Yesterday Google announced they’re dropping H.264 video codec support in Google Chrome. Whatever you think about this, it’s an interesting move and I thought I’d express my thoughts on it.
First, in line with my personal beliefs and what I think everything on the web should be, all video support in Google Chrome will now be open! Internet is a democratic right for everyone, and in line with that, we want people to be able to create content on the web without worrying about licenses for the format of the content.
Sure, we can discuss details about the licensing for WebM but I have no doubts that Google’s purpose is to have it completely open.
And no, H.264 is not open, despite what people tell you – read more about that in On Chrome Dropping H.264.
One thing that H.264 has had going for it is great hardware support in a lot of devices and machines. Many people seemed to cry out about WebM not offering hardware support, which is not true. If you check the WebM Supporters page, a lot of big players like AMD, ARM, Nvidia etc are working on it, and according to the word on the street (i.e. Twitter) Intel are open about supporting it.
When something like this happen everyone start questioning Google and their motives, that this is just to hurt Apple and their support for H.264 in iOS, Safari and more. That it’s just to boast their own format rather than one that Apple has invested a lot in (and Microsoft to some extent). It’s also said that it’s Google being open when they want to and feel the need to convey that stance.
One argument is that if this is being done in the name of openness, how come they’re not dropping Flash support then? Flash is even part of of Google Chrome now. It’s a fair point, but I think there’s a difference there: There are tons of more Flash content on the web than video with the H.264 codec, and Flash is being filled with security vulnerabilities and crashes, so for now, it’s just about being realistic and pragmatic.
I think Google’s focus, at this time, is right; top start promoting open formats for video on the web more aggressively and make Flash as stable and secure as they can for end users. What will happen tomorrow? I don’t know, maybe Google removes Flash from Google Chrome.
Supporting Internet Explorer 9, Safari and iOS
For now, and some considerable future, we will have to offer more than one format. Simple as that. A good approach for that is the one I described in Delivering HTML5 video and fallback support with the help of Video JS.
However, while it’s a lot of both hurt pride and investment for Apple to start supporting other formats than H.264, I believe Microsoft could definitely do it. And if Microsoft are for the open web, and they do support it natively in Internet Explorer 9 (and not just if it’s installed on the operating system), it will really make a huge difference and put Apple on the spot.
Because if every major web browser but Safari (both on desktop and iOS) supports WebM, and since Android will definitely have a larger market share on mobile, Apple will have to adapt in the long run.
YouTube dropping H.264 codec support?
Just speculating now, but since YouTube is the de facto video service on the web, a possible next step could be offering videos there only in WebM (and perhaps Flash as a fallback). That would mean that no videos would work on iOS, and either people would start abandoning YouTube, or they would start using other devices/operating systems than Apple’s, if Apple don’t add support for it.
Whatever happens, it’s an interesting action by Google, and I do hope it helps the web evolving into more open when it comes to content creation as well.