Microsoft tries to help Firefox with HTML5 video

By on December 16, 2010, 9:43 AM
Microsoft has updated its Windows Media Player plug-in for Mozilla Firefox so as to enable H.264-encoded video on HTML5 by using built-in capabilities available on Windows 7. The HTML5 Extension for Windows Media Player Firefox Plug-in is free to download but it's release is quite controversial. Even though Firefox is a big competitor to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer, the software giant has decided it's for the best if Firefox can play back H.264.

Here's the current state of HTML5 video: Microsoft and Apple are betting on H.264, Firefox and Opera are rooting for WebM, and Chrome does both. Although Internet Explorer 9 supports H.264, excluding all other codecs, Microsoft says it is making an exception for WebM, as long as the user installs the corresponding codec. At the same time, Microsoft is still pushing H.264 support and its first target is Mozilla.

The Mozilla Foundation refuses to provide support for H.264 in Firefox because it's against their open nature. The code is also too expensive; the H.264 patent license agreement isn't cheap, and is also extremely limited in what it allows. Since Windows 7 has built-in support for playing H.264 content, Microsoft's solution is to let Firefox tap into that capability.

It's still not a full-proof solution for Firefox users. Not only will they need to download the plug-in, they will need to be running Windows 7. Most Firefox users are probably using Microsoft's latest and greatest, but a large portion are either using Mac, Linux, or an older version of Windows.

"The Extension is based on a Firefox Add-on that parses HTML5 pages and replaces Video tags with a call to the Windows Media Player plug-in so that the content can be played in the browser," according to the release notes. "The Add-on replaces video tags only if the video formats specified in the tag are among those supported by Windows Media Player. Tags that contain other video formats are not touched."

User Comments: 13

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Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

For Microsoft thats pretty nice for them to do

TJGeezer said:

Yes - nice, considering Microsoft's highly selective bending to customer pressure for more open standards. Makes me wonder if the Ghost of Antitrust Actions Past is making the MS executive cadre nervous.

Nah. MS is simply trying to play nice for a change. I'm sure there's no hidden agenda. No, really.

lchu12 lchu12 said:

I guess they figured, if they allow more choices (in terms of web browsing) people will port over to Windows 7?

Regardless, sounds like good news to me.

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

More towards "If you want to want to use H.264 with Firefox, you gotta be on Windows 7".

The sincerity in this situation is that through a Microsoft backed plugin, Firefox is basically getting free support for H.264. No doubt people will be against it "because it is Microsoft" or because the plugin inevitably will be supported (updated) only by microsoft.

Keep in mind that at least in public space, Microsoft (well, at least the IE team) is on relatively friendly terms with Mozilla, so such an action is not entirely without base.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

In addition to that free support for H.264, this addon makes FF more competitive against Chrome, perhaps that is one aspect which is at work here as well.

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Archean said:

In addition to that free support for H.264, this addon makes FF more competitive against Chrome, perhaps that is one aspect which is at work here as well.

Agreed. In Microsoft's eyes Firefox is likely the lesser of two evils when compared to Chrome, even if Firefox has a bigger marketshare than Chrome.

Guest said:

Microsoft is not being "nice", view this as a strategic maneouvre to further entrench h.264 and also limit uptake of WebM.

Guest said:

Beware of Romulans bearing gifts...

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

I think this was done to expedite the acceptance of HTML5

Guest said:

The agenda isn't that hidden at all. It's just in their best interests for H.264 to become the dominant html5 video codec rather than WebM. And with the obvious exception of Ballmer, I do think there are people at Redmond that realise Microsoft's glory days are over and that they're going have to start playing nice with others or else become increasingly irrelevant.

Guest said:

Microsoft like many things acts in its own self interests. If giving something away gets you something else in return they will do it. Intention is everything.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

@Guest # 12

I'd say business and diplomacy pretty much works in this way, isn't it? Otherwise you won't be getting what you want in both instances.

Guest said:

Well, the main reason why it's only for Windows 7 is because Microsoft has H.264 licensing already accounted for at the operating system level, allowing any program to utilize it freely. XP and Vista... not so much, which is why you needed to install / license specific H.264 codecs for them.

With the Mozilla Foundation being the least able to absorb licensing fees out of all the major browser vendors (and ironically worsened by their relatively large market share), it's nice gesture on Microsoft's part and is about the only thing they can really do short of licensing H.264 on behalf of Firefox on non-Win7 platforms.

Either way, I'm still encoding videos in both H.264 and WebM.

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