The reality distortion brigade

I continue to be frankly baffled by the vitriol being heaped upon Google for one of its good moves - removing support for h264-encoded content in the video tag in Chrome. As was hashed out at painful length in the initial debates, a patent-encumbered, pay-to-play codec has absolutely no business being in the HTML definition and h264 should never have been accepted as an acceptable codec for the tag in the first place. Any move to discourage its use should be widely applauded.

The reasons why have been rehearsed too many times to be worth going over, so I won't. What really baffles me are the two major objections to this, which seem to be:

1) Google is just doing it to prop up Flash!

To which the obvious answer is...why? Why would Google do that? How does it benefit Google? Google doesn't make any more money out of Flash video than any other form of content. What would be the interest, for Google, in 'propping up Flash'?

2) Google is just doing it because it 'owns' WebM!

Well, yeah, Google owns WebM. In the sense that it bought out the company that developed the codec and open sourced it. So it really doesn't own it very much at all, as the format that's been accepted for the video tag is already open sourced, Google can't take it back, and anyone can develop an alternative implementation (and this has in fact already happened). what? Even if we accept this is true, what's the problem? I think people assume Google can do something Teh Evil with WebM in the long run, once they've suckered us all into using it. I'm as big a fan of Google conspiracy theories as anyone (check my history!) but that just really doesn't wash. Google can't. They can develop some new refinement of WebM, take it proprietary, and try and be evil all they like, but they'd quickly find it wouldn't work, because the 'follow-ups' or 'enhancements' to popular codecs have no built in market. No-one uses MP3 Pro, fr'instance. If you take a popular codec and develop an 'enhancement' of it which is evil, what happens is no-one uses it. So what does Google's 'ownership' of WebM mean, in practical terms? Nothing. It has no stick to beat anyone with. This is in contrast to h.264, which is certainly owned by somebody, in a much stricter sense of 'ownership' (the sense of 'we have a ton of patents and no you CAN'T develop alternative implementations; just ask the x264 folks) - the MPEG-LA. Notwithstanding the frankly impressive chutzpah of those attempting to paint the MPEG-LA as some sort of enlightened, guitar-strumming co-operative of artists and video wizards, what it is is a license fee extortion body which exists to try and screw as much money as possible out of people for the use of fairly ordinary codecs. As mentioned, I'm no particular fan of Google, but if it comes down to choosing between them and MPEG-LA, I'll bend over for Sergey any time. At least he'd whisper sweet nothings. The MPEG-LA would probably smack you around the head with a baseball bat.

As well as baffling, it's almost annoying that it seems people are perfectly happy to get angry at Google over something, just as long as it's what Steve Jobs has told them to get angry about. Which usually is exactly the wrong thing to be getting angry at Google about.


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