posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 12th Jan 2011 17:44 UTC
IconWith yesterday's news that Google will be dropping H.264 support from the Chrome web browser, the internet was split in half. One one side, there's people who applaud the move, who are happy that Google is pushing an open, royalty-free and unencumbered video codec (irrespective of Google's motivation). On the other side, there are the H.264 supporters, who believe that H.264 is the one and only choice for HTML5 video. One of the most vocal and public figures in the latter group is John Gruber. Following his five questions for Google, here are ten questions for Gruber about WebM, H.264, and standards on the web.


While Gruber's questions to Google were classified as 'simple', the following ten questions are not, and for good reason. This matter has been brewing for a long time now, and it's a very complicated issue - hence, questions and arguments about it will inevitably be complicated as well.

John Gruber's arguments - posed over the years - are only used as a framing device. Since he is one of the major proponents of H.264, his views on the matter seem to quite accurately reflect that of the entire pro-H.264 group. These ten questions are meant to foster a good and thorough discussion of the matter. I chose the questions setup for exactly that reason: bite-size chunks we OSNews readers can cover on a piece-by-piece basis.

While I doubt other sites will pick this up, it would be nice if they did. Discussion on this matter needs to take place not only on sites like OSNews, but also on the large technology websites.

Ten questions

  1. You proclaim to be a proponent of a standards-based web. The W3C, which oversees these standards and develops them, prohibits the use of technologies that are not royalty-free; hence, H.264 cannot become the standard for HTML5 video. Since H.264 is anything but royalty-free, how do you justify pushing H.264 if it is inherently incompatible with the standards-based web that you claim to be a proponent of?

  2. Do you not see the danger in letting a technology that is overseen by a company run by a known patent troll become entrenched into the standards-based web? Do you think it is a good idea to let a known patent troll control video on the web?

  3. Are you aware of the fact that every major chip manufacturer except for Intel have openly pledged support for WebM? Are you aware of the fact that hardware support for WebM is scheduled to arrive in Q1 2011?, followed by even more later this year?

  4. Firefox has overtaken Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in the largest market (Europe), meaning that once Firefox 4 hits the streets, most browser users in Europe will be able to play HTML5 video encoded in WebM - but not video encoded in H.264. Are you willing to concede that - contrary to what you claimed yesterday - content providers would be better off providing video in WebM in 2011? I mean, browser makers - especially since Chrome on Android 2.3 also supports WebM - have clearly chosen for WebM, instead of H.264.

  5. Related to #4: wasn't it you who agreed with Robert Scoble when he likened Apple's struggle to diminish the importance of Flash to Firefox' struggle to diminish the importance of Internet Explorer (which ultimately succeeded)? Why is it that you are now using the same arguments against WebM that people used against Firefox?

  6. Are you aware of the fact that On2 released VP3 before H.264 was released (2000 vs. 2003), and that therefore, the MPEG-LA most likely infringes on On2 (now owned by Google) patents? And that this is most likely the reason why the MPEG-LA has never been able to substantiate any of its threats, because they would most likely be sued back?

  7. Are you aware of the fact that after a decade of threats by the MPEG-LA, they have never been able to show a single patent infringed upon by On2/Theora/VPx, despite offers by the Xiph Foundation to work together with the MPEG-LA to ensure no patents were infringed upon?

  8. You are a proponent of Apple using its influence to diminish the importance of Flash for the web. Yet, when Google makes similar moves to rid the web of a similarly closed and patented, albeit different type of technology, you do not support them. Why is Apple promoting an open web a good thing, but Google promoting an open web a bad thing?

  9. Do you think it is reasonable to expect makers of free products (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and so on) to pay for H.264 support in their products? In other words, isn't it entirely fair to expect makers of free products to use the financial argument to not include support for H.264? Or, as an OSNews reader puts it, "if you are a company that gives away your product - how the hell are you supposed to justify paying for such a license when there is a perfectly good alternative that doesn't cost you money?"

  10. Why do you appear to be opposed to promoting an open, royalty-free, non-patent-encumbered video codec? Is it because said codec is currently not promoted by Apple? If Apple were to switch to WebM and drop H.264 tomorrow, would you then herald it as a great move?

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