Strong opinions, weakly held

Another theory on Google’s dropping H.264

Horace Dediu has another theory on why Google is dropping support for the H.264 video codec:

I rather think that Google’s decision is a misguided emphasis on technical details in lieu of engaging in a deep strategic re-evaluation.

Don’t miss the interesting comparison to Apple’s decision to go with the PowerPC over Intel processors back in the day.

I’m sort of obsessed with this decision by Google not because of its effect on me personally, but because I’m curious as to how companies come to these kinds of decisions. It’s complex and fascinating.


  1. I think most of the pundits are missing the point, and forget how disruptive the gif patent shakedown was to the web in the late 90s. It forcably generated a new image format with no patents (png) which we all take as gospel now. But it was painful to try to execute that switch after the patent shakedown by unisys was in full swing. Heading that off at the pass is a good thing.

  2. I think comparing gif to H.264 is a bit off the mark because so many things are different and really the only similarity is that there are patents involved.

    Rafe, don’t miss Matt Drance’s take: http://www.appleoutsider.com/2011/01/14/e3/

  3. Sculley may have a bit of a fuzzy memory here. In the quote about the PowerPC change he says “So Intel lobbied heavily to get us to stay with them… (but) we went with IBM and Motorola with the PowerPC.”

    Stay? The incumbent for Apple was Motorola at the time. I believe Motorola was pushing for the 88000 family of RISC, but Apple went PowerPC and involved IBM as well.

  4. The GIF patent situation and H.264 are not really comparable in any way. There is no uncertainty when it comes to the patent licenses for H.264 or the patent ownership for H.264. Indeed, a GIF situation is more likely to crop up with Theora if someone makes patent claims against it later. (Not predicting that will happen, but it is more likely.)

    I linked to the Matt Drance article the other day.

    And yeah, I caught the mistake in the Sculley quote — they were not on Intel at the time. In fact, I wondered at the time if they went with PowerPC because maintaining the existing relationship with Motorola was easier than switching vendors.

  5. I like this explanation, because valid or not it at least adds some technical background to a decision that has mostly been presented – at the level I’ve seen, which is admittedly pretty shallow – as being political.

    Apple makes a lot of political decisions, but tends to have a fairly decent technical argument that supports it. Google’s argument that “Open is Better” only rings true to a limited degree. Since they make most of the revenue off proprietary technology obviously there’s quite a lot of good stuff to Closed, as well.

    I don’t really know much about the relationship between Google and Apple, but the argument that they would make a major technology decision solely to piss off Jobs just doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t seem to be the way the company that famously tested over 30 shades of blue to come to a decision works.

    I don’t know what “True” is in this whole hairy mess, but I am glad at least to finally (I blame the lack of exposure on myself, not the Internets for letting me down) see a good-enough-for-me technical argument supporting the decision as well. Thanks!

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