Mike Melanson at ReadWriteWeb, among others, has this latest development with regard to video standards on the web. With the adoption of the video tag into HTML5 minus a default codec, the question has largely been left to browser makers to decide via their share of users. Apple has of course been backing H.264 in which it has considerable stakes invested. Mozilla has maintained a commitment to open and unencumbered standards, supporting Ogg Theora and then WebM, the format and codec that Google freed, but not H.264.
Up until now, Google had been playing Switzerland supporting both open and proprietary codecs in Chrome. Melanson quotes a Google blog post explaining their change of heart to focus exclusively on open formats and codecs.
We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. 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 blog post also credits the openness of WebM for its rapid improvement and adoption since its first availability. That may be a relatively fair assessment but Google’s backing no doubt had a lot to do with it, too. By comparison Ogg Theora has developed at a slower pace with much shallower adoption. I think the unencumbered nature of WebM makes it attractive to partners who otherwise might feel they are giving up too much control to Google while the backing of the search giant attracts those more interest in support and maybe a hope of indemnity if anyone ever makes good on submarine patent claims. It is nice they are crediting the open nature of the technology but it isn’t the whole picture.
More staunch critics of Google’s motives are already pointing to continuing support for Flash, asking why the commitment to open technologies doesn’t extend to dropping Adobe’s plugin. I am simply happy that Google is acting to shift the balance in one instance even if other questions are unanswered. It will be a few months before this change percolates from Chromium, the open source branch, into the more consumer facing Chrome anyway. We’ll need more time beyond that to see if the move to drop H.264 support has any noticeable effect on video producers and sites for distribution. *cough* YouTube *cough*
Google Says It’s Open or Not At All for Video on Chrome, ReadWriteWeb