As we learned earlier today, Google plans to remove support for viewing h.264 videos through the HTML5 <video> tag in their Chrome web browser. The open WebM and Theora video formats are still supported, but h.264 is not.

Now I know some of you are thinking “Why would Google do this? Don’t they know that h.264 is the best chance the <video> tag has at succeeding on the web?” Many people see the situation exactly that way, but Google doesn’t.

According to Google’s “we’re yanking out h.264 support” announcement earlier today, they plan to get the rest of the internet on board with WebM or Theora video, along with hardware manufacturers, the very people you need on your side if you want to go after the mobile marketspace where performance and battery life are key. They really think WebM has a shot at taking over completely.

But of course none of that is the subject of this article, you want to know why Google won’t even support h.264 anymore in the <video> tag, and the answer is “open”, or rather “open or closed, take your pick”.

Now, Google deserves plenty of criticism for taking the “open” banner and waving it around constantly, while at the same time compromising that very principle by being TOO open in some cases, and not open at all in others, particularly when being closed suits their business interests.

However, in this specific case, I think they want to clear up something that the entire web has been fighting about for a long time: HTML5 video is open, h.264/Flash/Silverlight are not. Black and white, no middle ground. They can’t make that distinction if they’re still shipping h.264 as an option for the otherwise open HTML5 <video> tag.

But Steve, aren’t they still including the Flash player in Chrome? They are, but we all know Flash isn’t open, and Google isn’t pretending it is. Neither is Chrome itself for that matter, but most of the code is available through the Chromium project. So, hypocrisy you say? At least as far as the HTML5 <video> tag is concerned, the hypocrisy would be in continuing to call it an open standard while supporting closed codecs inside it.

Hopefully Google will also stop including Flash in Chrome as well, that would at least signal to the rest of us that they’re serious about making WebM the standard for video on the web, but for now at least they’re drawing a sharp line in the sand and shoving h.264 over to the other side with its Flash and Silverlight buddies.