Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

Summary: Google is removing native support for Apple's favorite video format in their popular Chrome browser. They say they're doing us all a favor to support openness, but what's the real reason?

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TOPICS: Google
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This week Google announced that it was removing support for the H.264 video codec from its popular Chrome browser. Specifically, if web developers use the new HTML5 <video> tag, they can no longer point to video encoded in the H.264 (AVC) standard format for Chrome users. Android users are probably not far behind. The reason given is so Google can devote more resources to support "open codec technologies" like WebM and Theora.

Jason Perlow has suggested that this move will enable Google to save money by not encoding and storing YouTube video in H.264 format. This is not the case, because H.264 is the only format allowed on Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad. If YouTube were to become incompatible with all those devices, it would find itself replaced by competitors which were not so restrictive. Besides, H.264 is the superior format, both technically and in terms of user experience (less blockiness, fewer hitches, and lower CPU utilization).

Brian Proffitt claims that Google is making the move to avoid a patent license trap. The logic goes like this: if H.264 achieves a video monopoly then the group that holds the patents for the format (the MPEG-LA group) will stiff us all for licensing fees when the current nearly-free license agreement runs out in 2016. After all, they wanted Mozilla to pay $5 million recently (Mozilla refused). While $5 million is a lot for a not-for-profit company like Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple had no problem paying it and I doubt it would hurt Google's bottom line one iota. And while I'm philosophically against software patents, H.264 is already hugely popular because of its quality and vendor support. One browser supporting or not supporting it is not going to make any difference in its adoption.

On paper, Google is taking a principled stand in favor of open technologies. But they're not really. First, WebM is not truly an open technology because it almost certainly uses patents owned by MPEG-LA or its members. Right now, the patent holders are ignoring it because it's too small to bother with. We've seen this tactic many times before (for example, NTP vs. RIM): bide your time until a lot of people are using the infringing software and then hit it with a massive lawsuit for maximum profit. WebM is its own patent trap, and Google refuses to indemnify users against possible claims further down the road. If they were certain it was IP-clean then why hesitate to provide that protection? Clearly they don't want that unknown, possibly large liability on their balance sheet.

Second, If Google really wants to promote open technologies, they why is it so cozy with Adobe and Flash? For most definitions of "open", HTML5 and CSS3 are open but Flash is not. Think of all the resources Google put in to sandboxing Flash and checking for Flash updates. Google could use those resources towards making HTML5 more functional and making Flash and other plug-ins obsolete. Ah, but Apple doesn't support Flash, and there's the rub.

Google can use Flash as a foil against Apple because Android supports Flash but iOS does not. Google's double standard is especially noticeable if you realize that Flash supports H.264 video. So Chrome will still play H.264 video, but only if you use a Flash plug-in instead of the standard <video> tag. Clearly, it's not about openness or cost savings: this codec announcement is just another political jab at Apple.

Topic: Google

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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66 comments
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  • I just love it

    when a competitor shoot itself in the foot because it cannot compete with Apple on merit.
    iPad-awan
    • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

      @iPad-awan

      I suppose the same can be said about Apple not wanting to support and/or use things like Adobe Flash.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @bobiroc
        Comeon, everyone agrees.. Flash totally sucks... I actually block it with Firefox ad on.
        Hasam1991
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @Hasam1991<br><br><i>"Comeon, everyone agrees.. Flash totally sucks... I actually block it with Firefox ad on."</i><br><br>Not everyone or did you miss all the people lashing out at Apple for that very reason. While flash may not always be the best technology on the web it is still widely used and the lack of it can impede with a person's web experience.<br><br>For example: Working in Education IT we have online services we subscribe to for testing, teaching, and training services that rely heavily on flash. My School District purchased a good handful of iPads for whatever reason and there were many help desk calls about these services not working on the iPad which is one of the things they wanted to use the iPads for. Of course they were warned about items such as this before they spent $600 on each of those iPads they purchased but ignored it because they wanted iPads.
        bobiroc
      • You'd have a point if iOS devices weren't selling by the bajillions

        but since they are, your comment simply demonstrates a lack of critical thinking ability.
        frgough
      • Re: You'd have a point if iOS devices weren't selling by the bajillions

        @frgough

        [i]"but since they are, your comment simply demonstrates a lack of critical thinking ability."[/i]

        I was just trying to illustrate that he was saying "[b]Everyone[/b] Agrees" based on his own personal opinion. While the iGadgets are good products the are definitely not for [b]Everyone[/b] and many have dumped their iDevice for an alternative which they may view is better for whatever reasons they want.
        bobiroc
      • Sales numbers don't mean a thing around here.

        @frgough

        Vista sold 5 times more than the iPad, but is considered a failure around here.
        rtk
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @bobiroc Apple doesn't compete against Flash so your logic is flawed. Apple's iOS doesn't support flash because of its poor performance on battery devices and its buggy performance on mobile page rendering.
        kent42
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @rtk<br>"Vista sold 5 times more than the iPad, but is considered a failure around here."<br><br>And Pepsi sold more 20-oz bottles than the iPad.<br><br>What? Pepsi doesn't have anything to do with this?<br><br>NEITHER DOES VISTA! So who cares what it sold and if it was any good--it has nothing to do with tablet sales, of which, iPad is currently mopping the floor with the rest.
        lelandhendrix@...
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        Hey lelandhendrix - Anroid is outselling iPhone. Does that count?

        No; only fanboy blind alegiance counts. I understand that mentality. Good for you.
        Stoshie
    • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

      @iPad-awan : Nice biasness. How about thinking about what everyone wants. If Google doesn't support it, so what. i'm sure someone will release some type of update to use it in a browser.
      Gis Bun
    • I am a Chrome user, and I do not have one problem with not having H.264

      built into my browser. I could care less. Only religious Windows propeller heads care, and they don't even use Chrome.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @DonnieBoy Let's see what happens to Youtube if Googs has the balls to drop h.264.
        kent42
  • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

    Just some points.
    Google is leaving h.264 away, for the video tag. Flash has nothing to do with this tag.
    Adobe has told they will add VP8 support to flash in the future.
    HTML5 is not yet finalized, so now is the best moment to try to have a patent free video format usable by the time it will be frozen.
    Haven't the gif give any lessons to people about what might be the danger of using a patented technology on the Web ?
    ummyssalu_33
    • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

      @ummyssalu_33 How many browsers *removed* support for GIF after PNG was developed? Answer: none.
      PB_z
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @PB_z That's because GIF was already all over the web.

        Now they actually have a chance to kill h264 on the web before it becomes as widespread as GIF (thereby poisoning the web).
        wuppez
      • Re: Killing H.264

        @wuppez

        Why kill something just because it is not "Open" technology. H.264 has already been shown to be of very high quality with excellent performance. Why can't it be that the best technologies to get the job done are supported whether they are open or not.
        bobiroc
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @bobiroc Because the web needs to be based on open standards and technologies. Otherwise you might as well kill the web and go back to proprietary everything.
        wuppez
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @PB_z "How many browsers *removed* support for GIF after PNG was developed? Answer: none. "

        Brilliant.
        Rich Miles
      • RE: Chrome users are the latest casualty in Google's crusade against Apple

        @wuppez<br>>> Because the web needs to be based on open standards and technologies. Otherwise you might as well kill the web and go back to proprietary everything.<br><br>Then why the double standard of Google by letting non-open technology like Flash?<br><br>@DonnieBoyo you are one bootlicker of Google. Please chant Google for billion times. We don't care. We know you know nothing when it comes to technologies.
        Ram U