One reason Google dropped H.264 support
2

One reason Google dropped H.264 support

Matt Drance offers one hypothesis for why Google is dropping H.264 support:

If H.264 becomes and remains the dominant codec, then Google needs to convince all of its partners to bundle H.264 decoder hardware in order to preserve a competitive video experience on Android. It cannot, however, guarantee them favorable licensing terms, because it is not a licensor in the H.264 patent pool. Android and Google could end up with a problem on their hands if OEMs hesitate or get hit with lawsuits.

Enter WebM/VP8. By overseeing both the technology and policy, Google has much more power to insulate its partners, and thus the entire Android platform, from disruptive patent or license disputes. If all goes well, it could go a step further and require Android OEMs to include VP8 decoder hardware from a (hand-picked, of course) list of vendors, guaranteeing a minimum standard of video playback on all Android devices. Google could even acquire one or more of these vendors for good measure.

Why dump H.264 entirely? Why not hedge your bets, especially if H.264 is working right now? Google says “our goal is to enable open innovation;” what it in fact means is “we prefer patents we own.”

Google’s decision to drop H.264 support in Chrome
4

Google’s decision to drop H.264 support in Chrome

Google’s decision to drop native support for the H.264 video codec in Chrome has generated a number of arguments on the Web. Google’s defenders argue that H.264 is not royalty-free and is thus inappropriate for use with HTML5, since the W3C refuses to mandate the use of royalty-encumbered technologies in its specifications. Google’s critics argue that this doing so is a cynical move aimed at bolstering its own codec, WebM, and undermining vendors like Apple and Microsoft who support H.264 and who don’t support WebM or Theora. It seems inarguable that this decision by Google insures that Flash players will continue to be the primary means of showing video on the Web.

The best overview of this issue that I’ve seen is Peter Bright’s piece at Ars Technica: Google’s dropping H.264 from Chrome a step backward for openness.

The ways people use search engines
2

The ways people use search engines

Marco Arment lists the ways people use search engines and talks about how spam has taken over each of them. I think his categories of search types are pretty accurate and agree completely that spammers are systematically taking over each of them. I find that going to Amazon or other trusted retailers and looking for reviews is much more useful than looking for product information on Google these days. I also find that I use site: searches more than I ever have before. Trusting Google to return results for the whole Web just isn’t very effective any more.

Google reacts to bad press
0

Google reacts to bad press

I’m not surprised to see that Google has made an official response to the New York Times article I mentioned earlier this week. They’ve tweaked their search algorithm to prevent negative feedback from boosting a company’s ranking:

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

The article also explains why the problem isn’t as easy to fix as it would appear and dismisses some simple but flawed solutions. They’re keeping the actual solution secret to stay ahead of the gamers.

I’m sure Google makes these kinds of changes all the time. I’m not surprised that in this case they’re letting us know they did it.

Interesting stuff related to Google Street View
0

Interesting stuff related to Google Street View

Three interesting links related to Google Street View washed over the transom this week. (OK, I saw them on Twitter.)

The first is a collection of noteworthy photos from Google Street View. You can find it at 9eyes.tumblr.com. It’s totally addictive.

The second is Michael Sippey’s pondering which elements of a Google Street View image that appears to show a woman giving birth on a sidewalk are faked.

The third is the news that in Essen, Germany, Google fans threw eggs at houses that opted out of Google Street View. I put that down to boredom.

Google and Apple, let’s do this
3

Google and Apple, let’s do this

I’ve been following Google’s announcements from Google I/O with interest. Google announced version 2.2 of Android and a new set-top box, GoogleTV. The main takeaway from today’s events is that the competition between Apple and Google is heating up.

I think all of this is fantastic. Google and Apple both build great stuff, espouse completely different philosophies, and are scary in different ways. And they’re going to be fighting tooth and nail in a number of still unclaimed markets for every dollar of profit that’s available. There is no underdog here. Both operate from positions of strength and both have huge war chests they can bring to bear. Apple has $41.7 billion in cash. Google has $26.5 billion in cash. Microsoft wants to be a player in these markets as well, and they have $39.7 billion as well. So they have plenty of money to hire developers, build data centers, and buy up companies that look interesting. Nobody has market leverage of the kind Microsoft did in the desktop computing market during the browser wars of the nineties.

So right now we’re looking at a contest where the main weapons are quality of experience and openness. It’s going to be fun, and the competition is going to be incredibly beneficial to users.

Apple’s restrictive platform
5

Apple’s restrictive platform

Here’s Tim Bray (now officially part of the loyal opposition) on the iPhone:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.

I love using the iPhone, but to a growing degree I’m starting to hate the fact that I love using the iPhone.

Google and China
1

Google and China

Everyone is blogging about Google’s big announcement about their Chinese operations today, but one day I’ll want to see this in the archive.

Cause:

In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

Effect:

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

Does application count matter?
3

Does application count matter?

It’s funny these days to watch Apple brag about the number of applications for the iPhone, and to see Android fans defensively argue that the number of applications for a platform doesn’t really matter, as long as it has the applications you want. Fifteen years ago, it was Windows advocates who derided the Mac because it had so few apps, and Mac users who were forced to respond with the argument that quality, not quantity mattered. That argument has died on the desktop, probably because what’s really important is the ability to access the Web, unless you have a very specific unmet requirement.

For what it’s worth, I think Android fans are right — the number of applications really doesn’t matter. Besides, eventually there will probably be more applications for Android than there are for the iPhone — Apple’s review process for iPhone applications almost assures that. In fact, I’m mainly writing this to put a stake in the ground so that I can go back and laugh at this argument later. Android phones are already sold by more carriers in the US than the iPhone, and Android is the open platform. If the application count for Android doesn’t continue to grow explosively, it will indicate that something has gone horribly wrong for the platform.

In the end, Android is going to be Windows and the iPhone is going to be the Mac, even if it may not seem that way because Apple got out of the gates so much earlier this time around. The problem Android faces is that they very well may never be able to offer as polished an experience as Apple does on the iPhone. There will be lots many different handsets, more expansive user interface standards, and a lot more carrier influence in terms of how the Android interface looks. Even if you buy an unlocked phone with “generic” Android, the lack of consistency that results from the fractured user base will affect the overall experience of using an Android handset. Plus, when it comes to creating truly functional designs, Google is not Apple.

There’s plenty of room in the market for both platforms, and in an ideal world, they’ll both be pushing each other on a number of fronts for years to come. As an iPhone user, that’s what makes me happiest about the high praise for the Nexus One. iPhone users need for it to be a worthy competitor to the iPhone as much as anyone.