One major issue complicating Web-based telephony has been software. Users have typically had to download programs known as softphones to make calls through their PCs using headsets or the built-in microphones and speakers. That meant there had to be different software versions for each PC platform. Making calls through a Web browser can be a lot more convenient, since there's no need to worry about the operating system. There are other advantages as well, which is why browser-based telephony is becoming increasingly popular with Internet-based VoIP providers.
The latest to take this approach is Raketu Communications Inc . The company provides cheap PC-based calling services along with a rich variety of other services, including cross-platform IM (instant messaging), mobile entertainment and mobile VoIP . The problem was that its PC-based VoIP services required client software that it had developed only for Windows computers. Now it has begun offering browser-based calling, which means Mac and Linux users can also make cheap overseas calls via Raketu's network.
The new service, called RakOut WebPhone, uses Adobe Systems Inc .'s Flash technology. Flash is present on almost all computers connected to the Internet, which makes it ideal for reaching large numbers of users on all platforms. It uses the proprietary protocol known as RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) to stream voice, video and other data between the Flash player and a server.
Raketu's new service is one of a growing number of Flash-based approaches to Web voice services. Ribbit , for instance, built Flash VoIP capability into its Web telephony platform. The purpose of that platform was to allow developers to add voice communications to their Web applications without having to know anything about telephony programming. BT (British Telecom) bought Ribbit in July.
Similarly, Adobe uses its own Flash technology as the foundation for Acrobat ConnectNow, the free Web conferencing service it introduced in June . The service boasts such capabilities as IM, screen and white board sharing, and voice and video communication.
Its ability to handle video is in fact a major attraction of Flash. TokBox, for example, uses Flash to deliver browser-based video conferencing that could be useful to small businesses . But for those without Web cameras, it will just as easily work as a way to talk via the Internet using nothing more than a headset plugged into an Internet-connected computer. Such capabilities more than anything else point the way to the future of Web communications, in which the lines separating voice, video and any number of other communications methods will blur and, eventually, disappear.
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