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Google's WebP image format finally finds a browser ally: Microsoft Edge

It's been eight years, though, and Safari and Firefox still don't support the technology.

Stephen Konig, a Google product manager, discusses the WebP image format at Google I/O 2013.

Stephen Konig, a Google product manager, discusses the WebP image format at Google I/O 2013.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Eight years after Google introduced WebP in an effort to speed up the web, Microsoft's Edge browser now supports the image format alternative to JPEG and PNG.

The change comes with the new version of Windows 10 that Microsoft introduced Tuesday, according to a tweet from Patrick Kettner, an Edge product manager.

Many web developers who like WebP will doubtless be pleased, and compatibility problems with websites that rely on WebP without a fallback to JPEG or PNG will be eased. But it's far from a complete victory. Edge isn't widely used, and Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari still don't support WebP. Because every browser on an iPhone relies on Apple's browser technology, Apple's choices carry a lot of weight in the mobile universe.

Google long has touted file-size savings for WebP, a benefit that dovetails with its Chrome team's effort to make the web faster. But it's not easy to win over all browser makers. Each new format that's adopted widely on the web means browsers will have to support it forever.

That's because phasing out support in favor of new technologies can inflict broken websites and confusion on ordinary people. Exhibit A: the painful years-long transition away from Adobe Systems' Flash Player.

New image formats on the way

Microsoft's WebP endorsement also could be overshadowed soon. Mozilla and Google are hard at work on a potential JPEG successor called AVIF, and the JPEG standards group also has begun a similar effort called JPEG XL.

Smaller file sizes are a key part of all this work, but there are also other benefits. One of WebP's big ones was a better ability to use images with transparent areas (alpha channels, in imaging parlance), but other formats also hold promise for attributes like richer colors, live photos and depth maps that record how far away parts of a scene are from a camera.

Another big attribute is HDR technology to capture better dynamic range -- the ability to capture both shadowy details and bright highlights. Netflix is interested in better HDR for video thumbnail images, with hopes in particular for AVIF.

Apple is a big fan of another new image format, called HEIF -- often seen as HEIC, a specific variation -- but it's encumbered by patent licensing requirements that make it an unlikely contender for use on the web.

Firefox programmers have been working on experimental support for WebP, and Apple fleetingly supported WebP in a test version of its MacOS software. But long-term plans remain unclear. Mozilla and Apple didn't immediately comment on their views on WebP support.