Google Chrome dumping H.264 video sparks angry responses from Microsoft, others


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Google Chrome is going to drop H.264 video codec, dumping arguably the most popular video standard currently on the Internet in favor of WebM, a format it created.

The move has stirred anger, with many comparing Google’s dropping of H.264 with Apple’s abandonment of Adobe Flash.


Among those who have spoken out against Google’s decision is Microsoft evangelist Tim Sneath, who in a tweet likened the decision to despotism.

Sneath’s Twitter message linked to a blog post he wrote comparing the move with abandoning English in favor of Klingon, titling the post ‘An Open Letter From the President of the United States of Google.’

Ars Technica called the move ‘a step backward for openness.’

Jason Perlow, writing on ZDNet, speculated that the move had more to do with future infrastructure costs for Google’s Web video behemoth YouTube than what’s best for the Internet.

According to TechCrunch, H.264 format video made up about 66% of the video on the Web. H.264 is royalty free as long as it’s distributed for free; otherwise, companies have to pay a licensing fee to MPEG LA, the group that owns the patents on the format.

WebM is a royalty-free video standard, with no current licensing fees in any form, and its list of backers includes Adobe, Mozilla (builder of the popular Firefox browser) and Opera, among others.


Apple and Microsoft are huge supporters of H.264. Abode Flash isn’t yet compatible with Google’s WebM video format, though it is compatible with H.264 video. But Adobe has said WebM friendliness is on its way.

Flash, a downloadable add-on for many Web browsers, is baked into Google’s Chrome browser, leading to others, such as John Gruber of Daring Fireball, to call Google a hypocrite for embracing one not-open standard while shelving another.

So why is Google doing this? The company said Tuesday it was focusing on more open video standards -- those being its own WebM codec and the little used Theora standard.

The move is merely the latest in what is a never-ending battle to determine what the future of the Web will look like and what technologies and formats will power it.

‘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,’ Google Chrome product manager Mike Jazayeri said in a blog post announcing the move.

‘These changes will occur in the next couple months but we are announcing them now to give content publishers and developers using HTML an opportunity to make any necessary changes to their sites.’



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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles