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Summary:

Firefox 4 is clocking huge download numbers ever since it was released yesterday, and that’s good news for Google’s open video format WebM: The new version of Firefox supports WebM HTML5 video playback, bringing the total market share of browsers with WebM support to 50 percent.

firefox 4

Some folks at Google are getting ready to celebrate as Firefox 4 quickly moves toward 10 million downloads, despite Firefox competing with Google’s Chrome browser. The reason: One of the new features added to Firefox 4 is support for Google’s open video format WebM. The browser release is the biggest boost for WebM since Google open-sourced the format last May, and it could help WebM to finally go mainstream.

Firefox 4 is the first official release to include WebM support. Beta versions of Firefox 4 have been able to play WebM videos for a number of months, but those were limited to a small group of early adopters. Firefox 3.6, on the other hand, was used by around 25 percent of all web users in February, according to the latest data from Statcounter, and all these users are now prompted to update to this week’s release, which will make their machines WebM-capable.

Around 50 percent of all web users could soon have access to WebM video playback.

The implications are even bigger when you look at the overall browser market, which has been divided between browsers supporting open video formats and browsers that don’t. Both Safari and IE don’t support WebM and instead use H.264 for HTML5 video playback.

Google’s Chrome added WebM support last year, and Google decided to discontinue support for H.264 entirely earlier this year. Firefox has never supported H.264, but until recently, only supported the inferior Ogg Theora video format for HTML5 video. Opera was the first browser to add support for WebM earlier last year. Combine those two with Firefox 4, and you’re looking at a significant market share, as Mozilla Open Source Evangelist Chris Blizzard pointed out on the WebM blog:

“Firefox accounts for about 30% market share – or nearly a third of all browser users. When you combine that with Chrome and Opera it means that about 50% of internet users will have access to the high-quality WebM codec over the next few months, following the Firefox 4 adoption curve.”

Numbers like these could convince more web publishers to use WebM, or possibly expand some early tests of the format. One candidate for such a move is YouTube, which has been experimenting with WebM as part of its HTML5 trial. This beta test is currently opt-in, and it’s not widely publicized on YouTube’s website.

However, YouTube has been actively converting much of its catalog to WebM, and in November, had already made 80 percent of its regularly requested videos available in the format. With half the browsers accessing the site being capable of WebM playback soon, there’s little reason why YouTube couldn’t promote the format more aggressively.

  1. Is this really likely to spur WebM adoption if both Chrome and FireFox also include and support Flash? Are publishers really going to convert their content to WebM (and take on the patent uncertainties) if the platform already supports Flash?

    The real question isn’t about overall market share, but about market share on devices that don’t support Flash. Is there a WebM capable browser for iOS?

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  2. I give it about a year until Google will make WebM videos the default on Youtube, with a Flash fallback for those who aren’t using WebM capable browsers. If 40-50% of people can watch WebM videos, then by making Youtube WebM enabled by default, it will only accelerate the adoption by everyone else, including hardware makers.

    Once Youtube switches to it, the WebM vs h.264 war is pretty much over, and Google really needs to do this if they don’t want the adoption to be too slow. As long as they make a Flash fallback for it, they have nothing to lose. Basically isntead of having 100% of people watching Flash videos on Youtube, they’ll have 50-50. When only 15-20% of the users depend on Flash, they can stop support for Flash, just like they did for IE6.

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    1. Don’t forget iphones, ipads, and ipod touches. None of them support Flash or WebM, so websites are very unlikely to stop supporting h.264 until this situation changes.

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      1. Apple products are irrelevant since there is no competition on Apple’s playing field. People who use iOS devices will just have to make due with whatever Apple tells it’s users to use.

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