Google removing H.264 from Chrome does nothing to HMTL5In some technology circles, you’d think Google was proposing throwing cats into a wood-chipper from the way some people are reacting to Google’s announcement that it was focusing its support on its own open VP8/WebM and Theora video codecs, and dropping support for H.264. This is not a step back for openness; any kind of new road-block for HTML5; nor is it going to ruin the Chrome browser. It’s just another chapter in the Web’s video standard wars.
Let’s start from the top: How can Google’s move be a step back for openness when both WebM and Theora are the only video codecs that actually are open source? H.264 while extremely popular is a proprietary format and its encumbered by patents held by MPEG LA, a patent holding company. Historically, MPEG LA hasn’t charged much for the use of H.264, but who’s to say that MPEG LA is always going to stay that generous?
Today, as the patent lawsuit madness surrounding smartphones shows, technology innovation is starting to take a backseat to patent litigation. Even the open-source favorite Theora isn’t completely clear of patent issues.
Maybe, in the long run Google just wants to see what patent trolls may be out there waiting for either VP8 or Theora. In the short run, as Jason Perlow suggests, perhaps Google wants to cut down on the infrastructure costs of supporting half-a-dozen plus different video code variants. After all, if someone really wants H.264 video, depending on its container, they can view it with Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, or some other browser add-on program that includes H.264 support.
Or, maybe, here’s a thought, this is a strategic move against Apple, which doesn’t support Flash on the iPhone or iPad and against Microsoft, which is supporting H.264. Google wouldn’t be the only other Web-browser company doing this. As open-source expert Simon Phipps points out both Firefox and Opera also support Theora.
This seems to me to be the most likely explanation. There seems to be this illusion that HTML 5, the latest proposed version of the Web’s foundation markup language, would somehow magically get rid of all the fights about video codecs and we’d all be able to view all video from any browser. What nonsense!