Regarding Gruber’s “Simple Questions…Dropping of H.264”

(John Gruber recently asked, in public, five questions regarding Chrome dropping H.264 support. I sent him the following e-mail to help shine a light on the mentality of such people as well as I can.)

Chrome’s impending drop of H.264 support seems oddly parallel to Apple’s dropping Flash support in its various products ever since OS 10.6 shipped with an exploitable version of Flash. Apple’s been trying to distance itself from others’ opaque, buggy, crash-prone technologies as much as it can, and because of this, the Web is a slightly better place for having alternatives to Flash as a video delivery vector. I run Safari without Flash installed per the instructions you posted on Daring Fireball, and I chuckle every time YouTube suggests that upgrading to Flash 10 will improve my playback performance compared to YouTube5.

But.

Viewed from what I imagine is Google’s general perspective, H.264 is similarly problematic. It’s patent-encumbered (and, unlike Apple, they’re not in the patent pool), and money spent on licensing others’/rivals’ video formats is money not spent on things that they have at least an equal say in the development of. This, I strongly suspect, is also Mozilla’s reasoning for not ponying up for an H.264 license.

With this in mind, your five questions:

In addition to supporting H.264, Chrome currently bundles an embedded version of Adobe’s closed source and proprietary Flash Player plugin. If H.264 support is being removed to “enable open innovation”, will Flash Player support be dropped as well? If not, why?

Probably, eventually, if they can get away with it. Especially if there are any patent costs associated with shipping browsers that expose H.264 decoding functionality present in bundled Flash.

Android currently supports H.264. Will this support be removed from Android? If not, why not?

Probably, eventually, if they can get away with it.

As I understand things, Apple’s much more willing to use specialized hardware to keep iOS snappy even though the CPU, by itself, isn’t capable of smooth scrolling or full-screen video playback. Google, by contrast, tends to prefer to keep more processing on the CPU, which means that there’s no hardware H.264 decoder to switch away from.

(One of the reasons why I suspected Apple never bothered to add Vorbis support to iTunes was because there were hardware MP3 decoders for its iPod lineup, but no real Vorbis ones.)

YouTube uses H.264 to encode video. Presumably, YouTube will be re-encoding its entire library using WebM. When this happens, will YouTube’s support for H.264 be dropped, to “enable open innovation”? If not, why not?

If/when it happens, it’ll be billed as an optimization, possibly with some greenwashing.

“By moving exclusively to WebM, our datacenters will emit 40% less carbon, keeping our planet happy! Additionally, uploaded videos will be ready sooner!”

Do you expect companies like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, Major League Baseball, and anyone else who currently streams H.264 to dual-encode all of their video using WebM? If not, how will Chrome users watch this content other than by resorting to Flash Player’s support for H.264 playback?

Flash as an interim solution. Maybe WebM will take off enough for dual-encoding, or maybe it won’t. Like Jobs, they’re certainly willing to try jettisoning direct support for things they don’t like.

Who is happy about this?

Anyone who thinks that the proliferation of patent-encumbered standards are bad for the Web, and anyone who thinks that you shouldn’t have to pay anyone one thin dime in royalties to get your message out on the Internet, and nobody else has to do so on your behalf, either.

I suspect there’s at least some overlap between the people who’re cheering on Google’s H.264 support drop and Apple’s Flash support drop. Not because they’re necessarily fans of either Google or Apple, but because they think H.264 and Flash are grotesquely popular piles of poo.