Flash In The VoIP Pan

Adobe Systems, the San Jose, California-based software giant, has been the real catalyst for the ongoing online video boom, thanks to the near ubiquitous Flash software that plays back everything from stupid pet tricks to the amazing theatrics of LonelyGirl15. YouTube and hundreds of online video sites are using the Flash software to build businesses, some valued at over $1.5 billion. (Adobe acquired Macromedia, maker of Flash technologies in April 2005.)

And now Adobe Systems wants to replicate its success in video space in the Voice over the Internet (VoIP) arena, making it easy to embed voice into web applications. GigaOM has learnt of a secret start-up project currently being incubated by the $1.9 billion in annual sales software giant. Some members of this startup come from the Macromedia Breeze (now called Acrobat Connect Professional) conferencing group. (Breeze is a Flash based web-conferencing system, much like WebEx.) Though less than a year old, the start-up has started to attract some serious VoIP talent.

Sources say, Dr. Henry Sinnreich, generally known as “The Godfather” of SIP (the Session Initiation Protocol) is helping the team, though we have no details about his role within the project. He was most recently the chief technology officer of Jeff Pulver’s VoIP greenhouse, Pulver.com, and prior to that worked for MCI.

The Adobe start-up team faces quite a few challenges. For instance, it would have to support multiple VoIP protocols, and it will also have to figure out how to keep the overall size of the Flash client size small. Sources say that touching Flash Player is like messing with God inside Adobe, and the start-up team needs to figure out how to embed a SIP stack inside the player without making it bloated.

The charter for the start-up is to enhance “Flash” and add support for various voice-over-IP protocols including SIP. They have to come up with ways to make Flash-based-voice work with some of the commonly used signaling systems. These are huge challenges, but if they can overcome all these issues, they could be onto something big. For starters, they could enable web based calling, and prevent the technical hell that comes with many soft phones of today.

If they can make the technology work with the Mobile version of Flash, then the Internet-enabled smart phones can be used to initiate and terminate calls via the mobile browser or special Flash-lite based apps. But these are the most obvious use-case scenarios. Flash Games with VoIP could be another use case scenario. It could be the first step in giving web developers (Flash experts, at least) ability to add voice to whatever mash-ups they can dream off. SIP, XMPP, Jabber and Flash – put them in the blender and you could see some magic.

The gulf between the voice geeks and web developers is one of the biggest challenges facing the Voice 2.0. The vibrancy of Flash developer community, and open source projects such as Asterisk could become a new font of “Voice 2.0” innovation.

The possibilities of Flash with VoIP built in can be seen in a new web-based app called Pronto, which has integrated VoIP, messaging, email, calendaring, and contact management. Communigate has just launched this service. It is not the first VoIP application to leverage Flash. Many of you might remember Gtalkr, a Flash-based Google Talk client, handiwork of Carr brothers that was acquired by Google last year before it got to show us its true voice potential.