Google Dumps H.264 Video From Chrome, Just to Rattle Microsoft and Apple

Last Updated Jan 12, 2011 5:01 PM EST

Google plans to remove H.264 video support from its Chrome browser. The video standard (also called AVC) has been part of a fight over the future of the Internet. It looks as though Google has unilaterally broken the existing détente.

H.264 is important because it represents the controversy over how to deliver video under HTML 5 -- the future of how content is created and delivered to browsers. My BNET colleague Chris Dannen thinks that Google's decision has much to do with potential licensing costs for sites -- like YouTube -- that broadcast video.

However, sites that stream video without charging users got a permanent pass on license costs last summer. A brief read of the MPEG LA licensing terms confirms this:
In the case of Internet Broadcast AVC Video (AVC Video that is delivered via the Worldwide Internet to an End User for which the End User does not pay remuneration for the right to receive or view, i.e., neither Title-by-Title nor Subscription), there will be no royalty for the life of the License.
The issue is not money. (Even if Google were to pay for using H.264, the top license fees are immaterial compared to its revenue.)

No, this is entirely about control. Both Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) have aligned with the H.264 camp. Google is a competitor to both and basically wants whatever they don't want. Should technology favor its own WebM open video standard, both Microsoft and Apple would either have to scramble to add support or try to walk away from Web-delivered video (much as Apple has walked away from Adobe (ADBE) Flash).

Google has a difficult task ahead of it. The company claims that its WebM patents are all that a company would need, but it doesn't offer indemnification in case of a patent infringement suit, as free and open source software expert Florian Mueller notes. This issue has become more pointed as some smartphone vendors that use Google's Android operating system have been sued for alleged patent infringement by Apple and Microsoft. Web sites will be wary of using a technology that might land them in court.

Related: Image: morgueFile user taysm, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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