Fall out continues from Google’s announcement last week of dropping H.264 support from the Chrome browser. It has become clear that while Google hides behind a veil of promoting openness on the internet and ending the codec schism, they are really making a move to promote WebM and even send support to their buddies at Adobe. It’s bad people and every media outlet with some stake in the future of HTML5 has come out with near universal disapproval. Of course, some support it in the genuine belief that we should not have royalties associated with HTML5. While that is a completely valid belief, don’t think for a second that’s Google’s real intention.
So I’m going to suggest something pretty radical here, and bear with me as I explain. We don’t need Google to be HTML5’s guardian. Instead, I nominate Steve Jobs. Over the past few years, Jobs has on rare occasions released manifestos of sorts on topics that he feels are worthy of an extended response beyond his usually terse emails. It was Jobs who placed the last nail in the coffin on DRM for music downloads when he released his “Thoughts on Music” essay in 2007. Few fully comprehend how much of a landmark effort that was by Jobs, unequivocally placing Apple is support of a world without DRM. By later that year, EMI was offering DRM-free content and eventually the entire music industry folded in 2009.
Then, in 2010 Jobs provided another manifesto against the current state of web video with “Thoughts on Flash”. While less ground breaking than ending DRM, the remarks about Flash laid down the law in Apple’s development community that they will do all in their power to move away from the plug-in that they only begrudgingly have to support. Jobs alluded to HTML5 often in that essay, but I think he can guide HTML5 away from the damage that Google has created. It may involve the “Reality Distortion Field” but HTML5 needs an enthusiastic leader. Jobs and Apple was that leader for iOS, but they now need to lead the rest of the internet.
I’m not saying this because H.264 has to be the codec of choice, but because Google propping up Flash with their move towards WebM. It’s no secret Google has gotten very cozy with Adobe over the years. They bundle Flash 10.1 with Android 2.2, Youtube continues to be one of the largest repositories of Flash video on the net, and Chrome now has Flash player bundled in it. In Google’s ideal world, you will have two options for video: Flash with H.264, and HTML5 with WebM. Sure, Google may want to see HTML5 end Flash eventually, but not as long as they have such a rich relationship. Think about it: clearly Adobe was very threatened by Apple’s refusal to adopt Flash video on iOS. So they turned to Google as their trojan horse into the mobile space. Google makes it clear they are ok with Flash continuing, this is a quote from their Chromium Blog post yesterday regarding the issue:
H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome.
See? Google is saying that if you want H.264 video, just turn to Flash and Silverlight plug-ins. Plugins like the WebM version arriving for Safari and IE9 soon.
Given that Adobe and Google are creating a power play against Apple and the rest of the MPEG, I think Jobs is the man to continue the support of H.264 as the preferred codec for HTML5. There should be no compromise. How does Jobs do this? Apple extends an olive branch by forgoing the royalties they would get from their contribution to the H.264 standard. The time is now for Apple to nail Flash’s coffin shut by ensuring that H.264, the best video codec on this damn earth, does not remain a jewel in Flash’s crown. Help us Steve Jobs, you are our only hope.