Google has recently announced that they're removing H.264 -- the video compression open standard used by everything from iPad and iPhone to YouTube and Netflix -- from their Chrome browser. Up until now Google has been the only company to support all the major video codecs, including H.264, OGG Theora, and their own, newly open-sourced WebM. Apple supports H.264, as does Microsoft, and Firefox supports only OGG Theora.
Why the sudden change? Some might say to hurt Apple, whose iOS and iTunes depend heavily on the technology and have shown no signs of slowing down even after Google decided to stop so much partnering and start much more competing with Apple directly in the mobile OS and media services space. Others might say it's simply to give Google a competitive advantage and push adoption of their own WebM format. Neither motives are mutually exclusive but again put the advancement of standards-based web technology on the back burner -- something Google once championed. (Hey, you know it's bad when Microsoft is chiding you over lack of standards support, okay?)
Google claims they don't want to support proprietary formats like H.264, which rings decidedly false since they still do -- and have gone out of their way to expand -- support for Adobe's just-as-proprietary Flash plugin. Yes, H.264 caries licensing fees for commercial content but to say those amount to little more than a rounding error when compared to Google's monthly, never mind yearly profits is an overstatement. H.264 is a an international and open standard, supported by hardware acceleration in chipsets and file format compatibility in an increasing amount of consumer video creation and playback gear. It was on its way to becoming the video equivalent of MP3 (which Google probably won't drop support for either). Yet with native H.264 support taken away from Chrome, only Adobe Flash H.264 support will remain (because Flash is packaged right into Chrome, and Flash uses H.264 for a lot of their higher quality video). So in order to watch it, you'll have to use Flash.
Why does this matter to iPhone and iPad users? Because if Google (and Palm and RIM) hadn't chosen to compete against Apple by cozying up to Adobe's Flash the amount of battery draining, phone heating web video content would be lessened today and the H.264 share would be even higher. In other words, we'd have even more iOS-friendly videos and less sites we couldn't access on our iOS devices.
Remember, Flash existed to fill a void in web technology, much like ActiveX in Internet Explorer 6, and like ActiveX (and Real) the advent of better, more efficient solutions would have led to Flash's gradual decrease until it was back to what it was ideally and originally suited for -- efficient frame-based animation.
Apple, famously, doesn't support Flash on iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Apple TV and doesn't even install the plugin by default in Mac OS X. Do we really want Google to be more like Apple?
I've promised to be nicer to Google this year but they're making it hard right out the outset. Still, I'm not going to complain about this as a competitive business decision, and I won't vomit even a little at how they once again disingenuously and insultingly wrapped their competitive business decision up in the cloak of openness in an attempt to pander to open software advocates. (They know better.) I'll just hope Google changes their mind before those self-same FOSSies turn on them. Beware the faboys scorned.
But even if they don't, what will happen? Will YouTube go through the massive re-encoding effort to switch to WebM? Will Netflix? Will iTunes? Probably not, so as usual it will just be us users who suffer. Or switch back to IE...