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Google to fix some WebP image format shortcomings

Addressing early criticisms, Google finalizes how its image file format will handle metadata and color profiles. Also new: faster encoding and animation support.

WebP logo

Google is on the cusp of fixing some initial shortcomings of its WebP, an image format it hopes will speed up browsing.

A new version of libwebp, the library that software can use to display and create WebP images, adds support several features, some of which were the subject of criticism when Google announced WebP in 2010:

  • Metadata handling so people can see camera and exposure information stored in the file with the EXIF and XMP technologies.
  • ICC (International Color Consortium) color profiles for more accurate color rendering.
  • Animated WebP images, a new spin on a once-once obscure GIF technology now made popular in enthusiast circles.

Developer James Zern detailed the developments in a mailing list message about release candidate for libwebp 0.3.0 today.

"This is near final and what I hope to land in Chromium," he said, referring to the open-source project that underlies Google's Chrome browser and, now, Opera as well.

The new library also speeds up WebP encoding, meaning that software can write WebP images faster, and adds a command-line utility, gif2webp, that can be used to convert a graphic from the older format to WebP.

Google hopes to speed Web page loading and cut bandwidth usage with WebP, and it's begun using WebP images on its own Google Play site to cut image file sizes down by about 30 percent. Another WebP nicety: its compression algorithm can handle both lossy compression, in which some data is discarded when the image is created as in conventional JPEG images, and lossless compression, in which all the original image's data is preserved, as in the PNG format.

Google Chrome logo

That all sounds nice, but Google has a major challenge in advancing WebP: finding any allies at all. Other browser makers are not enthusiastic about embracing a file format that, if it catches on widely, will have to be supported on all browsers for the whole future of the Web. And that's only the first challenge; JPEG is entrenched as the format of choice in cameras and many other areas far beyond browsers.

Adding new support also means a new possible avenue for network attacks. And as Microsoft's mostly fizzled effort to promote JPEG XR showed, getting widespread enthusiasm even for a formal standard can be difficult when JPEG itself does reasonably well and is very well understood. WebP so far is Google's technology and hasn't been submitted to any standards group.