In an understated announcement on the Chromium blog, going forward, Google Chrome will drop support for the encumbered H.264 video codec and will support only VP8 (through WebM) & Theora video natively. This is great news for the open web, as it will further strengthen the stance of supports of free, open, and unencumbered formats — arguably the only way to preserve the spirit of the web as a public resource and a means of free information exchange.
The move is likely to rub some that do not attach importance to unencumbered formats the wrong way. But it is important to point out that the patent blade hanging over the heads of the entire web, should H.264 video adoption become the only option for video formats, places an inordinate amount of control in the hands of the few corporate interests that hold these patents. Such a situation is a looming problem that only a strong stance in support of free-as-in-freedom web formats can have any hope to avert.
Indeed, it is in the financial interests of the world at large, as well, to support such open formats, as outside of the MPEG-LA cabal, no one profits from the licensing that is or can be placed on any usage of the H.264 format. So, it is unnecessary to point that this is in Google’s financial interests, because as that is true, so is it true for everyone else.
Finally, for those that wish to make the technical argument that H.264 is a superior format over the other optiones (e.g., VP8 or Theora), while superficially true, of what advantage are the technical superiorities of a format if your usage of it is restricted, as it happens to be with H.264. (I would like to refer those new to this issue to read our related post on what, exactly, you can & cannot do with the H.264 format, according to MPEG-LA’s license terms: http://www.librevideo.org/blog/2010/06/14/mpeg-la-answers-some-questions-about-avch-264-licensing/).
So, once again, we welcome Google’s decision to use their clout to encourage a more open web, and we hope that content providers will recognize the wisdom behind this move, and we call upon them and everyone else to raise your voices in support of moves like this that enable user freedom, and not to hinder them.
As a final point, it is important that open codecs be supported on all hardware and software platforms. If you are a user of such a platform that does not yet have support for an open format like WebM or has not yet announced intention to support it (it is still new, of course), then it is important to let your voice be heard and inform them the importance of using such technology. It is a far lower cost, in the long run, to support a web format that does not carry with it a burdensome license, than it is to perpetuate an encumbered format for a small, short-term gain.
Update: Added a link to the actual announcement. *grin*