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Microsoft plays nice with Google, restores H.264 support in Chrome

It is probably an open secret that Microsoft and Google do not always see eye to eye on many aspects about the Internet. Unlike the free and open Internet ecosystem championed by Google, Microsoft typically favors 'tried-and-tested' standards that are readily available for users, regardless of their origins. And this philosophy extends to both companies' browsers as well: shortly after Google has dropped all support for the non-free H.264 codec in Chrome, Microsoft has offered to restore that very functionality back to Chrome via a simple download. So…who is the 'good guy' now?

When one thinks about it, the popular search giant known as Google may actually be one of the more morally upright corporations to exist in the world today. Granted, it may have a not-so-impressive track record as far as user privacy is concerned, but its recent actions regarding open Internet standards should be a clear indicator that Google does take the online world seriously enough to insist on what it thinks is right for consumers.

Unfortunately, there are times where what Google perceives as 'the right thing to do' might not be what consumers want, and its latest fiasco involving its Chrome browser is probably the best example. In a bid to get people off the proprietary H.264 codec used in HTML5 video viewing, the search giant decided to drop all support for the codec in the latest version of its Chrome browser, which happened to be launched yesterday. However, it appears that Chrome users need not have worried about this loss: this is because an extension that restores H2.64 playback support has been made available for the browser. But this is also where things start to get interesting, for the very company that has released such an extension is none other than…yes, you guessed it, the 'great evil corporation' known as Microsoft.

In a blog post published by Microsoft's Interoperability Strategy Team Principal Program Manager, Claudio Caldato claims that Microsoft felt that users should not be restricted in their choice of video formats due to ideological differences. As Windows 7 already features built-in support for the codec, restoring H.264 playback capabilities to Chrome was as simple as writing an “extension 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”.

“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,” he wrote.

Of course, given Microsoft's knack for favoring 'tit-for-tat' measures against its competitors, it should probably come as little surprise that the software giant would be hard pressed to give up the temptation of letting Google have a taste of its own medicine. After all, it was Google which drew first blood with its Chrome Frame plugin, which allowed Internet Explorer users to enjoy HTML5 content by switching between the built-in Trident engine and its own WebKit renderer. Ironically, one of Chrome Frame's objectives was to allow the viewing of H.264 videos in Internet Explorer, which happens to be the very same thing Microsoft is attempting to do for Chrome now that the latter had been stripped of native support for the codec.

Not that it matters to the average consumer, though. After all, their idea of a good browser is one that can do anything they want in the shortest possible amount of time. And if Microsoft appears to being going out of its way by offering to 'restore' lost functionality in a competing web browser such as Chrome…well, let's just say that the company is definitely going to rake in the positive karma points from even the harshest anti-Microsoft critic without doing much. Way to go, Microsoft.

Source: interoperability @ Microsoft, Interoperability Bridges and Labs Center

*The Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome can be downloaded here.

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