Jan 13, 2011

Chrome Drops H.264 Support And Why It's a Good Move

You might already heard it. Google dropped the H.264 codec from Chrome and using open and free standards for video only.

Here is an excerpt of the article in the official Chromium blog from Product Manager Mike Jazayeri
"We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies."
 I think it's a great move. And here is why.

If you want to support open standards, you can't help them, when you still use unfree and closed codecs. It's like having a trojan in your system. I wrote enough here, why you should use open video codecs in first line. The H.264 is neither open, nor free (as free beer), nor free (as in freedom). There are licenses, patents and encumbered TOS. This is not acceptable in the world of the internet, which relies on open standards, and free and legal access to technologies without restrictions. Imagine you use HTML but it's only free for private usage. The internet would have never taken off. And as video gets more important on the net, so does the importance of having a video standard that is free for ALL to use and to implement.
That is WebM. And yes, it's totally free software. Head over to the Free Software Foundation. They also recommend it.

Now Mozilla Firefox and Chrome supports open standards only. This means, according to web-browser shares in December 2010, some good 32% of the market can not play h.264. All the other browsers can play WebM to, except of Safari (who wonders, as Apple gains money from h.264?). To make things clear for a reoccurring question: Microsoft supports WebM the same way as any other codec on with IE9. It needs to be installed and then IE9 can use it. It's the same thing with all the codecs. So somewhat of 94% of users can watch WebM with HTML5, where only about 66% of users can watch h.264 in the browser with HTML5. Time for the developers to rethink their strategy and go WebM.

For me, this brings Chrome one step closer to making it my default browser. It was the right decision from Google, and a great leap for the free software movement.  It puts the free video codecs on a tough position and the only way to stop the internet being vandalized by non-free standards, which someday might turn against the interest of all users.