Is Google focusing on WebM a bad idea?

Google has announced today their web browser Chrome wouldn’t support MPEG4 codec anymore, to focus on open technologies. Since Google is not known to be low in cash, this really sounds more like a strong middle finger to MPEG LA patent royalties, and a good reason to focus and boost their own opensourced video format adoption: WebM.

google webm

Once upon a time…

I’m sure you already know all that but just in case, here is a bit of history. In August 2009, Google bought On2 for $106M. On2 is mostly know for its OnVP6 Flash video streaming/playback codec. It was not clear what they would do with it but hey, they buy dozens of companies each month and they own YouTube so who knows…

Beginning of 2010, a strong debate about HTML5 video standard divides H.264 vs Ogg. The first has a closed MPEG LA patent and is supported by Apple (of course) and Google. The latest is fully open source and strongly backed by Mozilla & Opera. In those days, HMLT5 is way better supported by smartphones browsers and with iOS taking 80% of mobile web, H.264 come as a ‘de facto’ standard for HTML5 <video> format. Poor performance and april’s Microsoft announcement to support H.264 in IE9 sounds like Ogg death letter to all.

And then BOOM! 3 weeks after Microsoft announcement (i don’t think it’s related anyway), Google I/O day1 is the theater of a $106M donation to HTML5: OnVP8 video codec is open sourced as WebM. Of course, all YouTube videos are from this day available in Flash, H.264 & WebM (see

But let’s face it: Flash is not just a video player, can interact with stats & the most important thing: it can easily overlay stuffs on top of a video… stuffs like Google Adsence banners of course. With this taken in account, Apple keeping straight with its H.264 for Safari & Mobile Safari, Firefox not to support it before Firefox4, Google has no choice but to wait. And YouTube to keep flash as main solution.

The empire strike back

Even if you’re “not evil”, you don’t make a $106M donation to “wait” so how can they boost WebM adoption on top of H.264? Stop supporting H.264 and buzz about it. Time has changed: HTML5 gains more and more momentum every day, iPhone is loosing its height to Android, Firefox is more popular than IE in Europe and its coming v4 release to support WebM, even Microsoft will support WebM in IE9 (if VP8 codec is installed).

Last but not least: Chrome is now the third desktop browser.

So Google decision to drop native H.264 codec support (it will still be supported throw Flash Player) could sounds ballsy, but desktop users can easily switch to Flash player if no VP8 support (which means IE7 & 8 + Safari). When IE9 will be official and get a significant market share (which could be quick with WindowsUpdate) + youTube asking you gently to install VP8 codec, this could be THE massive desktop browsing event/switch in 2011.

Mobile? Until iOS drive the market, i see no big changes for this year…


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