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Google’s New Image Format: WebP

Google has been working to make the Web faster by releasing a number of developer’s tools for site owners and Web Developers to use to speed up their sites. A free Firefox extension called Page Speed, for instance, evaluates the performance of a Web page and suggests improvements for tuning. The same plus an application performance tune suggester for Chrome is also available as Speed Tracer.

Now Google is focusing on the most common cause for slow website loading: graphics.

=== Current Graphics Compression Options Are Outdated

Most of the current, widely-accepted universitycafe graphics compression formats are more than a decade old. JPG/JPEG, GIF, and others have been around for at least a decade and use compression technology that is just as old. Google sees this as a major area with room for improvement.

Images make up about 65% of the bytes transmitted in the average website. So any improvement to this area will make huge strides towards speeding up the Web. Most images are saved in what are called “lossy” formats ~ formats which cause a loss in the picture or graphic’s appearance in favour of higher compression for smaller file size. Lossy formats include JPG/JPEG. Lossless formats include GIF and PNG.

=== How Google Improves On Lossy Compression

In May of 2010, Google released an open-source code called VP8 which was meant for video use and lead to the WebM format Google is now working with the community on perfecting. The WebP format is based on that same compression code, VP8, but is being applied to still images rather than video.

The results are pretty surprising.

Google engineers took about a million random graphics from around the Web and re-compressed them using WebP. The average file size was reduced by 39%. Engineers think that even better results can be had from raw images (uncompressed file formats, such as those on your camera).

Now, Google is working on perfecting the WebP format and promoting it to Web browser developers such as Mozilla (Netscape and Firefox). The format will soon be supported by Google’s own Chrome browser.

Another addition in the works is the ability to support an alpha channel (transparency layer), which is supported in both GIF and PNG formats, but not JPG/JPEG.

=== Implementing the WebP Format

The new format will be included in Chrome, as mentioned, and Google has released a free tool for converting existing graphics to the WebP format. It is expected that if the payoff in terms of file sizes and use are as significant as Google says, then most browser makers will include support for it. Once they do, the graphics software makers (such as Adobe) will likely follow suite.

This means you could be seeing graphics with a.webp extension in the near future.

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