In a modest boost for a brand-new Google effort to overhaul Web video, Microsoft said Wednesday it will "support" the open-source, royalty-free WebM technology--as long as Windows users install software on their own.
Google launched the WebM project Wednesday at Google I/O, drawing support from Mozilla and Opera for the video technology based on its VP8 video encoding technology. Microsoft offered a lukewarm statement on the matter:
"When it comes to video and HTML5, we're all in. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows," said IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch.
That's not much of an endorsement, but it's a lot more favorable than anything the company said to WebM's earlier alternative, Ogg Theora. Microsoft also continued to raise the issue it did before: the intellectual property risks of patent infringement involved with video encoding and decoding technology, or "codecs."
"We are strongly committed to making sure that in IE9 you can safely view all types of content in all widely used formats. At the same time, Windows customers, developers, and site owners also want assurances that they are protected from IP rights issues when using IE9," Hachamovitch said.
Web video, a big new feature of the still-developing HTML5 standard, has been deadlocked between two codecs, Ogg Theora and H.264. Microsoft, a major contributor to the H.264 patent pool, builds H.264 support into Windows and will do so with the forthcoming IE9. Apple, which has a single patent in the H.264 pool, also is a big H.264 fan, seeing it as an enabler for Web video technology that sidesteps Adobe Systems' Flash Player.
But Mozilla and Opera rejected H.264, and the industry players creating the HTML5 specification chose against specifying a particular codec. WebM has some potential to ease the situation, but without Microsoft and Apple support, it seems unlikely it would be written into the standard. Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.
Mozilla is a big fan of WebM and VP8.
"The VP8 codec represents a vast improvement in quality-per-bit over Theora and is comparable in quality to H.264," Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard said in a blog post. "We will include support for WebM in Firefox. You can get super-early WebM builds of Firefox 4 pre-alpha builds today."
Opera, too, released a test version of its browser supporting WebM--along with an exhortation to keep patent restrictions off the Web.
HTML5 video is a major competitive threat to Adobe's Flash Player, which under the covers supports H.264 and a VP8 precursor called VP6. But Adobe and Google are allies these days, with Google building Flash into Chrome. So it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch announced Adobe will build VP8 into Flash Player and distribute it within a year.