Google Chrome Adds WebM Video, Drops H.264

The Web video cold war has broken into open conflict.
Some see Google's decision as harmful to HTML5 adoption. Jeff Geerling, a St. Louis, Mo.-based Web developer, said the move is making him consider moving back to Apple's Safari browser. WebM and Ogg (Theora) are not well supported beyond Firefox and Chrome, he said, pointing to professional video software like Apple's Final Cut and Adobe's Premiere as examples of applications that don't deal with WebM or Theora files.

"This is a bad move, and will set the adoption of HTML5 video back even further," he wrote in a comment posted to Google's Chromium blog.

Others offering comments condemned Google's decision because they believe it will encourage video publishers to use Flash video. That would be bad for Apple because its iOS devices don't support Flash. Faced with a surge of interest in Flash, Apple would probably prefer to accommodate WebM on its devices than to reverse its position on Adobe's technology.

If Google's gambit doesn't go well, the company has a nuclear option: Turning off H.264 on YouTube. Though it's unlikely Google would do this -- it would force users of Internet and Safari to switch to Chrome or Firefox (or to install a WebM extension) to view video on the site -- such tactics might become necessary if Apple or Microsoft draw blood through some form of technical retaliation.

Such worries may be overstated. H.264 has only a few years left before it is superseded by a new standard. The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) is considering patents for the H.265 standard. It remains to be seen how Google's backing of WebM will affect this video standards process.

Given the slew of patent suits in the mobile arena at the moment, there's an expectation that Google will be sued, sooner or later, for patent infringement related to its video technology (video being particularly relevant on mobile devices at the moment). Intellectual property activist Florian Mueller claims that all the major video codecs are encumbered by patents. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has suggested that a patent pool is being assembled to attack Theora, which Google is now saying it will use. It would hardly be a surprise if this ended up in court.

Nonetheless, Mike Shaver, VP of engineering at Mozilla and a supporter of open source software, praised Google's announcement and expressed doubts about assertions that WebM is vulnerable to patent claims.

"I am confident enough in WebM that we're about to ship it to 400M+ people," he said in a tweet, referring to the forthcoming release of Firefox 4.

For Further Reading

Review: Google Chrome Browser Gets Business Friendly

Editor's Choice
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author