use an existing API called WebRTC, but Microsoft and other technology companies have been wary of adopting WebRTC because it is too complicated.
Internet Explorer will receive ORTC implementation, which means users of Internet Explorer will not have to install a browser plugin in the future to enable voice and video calls on Skype for Web. It is not clear, however, if Chrome, Firefox and Safari users will have the same benefit.
Microsoft has been calling for ORTC integration with WebRTC to come up with a new API called WebRTC 1.1. Google, for its part, has shown interest in using at least some parts of ORTC, meaning Chrome users may also be able to do away with the plugin. Mozilla and Apple, however, have yet to announce what they plan to implement for Firefox and Safari.
Skype for Web is currently available for Windows users who use the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. Mac users, on the other hand, can only use Skype for Web on Safari 6 and above but not on Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox for Mac.
Users of Linux-based Chromebook can also use Skype for Web but are limited to the instant messaging services. Users will have to wait until Microsoft decides to provide support for voice and video calling on Linux and other non-Windows platforms.
"Chromebook owners can use Skype for Web for IM (instant messaging), but the plug-in required for voice and video calls hasn't been configured for that device so it isn't currently supported," a Microsoft spokesperson tells ZDNet.