Microsoft Nixes Support for VP8 — Before It’s Even Released

On Microsoft’s (s MSFT) 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 (s ADBE) and its proprietary Flash player. But read between the lines, and it seems that Microsoft is sending a clear message to Google (s GOOG) 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.

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