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5/19/2010
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Google Gives Web $120 Million Gift

By providing a royalty-free video codec and a store to help sell Web apps, Google is trying to make the Web the leading development platform.

Google celebrated open Web standards at its third annual developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday with a gift and a glimpse of the future: a video codec worth over $120 million and a preview of the company's forthcoming app store for the Web.

"The Web is the most important platform of our generation and because it's a platform controlled by none of us, it's the only platform that belongs to all of us," said Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra.

As has been widely anticipated since Google first announced its intent to acquire video technology company On2 last summer, Google released On2's VP8 video codec as royalty free, open-source software. Video codecs encode and decode video data.

Another major video codec, H.264, is backed by Apple and Microsoft. But it is unacceptable to the open source community for fear of future patent licensing demands. Both Apple and Microsoft have contributed patents to MPEG-LA, the group overseeing H.264 licensing.

Mozilla has refused to implement H.264 to protect itself from potential royalty claims. Mike Shaver, VP of engineering at Mozilla, spoke briefly on stage and made clear his preference for open standards.

"We've seen what happens when the terms of a platform can change at the whims of one organization, and the Web needs to be above that," he said, a statement that appears to refer to Apple's pending iPhone OS rule changes that affect Adobe's Flash technology and other third-party makers of developer tools.

Apple's influence could also be seen in Google's announcement that it is developing a Chrome Web Store to make it easier for Web users to find Web applications and for Web developers to sell those applications. Apple pioneered the online app store business model with iTunes.

Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai justified the need for the Chrome Web Store by saying that it's hard to find Web applications. He also said that Google wants to help create monetization alternatives to advertising for Web developers.

Taken together, these two admissions suggest some limits to Google's core competencies, search and advertising. Google, with a self-declared focus on search, ads, and apps, clearly sees growth opportunities in this last aspect of its business.

No delivery date for the Chrome Web Store was announced, but Pichai did say it would be a part of Chrome OS too.

Earlier this year, Google opened a similar store for its enterprise customers, the Google Apps Marketplace.

Google's aim in all this is, as Gundotra put it, to make sure Web apps can do everything that desktop apps can do. Toward that end, Google has been pushing HTML5, the emerging standard for the next generation of Web apps and Web pages.

Google first began trying to rally support for HTML5 at last year's Google IO conference and Gundotra provided an encouraging progress report. He noted that the technology necessary to allow browser-based applications to rival desktop ones – APIs related to video, graphics, offline storage, and geo-location, among others – are being baked into "all modern browsers."

This remark got a laugh from the audience because Microsoft's Internet Explorer was not among the list of modern browsers on the projection screen.

Not only are the technical underpinnings of HTML5 coming together, but the tools required to develop HTML5 apps are coming together too.

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch spoke briefly about HTML5 support being developed for CS5 Dreamweaver and for an unnamed HTML5 authoring prototype.

Last year, Gundotra declared the Web had won. This year, while it's clear the battle is far from over, the Web finally appears to have the resources necessary to offer an alternative to less open forms of development.

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