File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Multimedia

Mozilla Brings Native H.264 Video to Desktop Firefox [Updated]

Look Ma, H.264 video in Firefox, no Flash necessary. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

The latest nightly builds of desktop Firefox now support the ubiquitous H.264 video and MP3 codecs. When the current Firefox Nightly arrives in final form later this year, Firefox users will no longer need the Flash plugin to play H.264 web video in Firefox.

Firefox for Android and Firefox OS already support H.264 and MP3, but on the desktop the new H.264 support is, thus far, only available in the Windows 7 Nightly release.

You can grab the latest version of Firefox Nightly from the Nightly downloads page. Once installed head to about:config and turn on the preference media.windows-media-foundation.enabled.

Mozilla long opposed supporting the H.264 codec because it’s patent-encumbered and requires licensing fees. For better or worse it’s also the most popular codec for HTML5 video on the web, which drove Mozilla to take the pragmatic approach and add support to Firefox. Instead of including the codec directly in Firefox, the browser will rely on OS-level tools to play H.264 video.

Eventually all platforms except Windows XP will get OS-native codec support for H.264 video. Windows XP, which lacks OS-level tools for H.264, will continue to use the Flash plugin to play H.264 movies.

Even if you’re not a Windows 7 user there are still a few new tricks in Firefox Nightly, including a revamped downloads panel that’s no longer a separate window (and which bears more than a passing resemblance to what you’ll find in Safari 6) and support for the new CSS scoped style attribute.

[Update: As BWRic points out in the comments below the new downloads window/panel design was actually a Firefox innovation that the Safari team got around to implementing first. You can check out former Firefox UX Lead Alex Limi's original sketches of the overlay window on his blog as well as a follow up post when Safari revealed its take on the design. It's worth noting that Limi's sketches have a nice progress bar in the icon (which Safari adopted as well), which is missing from the current Firefox implementation.]

Firefox’s coming Safari-style downloads window. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

For more on what else is coming in future versions of Firefox, check out the Mozilla blog’s Bleeding Edge and Firefox Development Highlights series.