Just , Microsoft announced it would migrate their Groove Music subscribers to Spotify – a streaming music service which is probably the web’s largest user of the Vorbis audio codec. , Microsoft also announced that they will add support for the open media standards Ogg (media container), Vorbis (audio codec), and Theora (video codec) to a future version of Windows 10 and Microsoft Edge.
The Microsoft Edge platform development status page announced on that Microsoft is now working on implementing support for these new media formats. Edge is usually the first part of Microsoft to announce such changes as Microsoft has seen the need to keep a more open dialog with web developers about upcoming changes to the platform. The news comes way too late for support for the new media formats to be included in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update due later this year.
Update (): Microsoft have now released support for Ogg media container files and these codecs as an optional add-on to Windows 10 and Xbox One available for free in the Microsoft Store.
Windows 10 already support other open media formats like the Matroska (MKV) container format, the WebM video container format, as well as the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) and recently the Opus audio codec. MKV, WebM, FLAC, and Opus support isn’t just limited to Microsoft Edge – they work in Windows Media Player and throughout the Windows platform. This will likely be the case for Ogg, Theora, and Vorbis too — because who’d really want to maintain two separate multimedia implementations on one platform?
I’d hazard to guess that the decision to work on adding support for Vorbis at this point may have been heavily motivated by Microsoft’s growing partnership with Spotify. Last week, Microsoft announced it would migrate their Groove music customers to Spotify. Spotify shipped an app for the Xbox One and appeared in the Windows Store just . To continue on my trail of speculation, I’d also like to point that we might were well be seeing signs of a possible Microsoft acquisition of Spotify in the works right here. The two companies sure are tying tighter bounds between each other.
Spotify have been using Vorbis as their default audio codec on desktop for years. As far as I can tell, Spotify’s 140 million active users (as of ) makes them the world’s largest distributor of Vorbis encoded audio.
Until now, Spotify have included their own Vorbis audio codec decoder (libvorbis and libogg) as part of the Spotify software. I believe that Microsoft can provide better performance and reduce the power requirement with their own implementation as part of Windows compared to decoding audio outside of the native Windows multimedia stack. While this may not matter much on high-end desktop computers, laptops and Xbox consoles running on Windows 10 may benefit more form a better platform integration.
The Vorbis audio codec isn’t only used in Ogg media containers; but is often found in WebM media containers. Microsoft Edge and Windows 10 already has partial support for WebM video playback without audio. Getting Vorbis playback in place would mean Microsoft product would be capable of playing back even more WebM files without dropping their audio streams.
Vorbis have tried to compete as an unpatented and cost-free alternative to the MP3 audio codec for 17 years without any notable success besides being the format of choice for Spotify. The last patents to the MP3 audio codec expired . It could be that Microsoft wouldn’t commit to supporting Vorbis for all those years until after the possible unexplored legal treats from MP3 format rights holders had been laid to rest.
Vorbis offers better sounding audio at in much smaller file sizes compared to MP3. Yet the format hasn’t had any large organizations pushing for its adoption. Users have had the ability to install support in Windows for the last 14 years, but who really installs any add-on codecs these days?
Going forward, Windows will support three more open media formats which is good for the open web and the free exchange of culture and media. The only remaining web browser vendor who’ve not shown any sign of adopting any open media formats, besides Opus, is Apple. Will Microsoft’s newfound love for open standards sway the last holdout to reconsider adopting open formats? I sure do hope so.