(adj) having or exerting a malignant influence

January 12, 2011

Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

– The Chromium Blog

Not Evil

Google believes in the openness of the internet. They idealistically believe in supporting only 100% unambiguously royalty free video codecs. H.264, while close, does not meet these standards. It is controlled by an advisory board that has made a commitment to have no licensing fees ever, but only for non-commercial use. For Google (and Mozilla, which has already taken a stand against H.264) this isn’t good enough.

For these reasons, Google will be phasing out support for H.264 in Chrome. This move will accelerate the implementation of the WebM standard and help ensure the longevity of free codec use on the internet. Google will do their part by converting their YouTube videos all to WebM and for the foreseeable future making them capable of running in Flash, H.264 and WebM until WebM achieved parody with H.264 technology in terms of hardware acceleration, stability on mobile devices and battery life performance. Once that happens, Google and their services will stop supporting H.264. We believe that these standards are achievable and will work our hardest with software and hardware companies alike to make this a reality for all users on all platforms.

Evil

Google will do almost anything to handicap iOS at this point. It is already on its way to the lion’s share of the smartphone market and it wants to keep it that way. It wants to do to iOS what Windows did to the Mac OS: sub 10% smartphone market share

What better way to do this than to leverage its three most valuable assets: Chrome, YouTube and Android. They haven’t announced lack of support for H.264 in YouTube or Android yet, but it is only a logical extension to their current rationale for dropping support for the codec on Chrome. Once this happens, browser makers far and wide will start suporting WebM videos. Content producers will do the same. Knowing that older browsers don’t support that format though, Google hopes that they will turn to Flash as their backup. This covers pretty much everyone on the desktop, but who does it leave out on the YouTube fun? iOS users.

In an effort to marginalize iOS’s market share, Google is willing to announce the removal of support for the most popular video codec in use today. Let’s make this clear. Google is not omitting a popular feature from a future product, as Apple did with Flash. They are removing support of a feature from an existing product. People who use Chrome today have support for H.264. People who use Chrome a year or two from now won’t.

By the time that Chrome no longer supports H.264, Google hopes (fingers crossed!) that the WebM standard will have gained hardware acceleration support, stability on mobile devices and have a minimal effect on battery life. Then, they can put it on Android phones which will likely have a significantly larger market share than iOS devices by this time. Steve Jobs expressed disdain for WebM in the past and Google hopes that he will be too stubborn to go back on them when (if?) WebM achieves parody with H.264.

While all of this is happening, Google hopes more developers will go back to Flash. That’s something that everyone who is afraid of Apple can support, right?

Like all polarizing arguments, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

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