Google, Adobe Flash, and H.264 video

On signing into Google Docs today I saw the following:


I clicked Learn more and was directed to this article. The files you can upload and play:

  • WebM files (Vp8 video codec and Vorbis Audio codec)
  • .MPEG4, 3GPP and MOV files – (h264 and mpeg4 video codecs and AAC audio codec)
  • .AVI (many cameras use this format – typically the video codec is MJPEG and audio is PCM)
  • .MPEGPS (MPEG2 video codec and MP2 audio)
  • .WMV
  • .FLV (Adobe – FLV1 video codec, MP3 audio)

And how do you play a video?

Simply click a video file that you’ve uploaded to your Documents List and the video opens in a new page that includes a video player. You will need to have Flash installed for the video player to work.

At the same time, Google says it is removing H.264 support from its Chrome 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.

How do we make sense of this? The implication is that Google is not in fact bothered about H.264, but rather wants to promote Flash for video instead of the HTML 5 <video> element. That is a problem for Apple iOS users who cannot run Flash, and puzzling insofar as you would expect Google to be promoting rather than discouraging HTML 5 adoption.

Possibly the real target is Apple. Flash has become a key selling point for non-Apple mobile devices. By making more use of Flash, Google can make the web more annoying for iOS users and thereby promote Android.

As John Gruber observes, Google has some questions to answer.

Update: Google’s Mike Jazayeri has posted some more background on the decision here.

6 thoughts on “Google, Adobe Flash, and H.264 video”

  1. Why am I not surprised that John Gruber says what he says and acts as if Google owed him a personal apology. Jeez… I can take a stab at answering his question 5.: Apple won’t be. Adobe won’t care as its platform is codec agnostic and WebM support is coming.

    I think I may answer his remaining questions on my blog… I mean he did ask, right?

  2. You are giving Google too much credit. The product teams there do not really talk to each other and there is no overall strategy to be linked between what the Docs team does and what the Chrome team does.

    This is simply somebody in the Docs team wanting max compatibility on their new feature and deciding to use flash.

  3. @nik probably true, but if the Docs team wants “max compatibility” what it is doing about iOS users?


  4. Considering how other browser (firefox, opera ) wouldn’t touch h264 with a 10ft pole, it seems like the right move for me on google behalf, beside it would be difficult to properly incorporate the codec into the open source chromium, according to what I heard of the h264 licence.
    Flash is more like a partnership with adobe as Google try to push the latest and more “secure” version of flash. On the other hand they also try to push alternative PDF reading engine.

  5. @stefan: Hey man – the gist of your ‘answers’ to Gruber’s questions seems to be ‘so what?’

    Do you maybe need some more time to formulate something a little more meaningful?

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