Google had an unusual celebration Wednesday as it claimed that Skype 5.5 was now using the video format behind WebM, VP8. WebM Product Manager John Luther said that that any video chat between two or more users on 5.5 will switch over to VP8 for the stream. The format had been chosen in part because of its low lag in live situations and ability to gracefully handle lost data.
Skype had supported WebM in its early days and is just now starting to use it in earnest.
Championing VP8's inclusion is an odd step given Microsoft's imminent control of Skype. The VoIP developers will have some autonomy under Microsoft, but Microsoft has been a vocally opposed to WebM along with Apple and has refused to support use of the codec in Internet Explorer or other apps. As a licensor in the MPEG-LA group, it has a motivation to believe claims that WebM violates patents relating to H.264.
If Skype is allowed to keep using VP8 without getting any special licensing deal, Microsoft might be the target of the very lawsuit it has been trying to orchestrate to shut down competition from Google, Mozilla, and Opera. A dozen companies have alleged WebM is violating their patents and are virtually a step away from legal action against Google and those using its format.
Microsoft has been planning deep integration of Skype into all its products and, while it could switch off VP8, would have to make significant code changes to avoid using the roots of WebM across virtually all its product line.