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Jan 13

Sometimes it is how you say it; Google and H.264

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There has been a ton of fire on the Internet around the news from Google that it is dropping support for H.264 from the Chromium project. I think that this is a great example of how the way it was messaged could have really hurt Google.

A core issue that Google has is that now it is large, people read many things into its actions. In the case of video on the Web, who rules the roost at Google? There are many parties that have skin in the game in some way:

  • YouTube delivers a fair amount of video on the Web
  • Google Chrome (browser, OS, etc)
  • Android
  • Google TV
  • Google Voice
  • GChat
  • … and the list keeps going and going!

I love it when people editorialize only one of these heads. For example, this piece on how the whole thing is actually just about YouTube and their costs. YouTube is only one player.

The key problem is that Web video is friggin’ messy. The Web loves openness. Users love functionality. We are in a period of time where the two aren’t always aligned, which ends up with many people having to double encode and support multiple formats.

Also, both sides of the argument love to talk to extremes, but the lines can be a little grey.

For example:

  • Some people wrote about how Firefox is doing great in Europe which is a huge market, and thus everyone will be doing WebM. Erm, there are lots of other markets with millions of people where that isn’t supported.
  • Others say that WebM handled as part of a standards group, and thus “it isn’t an open standard! H.264 is!” WebM is licensed very liberally indeed, and is in a position to be very much an open standard. To put the nail in this coffin, it would have been fantastic for Google to have come out with a message that talks about plans for standardization and what they are thinking.
  • “Google should stop delivering Flash!” On one side people say, “Come on. Flash is ubiquitous enough that Chrome needs it to be a competitive browser. The battle here should be to move the Web fast enough and add capability which means that plugins aren’t as needed for certain situations.” If you care about DRM and other items in video, you may wish that you can use <video> but you can’t yet. The other side will say “Google is being disingenuous with their use of the ‘open’ word 8 times in their post.” Again, I do think that the communication could have been clearer from them, and they could have explained much more why they are doing this.

In general, that post comes from “Mike Jazayeri, Product Manager.” Who is that cat? Where are these thoughts really coming from? Is it from an On2 guy looking to fight the fight? from a policy person? from YouTube?

Sometimes it is how you say it, and I think Google could have done a much better job getting their partners briefed and unified proactively, and a better job in explaining what they are really doing. A group like Mozilla can make a much more respectable argument based on the grounds of openness and the long term. Asa is out there fighting the good fight right now in fact (commenting on this great post by Haavard@Opera):

In 6 months time, of the HTML5 capable browsers, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, IE9, Safari, more 2/3rds (by usage stats) will support WebM exclusively and less than 1/3rd will support H.264 exclusively.

H.264 is not winning when it comes to HTML5 video support. WebM is winning. Actually, it’s more than just winning; it’s kicking ass.

Now. Back to an incredibly messy world of video. It isn’t about the number of HTML5 capable browsers. There are a few phones that support H.264…. and although hardware support is coming soon for WebM, it aint here yet, and the majority of content isn’t encoded in WebM. This is all great news for companies such as Brightcove who get to leverage the pain that we all have in the (hopefully) transitional phase to an open world for Web video.

Updated Google saw the commotion and I am glad to see that they joined the conversation and gave more information in this clarification.

One Response to “Sometimes it is how you say it; Google and H.264”

  1. Tom Says:

    Some people aren’t willing to give up anything the web has achieved so far using H264, so they condemn Google’s move. But it seems to me they aren’t aware they might be signing a contract with Web-Death itself for the next ten years if they do choose sides with MS and Apple, resulting in yet another stagnated web for the years to come, just like it was when IE6 ruled the internet.

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