If the title of this article made you rub your eyes and gave you cause to double check to make sure you were reading what you thought you had read then I don’t blame you. Under normal circumstances you certainly wouldn’t expect Microsoft to develop or enhance a competing product.
Unless of course there was something in it for Microsoft.
Since the release of Windows 7, Windows has had native support for H.264 baked into the operating system with full hardware acceleration (unlike some third party codecs which is why it is normally best to use the built-in codecs to take advantage of hardware acceleration and also maintain system stability). Furthermore, Internet Explorer 9 will also have native support for H.264.
So why is Microsoft mucking around in Google’s sandpit?
Personally, I reckon Microsoft saw the light when its competing Windows Media Video (WMV) format did not become the de facto standard in the marketplace. Since giving WMV to a standards body in the last few years Microsoft needed to back a technology that was popular and not technically obscure. H.264 has had a meteoric rise in recent years and almost any device can play the format.
The approach that Microsoft seems to be taking is old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” line of thought. Google wants to push its own WebM standard (which sounds a lot like Microsoft’s attempt with WMV making Google look like the new Microsoft) rightly or wrongly as the video format for HTML5. These days, browsers need to embrace technology and, in particular, the mainstream technology of the day including H.264.
Maybe Google is trying to bring about change to head off the whole royalty payment issue that the Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) has downplayed by denying that they would be seeking payment for use if their codec. Otherwise, is there a hidden agenda that is not yet apparent?