A short while ago, Google developers on the Chromium blog posted a short note explaining that they will be dropping support for the h.264 codec in the Chrome web browser:

Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

So….analysis. What they’re actually dropping support for is the binary h.264 codec they’ve been shipping as part of Chrome, the one that enables h.264 video to be played through the HTML5 <video> tag. In some future version of Chrome, potentially the next update that gets pushed to your machine if you’re a Chrome user, that h.264 codec will disappear.

What that means: any websites that were relying on the h.264 codec for serving HTML5 video to Chrome users, will have to fall back on another supported video codec like WebM or Theora. But what are they really going to do? They’re going to rely on serving Flash to Chrome users instead. Why? Because Flash is part of Chrome now. If you’re running Chrome, you have Flash installed.

True, like many others I disable Flash by default and click to enable it when necessary, but that just results in seeing these everywhere:

Hulu

Hulu


Now, I use Chrome exclusively for everything I do on the web, and I have never seen one of the major video websites serve me an h.264 video through the HTML5 <video> tag.

If the realization hasn’t hit you yet, here it is: websites were already relying on the Flash plugin to serve h.264 video, and indeed all video, to Chrome users. Very few of them were ever using the h.264 support in Chrome to serve HTML5 videos.

The h.264 support in Chrome that developers were actually using came via the Flash plugin that Google includes and turns on by default, not the h.264 codec they shipped for the HTML5 <video> tag. That means h.264 video still works in Chrome, but Google is now forcing developers to keep serving it to Chrome users via Flash, something that admittedly they were all doing anyway.

Now this is of course a bad move for the HTML5 video tag, if developers weren’t willing to serve h.264 video in the <video> tag even when they could, they aren’t going to suddenly shift over to using an entirely different codec like WebM or Theora.

But wait there’s more! In addition to making it impossible to serve h.264 video to Chrome users without using Flash, Google also took this opportunity to wave the “open” banner around a bit:

We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, 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.

Score one for the good guys right? Oh….. but they’re still shipping Flash as part of Chrome. Flash is not open. In fact Flash is even further from any concept of “open” than the h.264 codec they were shipping in the first place.

Maybe Google will keep going with this “open” movement they’ve started pushing for in Chrome, and just yank Flash out completely. Maybe, but at this point I doubt it.