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Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 03:20 pm PT (06:20 pm ET)

Microsoft announces H.264 support for Google's Chrome


H.264 an issue for free operating systems

The problem Google attempted to solve with WebM only affects web browsers that ignore their underlying operating system's support for media playback. Microsoft's Windows, Apple's iOS and Mac OS X, and Google's Android all natively support H.264 video playback. There is also unofficial support for H.264 playback on Linux, just as there is unofficial support for playing DVDs and other royalty-based content formats on that platform.

However, Mozilla's Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome all ignore the underlying OS' media support to handle video themselves. For Windows users, Microsoft has announced H.264 support for Firefox via a plugin that reverses this behavior, and is now similarly adding back H.264 playback support for Chrome; both plugins take advantage of Windows' native ability to play H.264. This effectively neutralizes Google's efforts to force adoption of WebM.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft has said it will also support WebM in Internet Explorer 9 via a plugin. While WebM codec support can be added to QuickTime via a component plugin, Apple has shown no interest in working to push WebM as a standard because, like Flash, it is not supported on iOS devices and support cannot be added by third parties; Apple would have to do the work itself.

WebM an issue for mobile operating systems

Like Flash and Java, Apple has no interest in adding parallel support for WebM as an alternative way to play media content on its mobile devices, because doing so would require lots of duplicative work (for Apple, not third parties) just to add another, less efficient way to do the same thing its devices can already do.

Microsoft has no significant mobile business, so it lacks Apple's stern opposition in pushing a secondary web format that would complicate its efforts. Microsoft's Hachamovitch wrote that the company is "agnostic and impartial" about the actual video formats in use on the web, as long as they don't raise problems related to intellectual property liability and risk, the open development of web standards, and simple video playback consistency.

"Our support for H.264," Hachamovitch wrote, "results from our views about a robust Web and video ecosystem that provides a rich level of functionality, is the product of an open standards process like the W3C’s HTML5 specification, and has been free from legal attacks. Microsoft is agnostic and impartial about the actual underlying video format for HTML5 video as long as this freedom continues."

WebM vs H.264


On page 3 of 3: Three WebM issues raised by Microsoft