Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

Summary: Since Google announced that it is planning to drop support for the H.264 codec from its Chrome browser (and presumably Chrome OS) the blogosphere has exploded with thoughts, ideas, rants and conspiracy theories about what motive the search giant could have for this move.

SHARE:

Since Google announced that it is planning to drop support for the H.264 codec from its Chrome browser (and presumably Chrome OS) the blogosphere has exploded with thoughts, ideas, rants and conspiracy theories about what motive the search giant could have for this move.

So what does Google want? Let me sum it up for you in two words - Free lunch.

See, this move has nothing to do with open source. Sure, open source makes a great scapegoat, a great excuse, but if this were truly about Google wanting Chrome to be pure, unadulterated open source, the company wouldn't have baked Flash into it for a start.

Is it about YouTube storage, like my colleague Jason Perlow suggests? Well, I do find his argument compelling, but the problem I have with his argument is that is for this to be the reason, Google must have somehow, somewhere dropped the ball and not properly worked out the projected storage demands for YouTube. Google offered YouTube uploaders HD, allowed for different formats, allowed longer videos. If Perlow is right then this was done with no concern for the impact it would have on storage until someone sat down with a pencil and the back of an envelope and calculated projected storage needs for the next few years and instead of coming up with a number, that poor engineer came up with a noise, something like:

"Aaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

I dunno, maybe Google dropped the ball, but if that was the case, there's more the company could do to reduce storage demands than cling to an inferior video codec.

Is it about money? Yes, but it's not up-front licensing ... George Ou has the details:

Google which owns the world’s largest free video streaming site YouTube was facing a serious patent bomb from the MPEG-LA patent pool in 2015 when the free licensing terms for free video streaming sites expired.

By threating to switch to the new “WebM” standard which used the VP8 compression technology that Google acquired from ON2 for $106.5 million of Google common stock, it forced the MPEG-LA to promise free streaming licensing terms indefinitely.  The fact that VP8 has its own patent uncertainty and that VP8 is obviously inferior to H.264 is irrelevant because its mere existence constitutes a viable bluff. Considering the cost of patent lawsuits, $106.5M is chump change. And since Microsoft already paid for an H.264 license at the operating system level and they’re willing to extend it to third party web browsers like Mozilla Firefox at no charge to Mozilla, Google can recoup an additional $6.5M a year by letting Microsoft create an H.264 plugin for Chrome.

So Google is after a free lunch. It wants free streaming licensing terms forever, and wants someone else (Microsoft or perhaps Adobe) to pick up the tab for the codec.

This makes a lot of sense, a lot more sense than this being an open source or storage issue.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser, Google, Hardware, Open Source, Software Development, Storage

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

28 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Apple has done more for open source than Google ever will

    Google is run by freeloaders and leeches. This is why Google will always be a subpar company.
    iPad-awan
  • Donnieboy will soon be along to explain it to all of you.

    He's still ironing his cheerleader outfit. You know, the one with the gigantic "G" on the front.
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Yep

      @Hallowed are the Ori

      WebM is far superior than H.264 because Google owns it and he says so. The only ones who say otherwise are Windoze dildos, whose opinions don't matter as there aren't many of them anyways.

      I think that about sums up what I've gotten from him this week. Did I forget anything?
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

        @Cylon Centurion 0005
        You are correct. Thats for this week. His predictions always come true like "nobody uses Windows 7 and Office 2010." <b>Like 7 new installations of Windows 7 every second is no one.</b>
        Ram U
    • Guys, RELAX, you do not even use Chrome, what do YOU care what codecs are

      supported. Chrome, ChromeOS, Android, WebM / VP8 are ALL open source. Go back to your caves and run you Win32 applications, formating madly to print on 8.5x11 paper. Don't forget your printers.
      DonnieBoy
      • Right...

        Wrench >> About Google Chrome

        [b]Google Chrome
        7.0.517.41[/b]

        Now... you were saying?
        Hallowed are the Ori
      • YOu make it seem

        @DonnieBoy

        PC's still come in beige boxes. Eitherway, your impressions of PC users is way off.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

        @DonnieBoy

        Gee I migrated to Win64 Donnie and if you're really lucky, Linux might get to reproduce bad clones of Win32 software some day. I mean OO almost reproduces Office 97 so you only have 13 years to wait ;-)
        tonymcs@...
  • Google: stay the course.

    We live in a time where software patent law suits are invoked at the drop of a hat.<br><br>I am happy to embrace and use 'an inferior' codec because there is no contingent liability in doing so. From software patents come exploitation and human suffering.<br><br>Google continues to chart a course that leads the way to the betterment of Mankind and with a pledge to 'do no evil'.<br><br>God Bless Google.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

      Wow.... that was.... wow.
      Hallowed are the Ori
    • WOW.. LMMFAO... you are one scary man.. LOL..

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate.. you seriously need to get out more.. get some sun, breath some fresh air etc.. we're talking about a video codec here.. not human right.. you understand that right.. this stuff might be fun to talk about but you understand that in the grand scheme of things this ranks pretty damn low with all the things going on in the world.. you understand that right.. "God Bless Google".. Wow.. you need some serious help..

      "no contingent liability"? are you kidding me?? everyone that's been over that code says that there will be.. those format are not going to be free of licensing and everyone knows it, including Google.. only you seem willfully oblivious to that..
      doctorSpoc
    • For the fringe tech-geek

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      this is the type of thought that makes sense. For the average user, the words "open source" "closed source" "patent encumbered" and so forth don't matter. They want the product that works better.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Cogitation: It's good for you.

        @goff256

        A letter from Donald Knuth to the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks on the issue of Software Patents:

        h-t-t-p://www.pluto.it/files/meeting1999/atti/no-patents/brevetti/docs/knuth_letter_en.html

        His ideas still stand on their own as sound.

        [b]"Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks
        Box 4
        Patent and Trademark Office
        Washington, DC 20231

        Dear Commissioner:

        Along with many other computer scientists, I would like to ask you to
        reconsider the current policy of giving patents for computational
        processes. I find a considerable anxiety throughout the community of
        practicing computer scientists that decisions by the patent courts and the
        Patent and Trademark Office are making life much more difficult for
        programmers.

        In the period 1945-1980, it was generally believed that patent law did not
        pertain to software. However, it now appears that some people have
        received patents for algorithms of practical importance - e.g., Lempel-Ziv
        compression and RSA public key encryption - and are now legally preventing
        other programmers from using these algorithms.

        This is a serious change from the previous policy under which the computer
        revolution became possible, and I fear this change will be harmful for
        society. It certainly would have had a profoundly negative effect on my
        own work: For example, I developed software called TeX that is now used to
        produce more than 90% of all books and journals in mathematics and physics
        and to produce hundreds of thousands of technical reports in all scientific
        disciplines. If software patents had been commonplace in 1980, I would not
        have been able to create such a system, nor would I probably have ever
        thought of doing it, nor can I imagine anyone else doing so.

        I am told that the courts are trying to make a distinction between
        mathematical algorithms and nonmathematical algorithms. To a computer
        scientist, this makes no sense, because every algorithm is as mathematical
        as anything could be. An algorithm is an abstract concept unrelated to
        physical laws of the universe.

        Nor is it possible to distinguish between "numerical" and "nonnumerical"
        algorithms, as if numbers were somehow different from other kinds of
        precise information. All data are numbers, and all numbers are data.
        Mathematicians work much more with symbolic entities than with numbers.

        Therefore the idea of passing laws that say some kinds of algorithms belong
        to mathematics and some do not strikes me as absurd as the 19th century
        attempts of the Indiana legislature to pass a law that the ratio of a
        circle's circumference to its diameter is exactly 3, not approximately
        3.1416. It's like the medieval church ruling that the sun revolves about
        the earth. Man-made laws can be significantly helpful but not when they
        contradict fundamental truths.

        Congress wisely decided long ago that mathematical things cannot be
        patented. Surely nobody could apply mathematics if it were necessary to
        pay a license fee whenever the theorem of Pythagoras is employed. The
        basic algorithmic ideas that people are now rushing to patent are so
        fundamental, the result threatens to be like what would happen if we
        allowed authors to have patents on individual words and concepts.
        Novelists or journalists would be unable to write stories unless their
        publishers had permission from the owners of the words. Algorithms are
        exactly as basic to software as words are to writers, because they are the
        fundamental building blocks needed to make interesting products. What
        would happen if individual lawyers could patent their methods of defense,
        or if Supreme Court justices could patent their precedents?

        I realize that the patent courts try their best to serve society when they
        formulate patent law. The Patent Office has fulfilled this mission
        admirably with respect to aspects of technology that involve concrete laws
        of physics rather than abstract laws of thought. I myself have a few
        patents on hardware devices. But I strongly believe that the recent trend
        to patenting algorithms is of benefit only to a very small number of
        attorneys and inventors, while it is seriously harmful to the vast majority
        of people who want to do useful things with computers.

        When I think of the computer programs I require daily to get my own work
        done, I cannot help but realize that none of them would exist today if
        software patents had been prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. Changing the
        rules now will have the effect of freezing progress at essentially its
        current level. If present trends continue, the only recourse available to
        the majority of America's brilliant software developers will be to give up
        software or to emigrate. The U.S.A. will soon lose its dominant position.

        Please do what you can to reverse this alarming trend. There are far
        better ways to protect the intellectual property rights of software
        developers than to take away their right to use fundamental building
        blocks.

        Sincerely,
        Donald E. Knuth
        Professor Emeritus
        "[/b]
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
      • If patents are removed

        from software? I'll be one of the first people to give a nice hooray. I was just stating that the average user merely cares about performance, not about what is used to get that performance. Do I support software patents? Not really, though I do believe that people should get paid for their work (everybody should get paid for good work).

        I will continue to support h.264 until VP8 is improved upon to be as good or better, though. To me, the end product is worth it.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • Patent Act of 1790

          @goff256

          h-t-t-p://www.the-business-of-patents.com/origin-of-patents.html

          [b]"Article I, section 8, the U.S. Constitution states:

          Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."[/b]

          Much has changed since then:

          United States:

          * Patent Act of 1790
          * Patent Act of 1793
          * Patent Act of 1836
          * Patent Act of 1922
          * Patent Act of 1952
          * Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act of 1980
          * Patent Reform Act of 2005 (not enacted)
          * Patent Reform Act of 2007 (not enacted)
          * Patent Reform Act of 2009 (currently pending legislation)

          Now, this isn't fringe thinking. And I don't believe that what I referenced in my opening thread constitutes fringe thinking either--quite the opposite, in fact, is the notion that open source unencumbers and liberates society to do what should be considered integral to mathematics, developing algorithms, without risk and exploitation.

          Nothing is written here about copyrights which may need revision to improve upon their original intent as well as the Patent Act.

          But I will reaffirm that Google continues to carry forward their credo: Do No Evil.

          And by making gestures such as buying a multi-million dollar company and open sourcing their 'algorithms' they are being major contributors to elevating the pure usefulness of the Internet to the larger betterment of Mankind.
          Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
      • Do No Evil Dietrich?

        With all the shit Google has done lately, their mantra is "Do More Evil".
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • I respect what google is doing

        I also support the effort for Patent Reform, there are way too many trolls out there.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

        @goff256
        I think we all would have been better off if they had stuck to allowing copyright of source code and forgot about issuing patents for software! Some of the stuff is so basic, that it isn't even possible to "re-invent the wheel" to get around them!
        leopards
    • Enjoy inferior technology then

      NT
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Is Google after an H.264 free lunch?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate
      I think you better stick to advocating Linux. VP8 is still underscope by MPEG LA for possible patent breaches and if they find one, it is not going to be good day for Google. Thats the reason there is h/w accelaration for it now and probably there wont be in future at least near future.
      Ram U