The leading search provider and all-around technologist announced that upcoming versions of its Chrome browser won't support the H.264 video format. Instead, the open-source Theora and Google's own WebM formats will be the high-definition video codecs of choice for Chrome users -- at least when it comes to supporting the HTML5 "video" tag.
In practice, this move won't hurt much. The world-beating YouTube video service is Google's own baby, and certainly supports WebM streams. Very few sites use the newfangled HTML5 tags yet, leaving plenty of room for adjustment. And Chrome may be on the rise, but it still represents a tiny minority of all Web traffic.
But Google is cutting off its proverbial nose to spite its own face. Making Chrome less compatible with de facto web standards like H.264 video could halt the browser's dazzling market share grab. That could then give consumers less of a reason to buy a Chrome-powered netbook or tablet when that platform makes its public debut in a few months, driving potential customers into the arms of Apple
In a larger sense, Google is betraying its own principles here. Google seems intent on overthrowing existing standards and replacing them with its own solutions, At the same time, Big G claims that the "goal is to enable open innovation," and says that's a chief reason for this move.
Licensing terms lie at the heart of the matter, and I know that unpatented and unlicensed standards will make for a more open web. But a standard is a standard, and Google is shooting itself in the foot by ignoring the market-leading video format on reasons of supposedly "pure" principle.
The big winner here is Adobe Systems
This move's not stupid enough to make me want to sell my Google shares, because Chrome browsers and operating systems were never a part of my investment thesis. But it's stupid nonetheless, and I frankly expect better out of Mountain View.
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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple and Adobe Systems are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Adobe Systems. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.