Google snubbed JPEG XL so of course Apple now supports it in Safari
Chocolate Factory under pressure to reverse decision to abandon image format
Apple is now supporting JPEG XL – a novel royalty-free image codec that Google last year controversially abandoned – in its Safari browser.
Apple's endorsement has renewed calls for Google to revisit its removal of JPEG XL support in the open source Chromium project – a decision that denied the codec to Chrome and to other downstream browsers like Microsoft Edge.
"Now that Apple is going to implement JPEG XL in Safari, I ask for this decision to be reversed as soon as possible," wrote one individual among several who have posted to the JPEG XL Chromium issue thread since the Apple announcement.
Googlers are among those who previously extolled the virtues of JPEG XL. In 2021, Jyrki Alakuijala, technical lead at Google Research, suggested that support for the codec be added to Chromium's Blink rendering engine.
Alakuijala's proposal cited various reasons to adopt JPEG XL – including better image quality for a given file size than JPEG, better loading behavior, and "ecosystem interest in JPEG XL" at Google, Facebook, and other companies.
Yet when Google reversed course, one of the reasons cited was: "There is not enough interest from the entire ecosystem to continue experimenting with JPEG XL."
There is not! There is, too!
While Mozilla has managed to declare its neutrality with regard to JPEG XL, there's ample evidence of ecosystem interest.
Jon Sneyers, senior image researcher at Cloudinary and editor of the JPEG XL spec, pushed back against Google's claim in a web essay last November.
"If the enthusiastic support in the Chromium bugtracker from Facebook, Adobe, Intel and VESA, Krita, The Guardian, libvips, Cloudinary, and Shopify is any indication, it seems baffling to conclude that there would be insufficient ecosystem interest," he wrote.
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Greg Farough, campaigns manager for the Free Software Foundation, also challenged that assertion in a blog post last month.
"Chromium users came out of the woodwork to plead with Google not to make this decision," said Farough. "It made it anyway, not bothering to respond to users' concerns. We're not sure what metric it's using to gauge the interest of the 'entire ecosystem,' but it seems users have given JPEG XL a strong show of support. In turn, what users will be given is yet another facet of the web that Google itself controls: the AVIF format."
AVIF is patent-encumbered. It's controlled by The Alliance for Open Media – an industry consortium that counts Google as a member.
That's (arguably) not the case for JPEG XL. "Unlike some other modern formats, JPEG XL is not encumbered by patents nor does it require proprietary software," the codec's documentation website explains. "The reference software, libjxl, has a permissive open source license and is a production-ready library that can be (and already has been) integrated into a variety of image-related software."
A patent granted to Microsoft last year covering a data-encoding technique called rANS (range Asymmetric Number System) could complicate the picture.
Sneyers told The Register he doesn't believe the Microsoft patent is relevant.
But others, such as Jarosław Duda, assistant professor at Institute of Computer Science at Jagiellonian University in Poland and developer of ANS (from which rANS is derived), have expressed concern because JPEG XL uses rANS to improve image compression.
When The Register corresponded with Duda last October, he cited an online discussion post arguing Google’s decision to drop support for JPEG XL was driven by engineers who favored AVIF technology, and represents unfair competition that needs to be addressed by regulators.
"Those decisions by Google engineers, who have a vested interest in the competing standards of AVIF and WebP succeeding, stifle their JPEG XL competition by removing support for the JPEG XL codec and then promote a Google technology monopoly by lying about the community interest in JPEG XL and the incremental benefits that JPEG XL offers,” the post said. “That’s antitrust."
The post argued that Google’s dismissal of JPEG XL shows that the tech giant should be forced to turn over control of the open source Chromium project to neutral governance."
For its part, Google appears to be hedging its bets: a separate entry in the Chromium bug tracker calls for continued testing of JPEG XL libraries to ensure JPEG XL support can be revived in Chrome at any time. ®