Browser wars are not only about market share — they can also be about support for different technologies. This is why it was rather strange to hear that Google will remove H.264 video support in future versions of its Chrome browser.
For everybody, who is not familiar with web video, this news might seem unimportant. However, since H.264 is a major video codec and it is very popular on the Web, this change will impact everybody who uses Chrome to browse the Web and to watch videos online.
Why Google Trashes H.264
The official reason why Google trashes H.264 is that this is a closed-source codec. This is so much different from the approach Apple has towards open source. However, the move is not surprising because Google is a known supporter of open source.
The exact motives are listed on the Chromium blog and they are:
we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future.”.
There is nothing wrong with the fact that Google lends a hand to open source but what worries many users is that WebM (VP8) and Theora are far from the popularity (or maybe the performance) of H.264. Performance certainly makes a difference and the proposed change will definitely make the life of online video producers uneasy.
What Discontinued Support for H.264 Means
Dropping support for H.264 basically kills the idea of the HTML5 <video> tag, which was intended to play all sorts of videos without the need of additional plugins. On the other hand, Firefox also lacks H.264 support (unless you use plugins), so maybe Chrome users won't miss the proprietary codec that much.
There are plenty of browsers to choose from, users aren't forced to use Chrome. If they are addicted to H.264, then it will be interesting to see what will prevail — their love for Chrome or their addiction to H.264. The browser gained a lot of popularity in the last year, but the removed support for H.264 could drive it downwards.
The change is supposed to take place sometime in the future (i.e. years from now), so there is a lot of time till the plans become reality.