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