Before you read on, you need to be on Windows 7 for this plug-in to work. If you are on an older version of Windows (and really, why?), we apologize. Mac users, there is a reference to Microsoft in the post title, so you must have expected to be out of luck.
That out-of-the-way, if you are running Firefox 3.6+ on Windows 7, Microsoft has a goodie for you: a nifty new plug-in that allows for H.264 playback on HTML 5 pages in Firefox, something that has long been wished for.
Why did Microsoft take the time to build the plug-in? According to their Open Source blog, “Because H.264 video on the web is so prevalent, this interoperability bridge is important for Firefox users who are Windows customers.” In other words, because Microsoft could, they did.
The plug-in draws on “the built-in capabilities found in Windows 7” to handle the video format inside of Firefox.
Why couldn’t you handle H.264 video using Firefox before? It all comes down to money, it turns out. Tom Warren from WinRumors summarized the situation succinctly:
Mozilla dislikes the technology due to its patent licensing royalties. Google has introduced its own open-source technology, WebM, that it plans to support for the HTML5 video specification. The current web war between H.264 and WebM over HTML5 means developers have a hard choice over which codec to support for their HTML5 videos. Until the war pans out and all browsers support the same codec then it’s a mixed bag.
Whatever the case and what side you find yourself on, you can grab the new Microsoft plug-in here if you are a Firefox user.