Google Chrome Openness Fail: Drops H.264, Promotes Flash & WebM
FAIL: Google drops the efficient H.264 open standard from Chromium (source of Google Chrome web browser) falls back to Flash and WebM instead.
H.264 vs. Flash / WebM: Google Openness Fail
Putting ideology before practical reality, this month, Google drops H.264 and fragments HTML5. The excuse? Openness. Reality: closed-sourced Adobe Flash can offers its proprietary H.264 video wrapper without competition, and Chrome will force people to use WebM, the untested Google video codec.
Arstechnica has an excellent analysis on the Google fail: “Google’s dropping H.264 from Chrome a step backward for openness.” Highlights:
- H.264 is an open-standard, ratified by standard body ISO and ITU
- H.264 is royalty free for content freely available
- H.264 for HTML5 has no DRM
- H.264 is supported by whole consumer electronics industry and content providers. It’s used in blu-ray, cellphones, etc.
- H.264 is efficient (smaller file size at higher quality, with years of built-in hardware support = better battery life)
Adobe, Google’s partner offers a closed, competing product:
- Flash is closed-sourced, proprietary software from Adobe
- Adobe charges Flash server fee, it’s not free
- Adobe Flash can add DRM to H.264 videos
Google video codec, WebM VP8:
- WebM VP8 is not ratified by any standard body such as ISO
- WebM VP8 was a commercial product developed in secret
- WebM is untested in the market. Most existing mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Nokia, Microsoft, RIM / Blackberry, & most Android phones) are NOT made with WebM support (note: a demo at CES 2011 does not equal an actual product. Even the WebM project web page still uses Flash by default, even in Google Chrome)
Next sections contains some excerpts from the article:
H.264 Open Standard vs. Closed WebM VP8
Ars: “H.264 is unambiguously open”:
“The specification was devised collaboratively, with its final ratification dependent on the agreement of the individuals, corporations, and national standards bodies that variously make up ISO and ITU. This makes H.264 an open standard in the same way as, for example, JPEG still images, or the C++ programming language, or the ISO 9660 filesystem used on CD-ROMs. H.264 is unambiguously open.”
Google WebM VP8 is actually closed and proprietary:
“At the time of its development, VP8 was a commercial product, licensed by On2. Keeping the specifics of its codec secret was a deliberate goal of the company. Though it has since been published and to some extent documented, the major design work and decision-making was done behind closed doors, making it at its heart quite proprietary.”
H.264 vs. WebM VP8
H.264 vs. WebM is different from case of GIF vs. PNG:
“The GIF image format was at one time patent protected, and the company that held the patents, Unisys, did go after certain implementers of its patent, successfully extracting royalty fees from some of them. But all the while, GIF was widely used across the web, and there’s no real sense that the web was held back by the GIF patents. For most purposes, GIF has been supplanted by the patent-free PNG, but for many users the reason for the switch was not patents at all, but PNG’s technical superiority: PNG supports 32-bit color with transparency, as opposed to GIF’s 256-color restriction. WebM has no such technical superiority over H.264.”
Google’s hypocrisy of including proprietary MP3 and AAC, while removing a competing product is highlighted here by Arstechnica:
“Other features, too, should be culled. Chrome (currently) supports MP3 and AAC audio when used with HTML5’s tag. Both of these compression algorithms are patent-encumbered, and neither is royalty-free (though both are, like H.264, open standards developed by industry consortia). They should be no more acceptable to Google than H.264. But if the company plans to remove them, it certainly hasn’t said so.”
Conclusion: Google Openness Fail
Arstechnica explained why Google marketing term of “openness” fails. In short, Google removes a competing technology (h.264) while promoting its partner’s product (Flash) and its own product (WebM) under the guise of openness. Mean while, Google continues to offer non-competing patented technology such as MP3, AAC, and GIF.
So, is Google the new Microsoft?
The Mountain View company seems to be copying Microsoft’s strategy of ape and maim (copy without offering anything better, and goes after competing products with PR offense and removing support). The WebM strategy seems akin to offering free Internet Explorer in the 90s. Ironically, Microsoft might stop Google’s effort to fragment HTML5:
Microsoft to Improve Google Chrome?
Recently, Microsoft adds H.264 support to Firefox, so it’s likely that Microsoft will improve Chrome with a plugin for H.264 support.
Google Plans YouTube Pay-Wall?
OP Editor’s take: for content that is freely available, aka not behind pay walls, H.264 is DRM-free and royalty-free. So perhaps Google is taking steps to set up a DRM-filled WebM YouTube pay-wall behind the guise of openness?