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Summary:

On Microsoft’s IE blog this morning, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for Internet Explorer, reiterated his support for HTML5 and H.264 as the codec of choice for web video shown through the next generation of its web browser, IE9. On first blush, Microsoft’s backing H.264 in the […]

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On Microsoft’s IE blog this morning, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for Internet Explorer, reiterated his support for HTML5 and H.264 as the codec of choice for web video shown through the next generation of its web browser, IE9. On first blush, Microsoft’s backing H.264 in the upcoming software release seems a strike at Adobe and its proprietary Flash player. But read between the lines, and it seems that Microsoft is sending a clear message to Google and anyone else that might be thinking about employing VP8 for web video.

Microsoft announced its support for HTML5 and H.264 encoding in IE9 last month at the company’s MIX10 developers conference. By doing so, Microsoft joined the growing list of companies, including Apple and Google, that had thrown their weight behind the codec. But Hachamovitch went a step further this morning, writing that in its support for HTML5, Microsoft’s new browser will “support playback of H.264 video only” (emphasis added).

That’s bad news for other codecs, including Ogg Theora and Google’s upcoming VP8. According to our sources, the search giant will announce it is open sourcing the VP8 codec at its Google I/O developers conference next month, in an effort to provide an open, high-quality alternative to H.264. VP8, which is expected to be supported by Google’s Chrome browser and Mozilla Firefox, could replace Ogg Theora as the “open” codec of choice for browsers that don’t want to deal with licenses associated with H.264.

But today’s IE Blog, as well as recent comments from Steve Jobs, make it seem unlikely that Google will be able to convince Microsoft and Apple to add support for VP8 in their web browsers. The issue of patents associated with open source codecs is becoming a particularly pressing issue. In an email response to an open letter arguing against Apple’s use of H.264 encoding for HTML5 video today, Steve Jobs warned that “a patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other ‘open source’ codecs now.”

Microsoft apparently has its own patent and intellectual property concerns about certain other codecs. Without naming any particular codecs that might be at risk of patent infringement, Hachamovitch wrote:

“Other codecs often come up in these discussions. The distinction between the availability of source code and the ownership of the intellectual property in that available source code is critical. Today, intellectual property rights for H.264 are broadly available through a well-defined program managed by MPEG LA. The rights to other codecs are often less clear, as has been described in the press.”

Internet Explorer maintains a 60 percent market share of all browsers used today, according to NetMarketShare.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): What Does the Future Hold For Browsers?

  1. What is unfortunate is that as the corporate giants fight this out the consumer is the one to suffer. People just want something that works, not more turf wars. That said, may the best codec win, not the company that uses coercive government force the best…

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  2. It would seem to me the Microsoft doesn’t have much weight to throw around when it comes to browser codec support. Google is both one of the largest Internet video content providers and developer of a standards based web browser whose user base grows each month. If Microsoft produces a browser that doesn’t play the content offered by Google, it will annoy people and just be another incentive for people not to use IE. Google appears better poised to dictate how this technology progresses.

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  3. Microsoft’s position is to be expected , as they are a member of the MPEG-LA patent pool.

    This really is not a problem for VP8 , as HTML5 is designed to
    support multiple concurrent CODECS and given that H.264 and VP8 provide excellent performance, sites wanting the widest audience will simply transcode and provide both formats.

    With todays drives, even HULU’s vast video library can be stored
    behind my TV set so it’s not really a big deal.

    I do expect the M$ will try and launch phantom patent suits using schill companies like they did against Google a couple of months
    back in Europe , trying to trick the EU into going after Google for anti-trust.

    None the less things will move forward, Flash still dies, and the Internet will have it’s video CODEC.

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  4. I think Microsoft’s only commenting about what’s currently available for choices, without speculating on what Google might do with VP8. It’d be irresponsible for them to base their business decisions on something they don’t know…and honestly, they don’t know for a fact that VP8 will be open sourced or anything.

    Yeah, Microsoft probably won’t support VP8 at first. That’ll just get people using VP8 as a replacement for Ogg, as is expected anyway. Someone (perhaps Google), is sure to make an IE add-on that’ll allow IE to play VP8 codec in an HTML5 video anyway. After a wile, if support is there and people are using VP8 on the web, Microsoft will (for business reasons) add native support for the codec. It would be smart business, and like it or not, Microsoft will do whatever will make users use their stuff instead of competitors….which means supporting what people are using as long as it’s free to support it.

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  5. doubting thomas Saturday, May 1, 2010

    If Google starts using VP8 in YouTube, people will drop IE like in a heartbeat, and Microsoft will finally get what it deserves for it’s high handed arrogance.

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    1. Agreed, but let’s add Steve Job’s arrogance as well..

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  6. [...] going after Ogg Theora and other open source codecs in the future. Microsoft, too, has said it will only support H.264 in the next version of its web browser, Internet Explorer [...]

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  7. [...] going after Ogg Theora and other open-source codecs in the future. Microsoft, too, has said it will only support H.264 in the next version of its web browser, Internet Explorer [...]

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  8. [...] Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote that the next version of the browser would only support the H.264 codec for playback of HTML5 video. That blog post threw into doubt any possibility of IE9 support VP8, [...]

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