Google’s WebM, a royalty-free open source video format, recently recieved support from Mozilla and Opera Software, and all three browser makers have issued developer builds facilitating WebM incorporation. Google’s move was however interpreted by some analysts as a step towards fragmentation of standards. Ray Valdes, a Gartner analyst, was enthusiastic about the new open standard but wondered if Google, Mozilla and Opera would be successful with the new project.

Microsoft, on the other hand, was rather reserved and although it promised to support the new format, it would not deliver VP8, WebM’s video codec, in its Internet Explorer 9. VP8 is the royalty-free video codec (encoding-decoding technology) used by WebM in order to compress and decompress digital video. It was acquired in February, when Google bought On2 Technologies for $125 million.

Jeremy Doig, Engineering Director of video at Google, and Mike Jazayeri, Group Product Manager, appreciate that no open, free video format is equivalent to the important commercial choices. What they mean by “commercial choices” is undoubtedly the H.264, the codec that is backed by Microsoft and Apple for video format in HTML5, the next-generation development language for the Web. Large companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google (for YouTube) are paying steep royalties for using H.264, while other companies like Mozilla, have firmly refused to do it. Mozilla and Opera have supported the open-source Ogg Theora codec instead, as a substitute for H.264.

Both Mike Shavers, Mozilla’s head of engineering, and Opera’s Chief Technology Officer, Hakon Wiium Lie, are enthusiastic in welcoming the new VP8 technology for the open web, using big phrases such as “tremendous technology” and “great format for video” in appreciation. Mozilla and Opera have even released previews of Firefox and Opera browsers supporting WebM and VP8. Google also added the new codec to Chromium, its open-source project feeding into Chrome, and made promises to push WebM into the “dev” channel of its browser.

Microsoft said it would only partially support WebM. Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager for IE at Microsoft, said that IE9 would support playback of H.264 and also VP8 video in case the user has a VP8 codec installed on Windows, which means Internet Explorer 9 would not package the VP8 codec. IE9 users will have to search for it and install it by themselves!

According to Ray Valdes, Microsoft is the one that could shift the balance in favor of WebM by supporting VP8. In his opinion, Google, Mozilla and Opera do not have the force to counterbalance Microsoft and Apple. He also outlined that everyone agrees to the fact that HTML5 is the future of the web. However, when talking about initiatives like WebM and VP8, things are more complicated. This is because Windows developers, site owners and users want to be protected from IP rights issues when they use Internet Explorer 9 and, unfortunately, there are some possible patent related problems to VP8.

Apple is the only browser maker among the top five that has not expressed its opinion on WebM. Valdes thinks that the future of the web lies with mobile Web and, therefore,with products like the iPhone and iPad, Apple is an important player in this game..

Even if Apple supports the new format, Valdes is sceptical about the benefits WebM would bring to the web. He says that, up until ten years ago, QuickTime, Windows Media and RealPlayer were fragmenting the web, however, Flash video became the standard, and this made the web move forward. A new fragmentation would not be what HTML5 needs right now!