updated 11:35 am EST, Wed January 12, 2011
Microsoft jabs Google dropping H264 in Chrome
Microsoft Client Platform team member Tim Sneath jabbed Google for its decision to drop H.264 support in HTML5 for Chrome in favor of WebM. He compared it to a country deciding to drop English as a language in favor of artificial languages like Esperanto and Klingon. The remarks pointed out the irony of claiming to promote openness and choice by artificially removing the most practical, popular option.
"Though English plays an important role in speech today, as our goal is to enable open innovation, its further use as a form of communication in this country will be prohibited and our resources directed towards languages that are untainted by real-world usage," he joked.
He also underscored the gap between actual usage and Google's claims that WebM was well adopted, pointing out that Esperanto had broad use by "as many as 10,000 speakers."
The criticism echoes that of many commenters following Google's abrupt change in policy. Most mainstream accessible HD video both online and off today is encoded in H.264 and would need to be either transcoded or put into a Flash container to be viewable in Chrome. Some developers and video editors have said they plan to abandon Chrome as an explicit target since they would have to support at least two and possibly three video implementations to get Chrome to work.
Third-party plugins may work around the flaw, but critics have noted that Google so far hasn't been consistent in dropping proprietary formats and still has fully integrated Flash. The company has commercial motives to keep Flash in spite of its principles, as YouTube is still only guaranteed to work for all videos in Flash and Google has a formal agreement with Adobe to promote Flash in its software.
Apple and Microsoft currently support H.264 in HTML5 and, as the defaults browser providers for their respective platforms, are likely to keep H.264 in majority use. Mozilla's Firefox and Opera's self-titled browser currently only support open formats like WebM and Ogg Theora, but both currently have flat market share where only Chrome and Safari have been seeing measurable gains.