Today Microsoft announced the beta launch of Skype for Web, a project to bring completely plugin-free calling to all major browsers, powered by the Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) standard.

The new service, rolling out now at, is incomplete: Microsoft cautions that users will have to download a plugin “for now” while it implements the WebRTC standard in Internet Explorer. Eventually, the company plans to make the service work in all major browsers — Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Microsoft details that it has made the new service “available to small number of existing and new users to begin with” and will be “gradually rolling out worldwide in the coming months.”

As we’ve previously reported, “WebRTC is an open project that lets Internet users communicate in real time via voice and video simply by using a WebRTC-compatible browser. It enables Web app developers to include real-time video calling and data sharing capabilities in their products, which can range from games to video conferencing tools.”

Skype for Web may eventually pose a serious threat to competing services like Google Hangouts (which does require a plugin), but it’s too early in the product cycle to properly weigh its chances.

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