Monday, January 17, 2011

Google closes the door on an open standard?

Is it licensing?

Peter Bright at Ars Technica reports that Google is dropping H.264 video support from it's Chrome browser. You might not think that would be a big deal. It was announced Firefox wouldn't support H.264 and hardly anybody blinked. But Firefox isn't Google.

Peter points out that Googles stated reason - to support open formats - doesn't hold water. H.264 is an open standard. What it isn't is a free standard - the licensing is capped at $6.5 million a year. But Google has a video codec of it's own, WebM. It may not fulfill the traditional definition of an open standard, but it's free. And cost effects even as rich a company as Google - but maybe not quite in the way Peter believes.

Or Infrastructure?

Jason Perlow, a ZDNet contributor, believes there is another reason Google wants to drop H.264. The cost of using H.264 is negligible for Google. But Google has properties that dwarf the cost of H.264 licensing. Chief among them would be YouTube. H.264 is widely supported, but Google's removed of H.264 support has raised the concern that H.264 support may be dropped from YouTube next.

According to Jason the real cost of supporting H.264 is in the infrastructure required to support it. Servers, storage space, and the bandwidth required to support multiple video formats are not cheap. Being able to get rid of one could put a significant dent in those costs. Getting rid of one that also has 6.5 million in licensing puts an even larger dent.

That's understandable, but it could effectively scuttle the efforts to simplify video on the web. HTML5 has a new tag, the VIDEO tag, that is supposed to work like the IMG tag - the type of image doesn't matter, and neither would the type of video. But it won't work if the browser won't support the video format. It may not work if the largest distributor of streaming video on the web doesn't support the standard.

It's amazing that a company that claims to promote open standards could be responsible for scuttling one online.