Today Google informed us of their decision to drop support for H.264 Video Encoding in future builds of Chrome. Because I’ve been been involved in Product Development in one form or another for the best part of 15 years, I’m well aware it is often harder to decide what to leave out of the feature set than what to include. Competing requirements from multiple stakeholders are often allowed to turn your product into “bloatware” as they fester side by side so as to satisfy “one key client”, “allow us to sell into a new market” or ensure “feature completeness”.
Once in it is often even harder to remove a feature, especially one which you relied on so much in the past. So I usually stop to congratulate a business when it decides to streamline the feature set of a product. If the feature no longer fits your strategy or is not used by enough customers to support its’ continual testing and maintenance which having retaining the function often necessitates, then many benefits often come out of its’ removal.
I’m aware that when decisions like this are taken, they are often unpopular – assuming you have even managed to get them all the way to final candidate! This is where the marketing and PR teams come in. In house, you build alternative workflows and workarounds for the most important customers and include that in the PR which goes out around the change. For the rest you can either suck it and see or try to hide the negative change behind some fancy words.
Google’s announcement uses terms to rationalise the change which I would normally approve of; “focusing our investments” and “our resources directed”. Under Google’s normal business principles using those words in association with terms like “licensed based on open web principles” “our goal is to enable open innovation” and “completely open codec technologies” seem natural.
So then, because Flash is even more proprietary than H.264, and as John Gruber points out Chrome not only supports Flash, it ships with its own embedded copy of Flash I was also expecting the announcement to make reference to it’s removal in order to satisfy Google’s desire to foster the “open web” and “open innovation“. Unsurprisingly, and likely because Google have a partnership with Adobe to promote Flash it wasn’t mentioned.
Google, like every other company has the right to make commercial decisions about their products and their strategy any time they like. That they’ve made a commercial decision to focus their development resources in Chrome for WebM instead of H.264, because WebM isn’t supposed to be encumbered by Licence restrictions as H.264 currently is seems sound. That there’s an iOS v Android battle in the Mobile world and with Chrome’s market share still low enough it’s almost a logical progression they should make this decision now as it protects their own and their partners commercial benefit.
But framing the conversation on H.264 as being about ‘open technologies’ while not removing Flash support at the same time and continuing to use H.264 as an encoder for YouTube, means that they are fooling nobody but themselves and their “Open Source” cheersquad.
Perhaps WebM will kick H.264 butt in the Video encoding stakes, the reality is I don’t care, I just watch the videos. I just wish Google and others would tell it like it is and stop putting lipstick on their pigs.