Mozilla Expresses Wariness Toward Google's WebP Image Compression

by Sam Dean - May. 25, 2011Comments (1)

As noted on Monday of this week by The Register, in a story titled "Google slips open source JPEG killer into Gmail, Picasa," Google has announced that its Chrome browser, Gmail and Picasa are all using a new image compression format called WebP. The move is directly related to Google's effort to push a new web video format, WebM, which some have criticized as an unneeded attempt to supplant dominant video formats. Both WebM and WebP are a result of Google's acquistion of On2, and now Google's effort to advance the WebP image format is attracting criticism, especially from Mozilla.

When Google acquired On2, it also acquired VP8 compression technology. WebP takes advantage of the technology to compress images in such a way that many are calling it an attempt to squash the very prevalent JPEG format. As Ars Technica notes:

"WebP uses some of the still-image compression techniques that VP8 relies on to compress individual video frames. The format is intended for use with lossy images as an alternative to the venerable JPEG. Google conducted a large-scale study demonstrating that WebP offers an average file size savings of 39 percent."

However, Mozilla, which is often a bellwhether for what the masses will accept as an open web standard, is criticizing WebP. Mozilla's Jeff Muizelaar writes:

"Overall the reception to WebP that I've seen so far has been pretty negative...First, [Google chose to] recompress existing JPEG's. This is unconventional. Perhaps recompressing JPEG's is their target market, but I find that a little weird and it should at least be explained in the study. Second, they use PSNR as a comparison metric. This is even more confusing. PSNR has, for a while now, been accepted as a poor measure of visual quality and I can't understand why Google continues to use it."

For now, Mozilla is not supporting the WebP format, although Google Chrome is not the only browser supporting it. Opera also supports it. 

The most important issues surrounding adoption of WebP are the same as the ones surrounding the adoption of Google's VP8-driven WebM video format. In pushing the new video format, Google drew criticism for attempting to undercut established, prevalent video formats such as H.264, and now it is drawing criticism for taking on the JPEG format.

To its credit, Google has released a brand new study of the benefits of WebP, and Mozilla may end up being forced to support WebP in Firefox, but for now there are simply a lot of questions swirling about whether the world needs a murkier image compression format landscape. At this point, it looks like WebP needs to be shown to offer an outstanding compression improvement when compared to JPEG, if it is to succeed on the grand scale. Undoubtedly, it is within browsers and within Gmail that WebP has its best chance of succeeding, because of the sheer volume of users of these tools. For now, the jury is out on WebP.

Randy Clark uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


Sam - what about the patent brouhaha brewing over h.264's patents? Might that justify Google's actions in releasing WebM? If by "undercutting" you mean releasing a truly free video format without patent encumbrances, then sure, I guess.

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