Firefox and Edge add support for Google’s WebP image format


The WebP image format developed by Google for the past eight years has found a home this week in Microsoft’s Edge browser, and will also be added in Firefox next year.

WebP is a lossy and lossless image compression format that was born as a derivate project from Google’s work on the VP8 video format. It was released in 2010, and it was advertised as a replacement for PNG, JPEG, and GIF at the same time, supporting good compression, transparency, and animations.

Early benchmarks showed that WebP cut down PNG size by as much as 45 percent and animated GIF size with up to 65 percent.

The format was initially supported only by Google Chrome, but it was later also adopted by the Opera and Pale Moon browsers.

Major Google sites, such as Gmail, Google Search, Google Play, Picasa, and others were modified to use WebP, and defaulted to existing image formats if users’ browsers didn’t support it.

But despite its early success, WebP’s spread hit a wall in 2016, when both Apple and Mozilla showed initial interest in supporting it, but later backed down.

While Mozilla tested the format in Firefox, engineers abandoned WebP a few months later, citing inconclusive internal benchmarks that didn’t show any advantage over a new optimized JPEG library it launched at the time.

Apple similarly added WebP support in iOS 10 and MacOS Sierra, but later replaced it with HEIF, an image format based on the HEVC video compression standard (also known as H.265 and MPEG-H Part 2).

Many considered Apple and Mozilla’s rejections as nails in WebP’s coffin, as no image format would be able to make it without support from major browser and OS vendors. But two years later, in the span of a week, the image format came back to life out of nowhere.

The latest version of the Edge browser that was launched this week with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update now fully supports WebP in all its glory. This is Microsoft Edge build 17763+.

Furthermore, on Friday, ZDNet’s sister site CNET also spotted new activity in WebP’s two-year-old topic on Mozilla’s bug tracker.

“Mozilla is moving forward with implementing support for WebP,” a Mozilla spokesperson confirmed to CNET yesterday. WebP will be added to Firefox for desktop and Android, but not iOS. This is because Firefox for iOS works on Safari’s WebKit engine, and not Mozilla’s Gecko.

Apple has not announced plans to support WebP, leaving Safari as the last major browser not to support it. But with WebP supported in almost all major browsers and image editing software, Apple has little choice left.

Mozilla also said that besides WebP, Firefox would get support next year for AVIF, an even better image format based on the AV1 open-source video compression format developed by Google, Cisco, Mozilla, and other tech giants, and which has recently received rave reviews from Facebook’s engineering staff.

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