Mozilla has given users another reason to consider its Firefox Web browser -- the latest update, announced yesterday, adds instant text messaging capabilities to Firefox Hello, the desktop VoIP client it introduced last fall.
In October, Mozilla partnered with Telefónica to launch the Hello voice-calling and video-calling service to Firefox beta users. At the time, Mozilla touted the system as a way for users to communicate online in real time without having to hand over their personal information to a third-party service provider. This week's addition of instant messaging could also boost Hello's appeal as a Skype alternative, especially in light of the global service problems Skype suffered on Monday.
The new update to Firefox 41.0 enables people using Hello for video calls to also send and receive instant messages during those calls. The service is available in the desktop browser for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Other Updates Just Minor Tweaks
Most of the other changes rolled out with the latest Firefox update are minor tweaks in the browser's personalization capabilities. For example, users can now set profile photos for either their desktops or Android Firefox accounts, and can use SVG images as favicons.
Another change means that Firefox's WebRTC (for "real-time communication") feature now requires perfect forward secrecy. Perfect forward secrecy is a cryptographic feature designed to prevent a compromise in one WebRTC session from leading to additional compromises.
The Firefox Hello service works with any browser that is WebRTC-enabled, which means that Chrome and Opera also support the voice and video feature. Users can start conversations with a few clicks, generating unique URLs that they can send to anyone with a WebRTC-enabled browser. Once the recipient clicks that link, that person will hear an audio alert, see the Hello icon turn blue and be taken to a live, online video chat with the sender.
Skype Outage Prompts Searches for Alternatives
Telefónica used WebRTC technology from its 2012 acquisition of TokBox to develop Hello in partnership with Mozilla. "The use of TokBox's technology is a part of our strategy to partner, disrupt and innovate to offer digital services that are truly reflective of a modern digital telco," the Spain-based telecommunications firm said when it announced the service last fall.
Based on search terms used on Google earlier this week, interest in Skype alternatives peaked dramatically during the day on Monday after a reported network problem left many users of the Microsoft-owned service unable to log in or update their statuses. Complaints were heaviest across Europe and the eastern half of the U.S., according to the Web site Outage.Report.
Google Trends' "interest over time" charts show that both the search terms "Skype" and "Skype alternatives" spiked during the middle of the day Monday, and continued to see higher-than-usual interest for several hours afterward.