Google just dropped support for H.264 in Chrome. John Gruber, among others, is not happy. Now, John Gruber is a very smart guy, but his Apple bias is too much even for me, and it’s preventing him from seeing what is fairly obvious. So, allow me to answer John’s questions, even though I have no inside knowledge whatsoever:
In addition to supporting H.264, Chrome currently bundles an embedded version of Adobe’s closed source and proprietary Flash Player plugin. If H.264 support is being removed to “enable open innovation”, will Flash Player support be dropped as well? If not, why?
Look more carefully at what Google did. They started by supporting H.264 when they had no alternative. Then they introduced a truly free alternative, WebM, which was a major coup. Unlike H.264, this video codec will never hold the Web hostage. Once WebM saw adoption, improvements, and a healthy open-source community, Google was ready to drop H.264, and so they did.
I’m sure that if Google had a true open alternative to Flash, they would follow the exact same pattern. But they don’t. This means they are pragmatists, not free-software purists. They work towards the Open Web, sticking with closed alternatives when they have no other option. I do hope that, when the market tips sufficiently against Flash (and Apple is doing a very good job helping this along, good for them), Google also drops Flash. But there’s a lot more legacy to deal with, so it will take a lot longer.
Android currently supports H.264. Will this support be removed from Android? If not, why not?
I’d say probably yes, but Google is a big company and I’m guessing those decisions are made by different folks. Do you actually expect perfect principled, perfectly timed consistency across the board from such a large business?
YouTube uses H.264 to encode video. Presumably, YouTube will be re-encoding its entire library using WebM. When this happens, will YouTube’s support for H.264 be dropped, to “enable open innovation”? If not, why not?
Maybe. But YouTube dropping H.264 when Apple and Microsoft’s browsers don’t support WebM yet would be a much harsher move, since Safari and IE users would be SOL, and Apple and Microsoft would have to rush to make their browsers compatible with YouTube again while users flock to other browsers. Google Chrome dropping H.264 is a risk Google is taking on, by making their own product less feature-full. That’s a bold move showing they truly believe in the Open Web. Don’t like it? Download another browser. Who’s stopping you?
I suspect Google will gently nudge Apple and Microsoft to support WebM, and only when they do will YouTube switch. That’s the pragmatist, non-confrontational approach.
Do you expect companies like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, Major League Baseball, and anyone else who currently streams H.264 to dual-encode all of their video using WebM? If not, how will Chrome users watch this content other than by resorting to Flash Player’s support for H.264 playback?
Ummm, dude, it’s Google’s product! What are you so upset about? It’s not as if they have a monopoly like, say, Mobile Safari on smart phones. Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, MLB will have to decide how important the Chrome market is to them. As you say, Flash fallback will still work, so they may simply ignore this. More likely, they may be nudged to dual-encode, if enough users like Chrome and are willing to stick with it. That’s the bet Google is making “our product is so good, we have a chance to make the Web more open with it.”
Who is happy about this?
Anyone who sees the risk of deploying another closed technology to form the basic infrastructure of the Web, and the benefit of having truly open Web infrastructure. You should be happy about this.