Google recently announced their plan to remove H264 video support from chrome's use of the HTML <video> tag. This caused a lot of people on the internet some anger, tirades of evilness and more. I however view this in a different light.
Google can do whatever it wants to in its browser and if I don't like it I can use something else. Even if Google wanted to kill H264 it would likely have little luck without at least the cooperation of another large operating system player like Apple or Microsoft.
- There are no shortages of open source browsers. Firefox, Opera and Chrome itself. If Google does something that doesn't make sense there are plenty of other browsers to take Chrome's place. Google's browser market share is still small and is primarily composed of early adopters, exactly the audience you don't want to upset.
- Arguments about video-codecs and encoding have taken place for years. Real Networks, Windows Media Player, QuickTime, etc. Every company that's in the video space tries to create a better video codec. It's not really surprising the Google is trying to push it's own WebM technology. The problem is that rather then introducing a new codec and trying to prove it's value and worth they are instead limiting choice. If Google added their WebM technology while keeping H264 support web developers could make the choice themselves. By pulling built-in support for H264 it forces web-developers to use Flash to work around Google's limitation.
- It's most surprising that Firefox and Google don't have a joint strategy for online video. Both in theory support open standards, open source and even have offices right next door to each other. By having divergent strategies it actually slows down innovation as there is no clear right way to do video.
- The big elephant in the room that Google is ignoring is the close to 80 million iOS devices. H264 is requirement to access these devices. Large web properties (including YouTube) are unlikely to re-encoded all their content for the potential of streaming to one browser.
Ultimately search traffic is more important to Google then video standards. If this change causes a shift in the former I expect them to back peddel on the latter. Even if WebM is a better format the right way to gain adoption is not by trying to force the format on web developers and consumers. If it's that good Google should convince the Firefox team and WebKit teams to support it.