Mozilla released a new Firefox 4 prototype late Monday that builds in support for Google's WebM video technology and several other changes planned for the open-source Web browser's next major version.
With WebM, Google hopes to liberate Web video from patent-related royalty constraints of today's prevailing video compression technology, H.264. Mozilla and Google are working to make WebM's VP8 codec a standard part of the new specification for built-in video being added to the HTML5 Web page design technology.
But the situation is complicated: Apple prefers the H.264 codec and has built that codec into its Safari browser, and Microsoft is doing so with IE9, its upgrade to Internet Explorer now under development. Google's Chrome is supporting both H.264 and WebM, whose video codec is called VP8.
Lending a bit of weight to the Mozilla and Google camp is Opera Software, the fifth-ranked browser in terms of share of usage. On Monday, it released an Opera developer version that adds WebM support among various other HTML5 additions.
The browser market is feistier than it's been in more than a decade. Back in the 1990s, the competition came down to Netscape vs. Microsoft. This time around, Netscape's Navigator has morphed into Mozilla's Firefox, Apple has launched five versions of Safari, Opera has kept the pressure on the bigger players, Google has entered the market with Chrome, and, most recently, Microsoft has fired up IE development after a long period of quasi-dormancy.
That's good and bad for the average person. Upgrades now come more often, bringing new user interfaces to learn, but the new versions also unlock new uses for the Web. A sustained focus at all the major browser makers on improving performance stands to make the Web snappier. Last, full-fledged browsers are arriving on smartphones, first Apple's iPhone, but now many others including products from Samsung, Google, Hewlett-Packard's Palm, Mozilla, and later, Research in Motion.
The new Opera version also supports geolocation, an HTML feature that lets a browser--with a person's authorization--tell a Web site the user's physical location for services such as maps. Geolocation isn't strictly speaking part of HTML5, but the term is often used to refer to a swath of new Web technologies under development.
Read more: Cnet