Google recently shook things up by announcing that the Chrome Web browser will no longer support the H.264 video codec. Fear not, though--Microsoft has come to Chrome's rescue with a browser extension that enables Chrome on Windows 7 to play H.264 video content in spite of the Google snub.
A post on the Chromium Blog provides some explanation for the Google decision. "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."
Fair enough. But, A) Adobe Flash support is integrated into the Chrome browser, and Flash supports H.264, so the move seems purely symbolic or political, and B) the WebM VP8 video codec that Google is supporting doesn't require patent-licensing payment right now, but is not that different from H.264 and may very well charge patent royalties in the future.
Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst, e-mailed me with a query regarding the Google decision. Question: "How can you put the growth of adoption of your most important software product at risk, fragment the most important standard you care about, and, at the same time, upset a lot of your developers and Web-content owners who will try to figure out how you are living up to your motto of not being evil doing this?" Answer: "You announce that you plan not to support H.264 in your Chrome browser."
Hilwa goes on to point out that the VP8 codec is still under development and is not ready for primetime. With such low penetration for VP8, Hilwa believes that asking developers and content owners to abandon H.264 in favor of the nascent codec will result in many choosing instead simply not to support the Chrome browser.
The Interoperability @ Microsoft blog proclaims, "For many reasons - which you can read about on other blog posts here and here--H.264 is an excellent and widely-used video format that serves the web very well today. As such, we will continue to ensure that developers and customers continue to have an optimal Web experience."
Toward that end, Microsoft developed the Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome to ensure that Windows customers at least will still be able to experience the vast content available on the Internet in the H.264 format.