Yesterday, Mozilla updated its Firefox browser to version 35. Among the many updates is the official launch of Hello, Mozilla's WebRTC platform. In the past, users had to download programs, the biggest one being Skype, to chat with people via video or audio. By providing the same thing straight from a browser, Hello might be a game changer in video and audio chat.
After upgrading to the latest version of Firefox, Hello should already be available in the menu bar or customization panel. Once it's open, Hello allows you to give a name to the call, or as Mozilla calls it, a "conversation," and you get a URL to share.
The link is unique to the conversation, so the user just needs to copy it and give it to the person they want to call. Hello also "remembers" the link, so if you need to call the same person again, just click the link and an audio notification will tell the user on the other end that you are calling them.
Hello also works across multiple browsers. As long as either person is using Firefox, Hello will work. At the moment, the only WebRTC supported platforms are Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
But the best part about Hello is that it requires no signup whatsoever. All you need to do is start a conversation and share the link, making the process quick and easy. For those who are looking for a more direct approach to calling, Mozilla also provides contact support. By logging in to a Firefox account, you can also see which of your contacts has a Firefox account and contact them that way. There is also support for Google accounts that imports contact directly to your Hello address book.
I tried Hello for a bit today before writing this story, and for the most part it's really easy to use. When you make a call, a small window for the video call appears on the bottom left corner of the screen, which makes it non-intrusive. On the receiving end, it features a large screen for the other user and a smaller window that shows how you look in the call. Both the audio and video quality is surprisingly great, especially when you consider the fact that it's running from the browser.
However, there are still a few issues with Hello as well as a lack of certain features that puts it behind other programs. The most glaring feature is that Hello is strictly one-on-one. You can't provide the link to more than one person, because each conversation can only hold two people, so conference calling is impossible.
When testing the call on different browsers, I also found that Hello doesn't "know" I'm switching browsers -- which can be a good thing. For example, if I'm on the receiving end of the call, and the caller is using Firefox, I can open Google Chrome and paste the link there to join in. However, we found a glitch. When I opened a conversation in Chrome at one point, I received a message saying that there were already two people in the conversation. Thus, at some point, Hello didn't "remember" that I left the call, opened another browser, and started the call again.
Text chat, as well as the ability to share files, are features currently missing from Hello, and I missed having them. So many conversations on video and audio these days go beyond just talking, as people want to share files such as documents and pictures, not to mention links.
For now, Hello is both a very impressive tool and has a ways to go. Even though everyone can start using Hello, it's important to note that it's still in beta. Additionally, WebRTC, the API that powers Hello, is constantly being worked on since it's an open project with the goal of providing easy and high-quality real-time communications via browsers and mobile devices. There's definitely more work to be done with Hello, but what it offers now bodes a promising future for WebRTC-based platforms.