The new functionality is based on WebRTC, a communications technology Google acquired in 2010 when it purchased Global IP Solutions. Google had already announced that WebRTC would become an open source project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera. Google hopes to see WebRTC adopted as a Web standard, potentially making it a universal platform for Web-based real-time communications.
Henrik Andreasson, a Google software engineer based in Sweden, first mentioned Chrome's new capabilities in a brief post on the company's Chromium developer forum. "Our goal is to enable Chrome with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities," Andreasson said. "When we are done, any Web developer shall be able to create RTC applications ... without using any plugins but only WebRTC components." Chromium is the open source version of Chrome and the project Google uses to develop new features for its browser.
While Chrome may be the first browser to implement the new feature, Mozilla and Opera may also include the functionality into competing browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox. However, Opera has not announced any plans and WebRTC is not mentioned in Firefox's public roadmap.
Google has yet to say whether it would adopt the new technology for Gmail's Google Talk client, but that is a distinct possibility. The search giant currently relies on a downloadable plugin that users must install in their browsers before initiating video or voice chat in Gmail.
It's unclear at this point how well the Web-based technology performs compared to desktop-bound services such as Skype (recently acquired by Microsoft for $8.5 billion), and Apple's FaceTime. But the possibility of native voice and video chat in the browser would be interesting, especially if the feature shows up on browsers for mobile devices such as Android smartphones.