Google JPEG alternative aims to speed up the Web

The new WebP image format makes images more byte-size, enabling websites to load faster and saving storage space

In its continuing attempts to make the Web faster, Google is trimming down the size of image files, which make up about 65 percent of the bytes on the Web.

Google announced late Thursday afternoon that it's releasing a developer preview of a new image format, which it's dubbed WebP. An alternative to the JPEG format, which is typically used today for Web pictures and images, WebP should "significantly" reduce the byte size of images, Google promises.

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And that reduction is expected to enable websites to load a whole lot faster. "Images and photos... can significantly slow down a user's Web experience, especially on bandwidth- constrained networks such as a mobile network," Richard Rabbat, a Google product manager, wrote in a blog post.

"In order to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts, we randomly picked about 1,000,000 images from the Web (mostly JPEGs and some PNGs and GIFs) and re-encoded them to WebP without perceptibly compromising visual quality. This resulted in an average 39 percent reduction in file size," he wrote. "We expect that developers will achieve in practice even better file size reduction with WebP when starting from an uncompressed image."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, noted that this level of file size shrink could greatly speed up transferring of images. The issue will be making WebP a standard in a JPEG world.

"If it were to become a standard, it could spur performance gains on a wide range of applications, not just Interenet content. However, this isn't anywhere close to a slam dunk," Olds said. "First, the new format would have to be able to offer the same range of quality as JPEGs. And the JPEG standard is unniversal, and it's going to take a huge effort to replace it with another format no matter how much better it might be."

Olds was quick to add that this might not only affect Web speed. This also could affect storage. "While lots of images are tiny files, it adds up fast," he noted. "The average Web session probably includes hundreds if not thousands of individual images. So smaller image files will pay dividends in terms of storage, speed in image loading, and even quicker email if you're sending images as attachments."

And that could mean a lot of disk space savings for the online enterprise.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Google JPEG alternative aims to speed up the Web" was originally published by Computerworld.

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