Is Google Hypocritical for dropping H.264 but not Flash

January 12th, 2011 by Alex Leave a reply »

This blog post is a response to a post by John Gruber.

The argument is that Google are hypocritical for not dropping support for Flash at the same time as supporting WebM instead of H.264.

In my view, saying this is hypocritical is complete rubbish.

Whatever your opinion of Flash, it’s widely used on the net at the moment and has some features that cannot be replicated SENSIBLY by HTML5 at the moment. In time that will change, but that’s the reality of the situation at the moment.

Chief amongst those features is access to client side audio and video from webcams. Flash is the only sensible way of accessing these resources and streaming them beyond installing additional plugins (which may or may not be any better than Flash’s effort).

In WebM, Google has a patent free alternative to H.264 (the Apple-preferred codec which may at any time cease to be free for use on websites). The quality of WebM encoded video is arguably very slightly lower than H.264, but immaterial when discussing low bandwidth streaming in a browser. Google’s commitment to integrating open standards understandably sees them implementing WebM in Youtube and Chrome because it’s a sensible and viable alternative to H.264. Sure, right now there’s no hardware acceleration for decoding WebM, but that will come in time. Of the major browsers, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox and Chrome will all support WebM/VP8 encoded video in HTML5.

There is currently no credible alternative to Flash. If Google were to abandon Flash purely on the basis that it is propitiatory,  they would be cutting off their own nose to spite their face. In the same way that H.264 served them until there was a viable alternative (in WebM/VP8), Flash will continue to serve Chrome users until the shortcomings in HTML5 are addressed.

If, and only if, at that time, Google choose not to remove Flash in favour of the open standard, then they can justifiably be called hypocrites.

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2 comments

  1. sidepodcast says:

    i disagree. you’re hugely misunderstanding gruber’s argument.

    his point is simply that you can’t play the ‘openess’ card (which google are) while simultaneously bundling a closed platform with your browser (which google are with flash player).

    kind of like saying ‘we believe in free speech’ and then opening a search portal in china… ahem.

    the ‘alternatives’ argument you’re pushing here is irrelevant to anything at all in the debate about google’s hypocrisy.

    there *is* a whole other argument about whether WebM is a viable alternative to h.264 (it isn’t, because its quality sucks at the moment), but that is a whole other debate and not one gruber raised.

  2. Alex says:

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree then.

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