10 Answers for John Gruber Regarding H.264, WebM

Allow me to respond on Gruber’s behalf:

1. You proclaim to be a proponent of a standards-based web. The W3C, which oversees these standards and develops them, prohibits the use of technologies that are not royalty-free; hence, H.264 cannot become the standard for HTML5 video. Since H.264 is anything but royalty-free, how do you justify pushing H.264 if it is inherently incompatible with the standards-based web that you claim to be a proponent of?

One organizations’ requirements for a standard are not shared by every organization’. H.264 is a standard by virtue of the definition of standard: “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.” There is an authority that marks H.264 an approved model.

2. Do you not see the danger in letting a technology that is overseen by a company run by a known patent troll become entrenched into the standards-based web? Do you think it is a good idea to let a known patent troll control video on the web?

For me, personally, no there is no danger. For content publishers, no, there is no danger. For patent holders, there is a danger, but the is always a danger that your patents will be challenged as the cost of doing business.

3. Are you aware of the fact that every major chip manufacturer except for Intel have openly pledged support for WebM? Are you aware of the fact that hardware support for WebM is scheduled to arrive in Q1 2011? Followed by even more later this year?

A pledge is a far cry from shipping. If it ships and runs efficiently (in power and battery consumption as well as quality), then we can talk. That will not un-ship all the H.264 hardware though.

4. Firefox has overtaken Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in the largest market (Europe), meaning that once Firefox 4 hits the streets, most browser users in Europe will be able to play HTML5 video encoded in WebM – but not video encoded in H.264. Are you willing to concede that – contrary to what you claimed yesterday – content providers would be better off providing video in WebM in 2011? I mean, browser makers – especially since Chrome on Android 2.3 also supports WebM – have clearly chosen for WebM, instead of H.264.

On the contrary, most web users can play H.264 video now (cf. YouTube). content providers are best served by encoding video in the format that is most widely compatible with their user’s computers, whether that is natively or through Adobe’s Flash plugin. Content providers have clearly chosen H.264 in support of Apple’s iOS.

5. Related to #4: wasn’t it you who agreed with Robert Scoble when he likened Apple’s struggle to diminish the importance of Flash to Firefox’ struggle to diminish the importance of Internet Explorer (which ultimately succeeded)? Why is it that you are now using the same arguments against WebM that people used against Firefox?

Chrome (and Opera and Firefox) and force content publishers to use WebM, because the publishers can continue to use H.264 and deliver it through Flash to those browsers that don’t support it natively. I believe Gruber has made this point already.

6. Are you aware of the fact that On2 released VP3 before H.264 was released (2000 vs. 2003), and that therefore, the MPEG-LA most likely infringes on On2 (now owned by Google) patents? And that this is most likely the reason why the MPEG-LA has never been able to substantiate any of its threats, because they would most likely be sued back?

MPEG-LA indemnifies its licensors against patent lawsuits; Google does not. You tell me which train you would rather be on.

7. Are you aware of the fact that after a decade of threats by the MPEG-LA, they have never been able to show a single patent infringed upon by On2/Theora/VPx, despite offers by the Xiph Foundation to work together with the MPEG-LA to ensure no patents were infringed upon?

More power to them. That has no effect on the content publishers’ adoption rate. The popularity of the iPhone has drive that.

8. You are a proponent of Apple using its influence to diminish the importance of Flash for the web. Yet, when Google makes similar moves to rid the web of a similarly closed and patented, albeit different type of technology, you do not support them. Why is Apple promoting an open web a good thing, but Google promoting an open web a bad thing?

I disagree with your premise that H.264 is not open (see #1 above). Also, Google’s technology has not yet been tested by patent disputes, so the safety of their patent position has not yet been confirmed.

9. Do you think it is reasonable to expect makers of free products (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and so on) to pay for H.264 support in their products? In other words, isn’t it entirely fair to expect makers of free products to use the financial argument to not include support for H.264? Or, as an OSNews reader puts it, “if you are a company that gives away your product – how the hell are you supposed to justify paying for such a license when there is a perfectly good alternative that doesn’t cost you money?”

Yes, it is reasonable to expect them to pay for whatever is integral to their software functioning on the internet. They can choose not to as well. The choice is between H.264 native and H.264 through Flash, as content publishers have made clear. Not H.264 and WebM, which is supported by a much smaller subset of the market.

10. Why do you appear to be opposed to promoting an open, royalty-free, non-patent-encumbered video codec? Is it because said codec is currently not promoted by Apple? If Apple were to switch to WebM and drop H.264 tomorrow, would you then herald it as a great move?

I am not opposed to an open, royalty-free, non-patent-encumbered video codec. However, Google’s development of WebM has hardly been open thus far, and has not been tested in regard to its patents. So there is no such codec at this time.

If Apple changed the hardware of future iOS devices to support H.264, there would be just as much transition pain as there would be if Google successfully lures publishers into using WebM. Existing devices are unable to play hardware accelerated WebM and content publishers have to re-encode their video.