Opera, Opera Turbo, Google Chrome, and the WebP Image Format

WebP, Opera, and GoogleHey all! Something just came to my attention while doing some work for a client, and I thought I’d bring it up as it doesn’t seem to be well known or documented. Note beforehand that though I’ve been using computers for most of my 36 years of existence (my first computer was a Commodore 64), I don’t claim to constantly keep up on changing Web standards. That’s why I probably haven’t heard much about a new endeavor by Google to improve lossy image compression. Try to follow along as I’m going to toss out a lot of information and links, some of it which may be confusing.

On September 30, 2010, Google announced their WebP standard as something “that promises to significantly reduce the byte size of photos on the [W]eb, allowing [W]eb sites to load faster than before.” By the spring of 2011, the WebP lossy file format became natively supported in the Google Chrome and Opera Web browsers. Specifically, Opera Turbo — a feature added to the browser in mid-2009 that compresses Web data to increase load speeds — uses the WebP standard extensively, though mostly behind the scenes.

Opera Turbo essentially works likes this: you request a Web page be loaded from a server, then that request is redirected to special Opera servers, which grab the page, quickly compress it, and then direct it back to your Web browser. This usually doesn’t result in anything drastically different in the view, and the conversion of images to the WebP format goes unknown. But there’s a point where this breaks down and becomes intrusive to someone who doesn’t have a clue about this process.

See my experience, which has brought me to typing this out. I’m doing some freelance writing, editing, and wiki maintenance for a client, and this has included downloading images from his existing Web site and uploading them to his wiki page. Aside from actually being given access to the client’s current server or being e-mailed an archive of the images, this process seems the easiest, especially given that my client is extremely busy. Yesterday I right-clicked and chose “Save Image…” from the Opera menu without issue, each time defaulting to a .jpg save type. That experience changed today, much to my confusion. The default save type when I tried it today was “.webp”, confusing me greatly.

“What the heck is a .webp file format?” I asked myself, “And why is it defaulting to .webp when the file is obviously a .jpg file?” It wasn’t until after I performed a Web search that I found that this new default was related to Opera’s turbo setting. Indeed, I had turned Opera Turbo on shortly before seeing this strange new default. Unsure of how to proceed, I turned off Opera Turbo, refreshed, and wala! — no more .webp default format.

Granted, this may be too specific of a case (and thus may not represent a realistic situation for most Opera users), but I was still shocked by both how intrusive this change was and later how undocumented the change was. The only places I found reference to this change were a handful of news articles and the change log for the 11.10 version of the browser. As for the intrusiveness of it, I was further annoyed as the browser gave no notice that the default image format had been changed. Now that I’ve researched the issue, I better understand what’s going on and why, but it doesn’t lessen the surprise and frustration of the experience.

Now, aside from turning off Opera Turbo, one could also remove the .webp file association from Opera in order for the browser to default back to the .jpg format in the “Save Image…” dialog. (Tools>Preferences>Advanced tab, uncheck “Hide file types opened with Opera”, quick find “webp”, Edit…, remove text from “File extensions”, OK, OK) However, this seems rather defeatist as you’d essentially be gimping the inherent purpose of Opera Turbo; at that point you might as well just turn it off.

By the way, Opera might be be doing similar format conversions (I haven’t confirmed this yet), converting other files into formats like WBMP and WebM during its content conversion for Opera Turbo. Don’t be surprised if a similar issue could arise when trying to do the same thing with other types of online media. I don’t use Google Chrome, but I make the uneducated assumption that Chrome isn’t utilizing this sort of behind-the-scenes conversion unless the user has enabled it somehow. I need to research this more, but it leaves me to believe that Opera is the first browser to truly utilize WebP so actively in the background.

To close, this isn’t so much a complaint as it is an advisory. If you find yourself in a similar situation, scratching your head as to what the heck WebP is and why you’re seeing it as a default save format on Opera, this is why. I’ll leave the technical discussion of whether WebP will ever/should overtake the .jpeg/.jpg format to someone else. However, this experience was yet another reminder to me that when it comes to the Internet, Web standards do indeed change, and sometimes it’s a Goliath corporation like Google leading the charge.

Further reading: Get the WebP codec for Windows

12 Comments on “Opera, Opera Turbo, Google Chrome, and the WebP Image Format

  1. Hi thanks for the tip. I work for Fujitsu as a PC/Server Engineer and your quite correct. It is the Turbo mode on Opera that converts jpgs to the .webp. I was doing my nut trying to sort this problem out. Thanks for the tip.

  2. This happens to me as well, but on google chrome, and I have no idea how to fix it. Google said they won’t help, and nothing else I can find online knows how to fix it. I have already tried re-installing chrome, and it still does it.

    • Hey, Kyle! I’m going to do a little research into how Google Chrome is handling WebP. When I first wrote this, I was primarily concerned with Opera, but I’ve since started using Chrome as a secondary browser for my Google accounts. If I can find an answer to your quandary, I’ll post another reply.

  3. I just downloaded images in Opera with turbo enabled and got the webp file type instead of jpeg. When I opened the images they seemed crisper than jpeg and I find no problem with this. I naturally wanted to know what the webp was and after I got the info, it is not a problem, but your article is very good in explaining what this is. I think Opera should have mentioned why this was occuring.
    thanks for your article.

    • No problem, Chuck! I’m glad this seems to have helped a few people out there on the Web. Kyle, another reader, is having some issues with WebP on the Chrome side of things, so I’m going to do a bit more research to see what has changed in the year and a half since I wrote this.

      Also, I’m curious if Opera’s soon-to-be change to WebKit will affect its image processing tools: http://my.opera.com/ODIN/blog/300-million-users-and-move-to-webkit

      Thanks again, and best of fortunes out there.

  4. Hello;
    I am using Opera and I know about the Turbo effect and I am NOT using it with Turbo on, but suddenly, since 2 days, all the images on Facebook, etc., are being downloaded with the webp extension (after the jpg.) and my usual image browser cannot open them, I must open them with irfanview and save as jps. This is terrible for me to waste time on. I turned Turbo on & off, reinstalled an earlier version of Opera (had 12.15, now have 12.11) did a registry clean with CClean, booted the PC, uninstalled an image SW called Pixel something and I still cannot get rid of this bloody webp. Please help, how can I stop my images from being saved as webp??? Thank you for any info. And I repeat, my Turbo is turned off.

    • Sky,

      Thanks for the inquiry. As you can see from previous comments recently, this seems to be a growing issue.

      I have to admit, I’m very confused as to why you would suddenly be _defaulting_ to WebP. You say this started two days ago, but what happened? Can you think of anything you may have installed, upgraded, etc. that may have changed this? I actually don’t have a suggestion for you right now, sadly.

      I did a little bit of web searching, but I can’t come up with a good reason as to why you’re defaulting to this image format. According to this recent post: http://www.webmonkey.com/2013/03/put-your-site-on-a-diet-with-googles-image-shrinking-webp-format/

      “So far only Google Chrome and Opera support WebP (both also automatically convert all images to WebP for their respective proxy browsing mobile services).”

      The way this reads, the mobile applications automatically default to WebP for proxy browsing, but it doesn’t sound like the desktop browser should be doing that.

      There’s more info here that may be relevant, but I need to sort through it and do more research: http://blog.netdna.com/developer/how-to-reduce-image-size-with-webp-automagically/

      One thing to consider: if you downgraded your Opera browser, there’s still the distinct possibility it retained the old configuration files. Make sure your reinstall of Opera is clean-clean, meaning you’re not reusing old config or preference files.

      I have a lot going on, but I obviously need to research and write about this issue more. I know that doesn’t help you much, but I’ll continue to look into this problem.

  5. This article is pretty old but this just happened to me. Opened Opera, downloaded some images that I’m quite sure were originally jpgs, and got webp files.
    The problem is that apparently in 10 years, the webp file hasn’t made much headway, regardless of how great it might be. None of my image editing programs will either read or write webp files. So they’re completely useless to me.
    Seems if a browser producer wants to do this, they ought to at least give the user an easy and intuitive way to turn it off.

    • Ten years later, and I’m still annoyed by WebP. What’s changed for the format since I last wrote that? As it turns out, its adoption has been less than enthusiastic. I personally have seen it most used with some online open-access journals. But outside of that, it seems a bit sparse in its adoption. We still have articles like this one from Forbes that crop up about the amazingness that is WebP, but the end result is mediocre. Yeah, it has benefits, but eh? As it turns out, others are not so enthused and ask how to disable WebP images, for example in Firefox. And 10 years later we have a new format, AVIF. What will happen to it?

      Sorry you’re having problems in Opera. As it turns out, I abandoned it some years ago. I’m typing this in Vivaldi at the moment. I feel kinda’ “eh” about it, but it doesn’t suck, so I stick with it out of laziness. No idea what the state of Opera is these days. But good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.