One of the technology battles that’s happening well under the surface, and out of the eyesight of many users, is the battle of the video codecs. There are many codecs on the market today, ranging from the H.264 (Apple’s preferred codec), WebM (Google’s open-source initiative with a VP8 codec), Theora (the Firefox alternative), and several others. As a key player in this fight, Google has a lot of development power. More importantly, however, Google has a lot of power in other industries — which it’s bringing to bear in this battle.
According to a report on Tech Crunch, Google has officially announced that it will no longer be supporting the H.264 codec in its Chrome browser. Given that Chrome is now at 10% of market share in the U.S., and an even higher percent in Europe, this is no small shift for users on the whole. Currently, the H.264 codec is completely free, but there’s no guarantee that it will remain so forever; as a closed-source project that may or may not becoming commercial, it’s possible that licensing requirements will be added down the line.
The claim from Google was that this was a shift for the sake of supporting the open-source community, including “more rapid innovation in the web media platform,” more consistent HTML5 support, and a push for “open web principles.” Google specified that they would be supporting WebM and Theora, but that they would be glad to add “support for other high-quality open codecs in the future.”
The H.264 technology is an important one for Apple, Google’s major competitor in the smartphone and tablet industries. Apple uses the technology independently in an attempt to overcome Flash, which is a primary video source. Ironically, Flash, which also uses the H.264 codecs, will continue to receive support from Google, showing a painful double standard.