Microsoft adds H.264 support to Google Chrome

Last month, Google announced that it was removing support for H.264 video playback in its Chrome browser. But modern versions of OS X and Windows already include fully licensed copies of the H.264 codecs. So why not use them? Microsoft ha now done exactly that. How will Google respond?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

No, you’re not reading that headline wrong.

Last month, Google announced that it was removing support for H.264 video playback via the HTML5 <video> tag in its Chrome browser.

The odd part about that decision is that it ignores the capabilities of its installed base. Anyone who installs Chrome on a modern version of Mac OS X or Windows already has access to fully licensed copies of the H.264 codecs, provided along with the operating system. So why not use them?

Apparently, someone at Microsoft just asked that exact question, and came up with the obvious answer. Today, Microsoft announced that it is releasing a plug-in for Google Chrome that enables H.264 support on Windows 7 using those native codecs:

Today, as part of the interoperability bridges work we do on this team, we are making available the Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome, which is an extension for Google Chrome to enable Windows 7 customers who use Chrome to continue to play H.264 video.

We believe that Windows customers should be able to play mainstream HTML5 video and, as we’ve described in previous posts, Internet Explorer 9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec.

This isn’t an unexpected development: In December, Microsoft released a similar plug-in for Firefox. (The Chrome download is available here.)

The question now is whether Google will actively seek to break this plug-in in upcoming releases of Chrome. Given Google’s breakneck pace of development for Chrome and its rapidly escalating war with Microsoft, I wouldn’t be surprised to see future releases “accidentally” cause this plug-in to fail.

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