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Google's $124.6m open codec hits Chrome dev build

WebM browser

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Google has added the newly open-sourced VP8 video codec to the latest developer-channel build of its Chrome browser.

The codec is already part of developer builds from Mozilla and Opera, and it was rolled into Chromium, the open source incarnation of Chrome, in late May. But this marks its debut in Chrome itself. Version 6.0.422.0, available in the developer channel here, also includes various bug fixes.

Google acquired the VP8 codec as part of its $124.6 million purchase of video compression outfit On2 Technologies this spring, and last month at its annual developer conference in San Francisco the web giant told the world it had open sourced the codec under a royalty-free license. VP8 has been combined with the Ogg Vorbis audio codec and a subset of the Matroska container format to create a new media standard dubbed WebM.

This is what's included with the latest Chrome developer build. Google offers three Chrome release channels: a stable channel for the official version of the browser, a beta channel, and a developer channel that includes experimental features you won't find in the beta. The new developer build is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Testers are encouraged to leave feedback on the build here.

Meanwhile, Google has open sourced the Chrome RLZ library, used to track the use of Chrome in promotional campaigns without assigning a unique identifier to the user's browser. RLZ is its own project on Google Code, separate from the open source Chromium project that backs Chrome.

RLZ is included with copies of Chrome that are distributed through various promotional programs. This includes promotions run by Google as well as partners such as Sony, which has agreed to OEM the browser. In March, Google dropped its unique identifier from Chrome, and if you download the browser simply by visiting google.com/chrome, it won't include RLZ either.

Though Google has hailed VP8 as open source and royalty-free, the Open Source Institute (OSI) has questioned its open sourceness considering Google's use of an unapproved license, and it appears that the MPEG-LA — an organization that licenses patent portfolio — will challenge VP8's royalty-freeness, pulling together a patent pool to license the codec out from under Mountain View.

Apple and Microsoft are part of an MPEG-LA patent pool that licenses the H.264 video codec, and unlike Opera and Mozilla, neither Apple nor Microsoft has gotten behind VP8. Microsoft has said it doesn't object to IE surfers using the codec, but only as long as they install it themselves, while Apple supremo Steve Jobs has indicated he won't budge from H.264.

The end result is that for the foreseeable future there will be two separate codecs used with the fledgling HTML5 video tag. As part of its effort to move to the world to VP8, Google is already using the codec to encode new videos on YouTube. ®

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