Plenty of tech pundits have given their two cents on Google’s turn toward WebM exclusivity, and the vibe is decidedly negative. On the other hand, the move has garnered strong support from Mozilla and Opera, and not surprisingly, the Free Software Foundation.
My take on this is somewhat conflicted. Gruber has a point that content providers will continue to use H.264, and just use Flash for clients that don’t serve it directly. At least, in the short term. On the desktop, however, WebM is now poised to take a decided market share lead. Firefox (in 4.0 beta), Chrome and Opera are all shipping with WebM (and that exclusively); while only Safari and IE remain in the H.264 camp. IE alone could tip the scales in favor of H.264, but support is only coming in version 9 (still in beta). Considering the glacial pace of user adoption for new versions of IE, I’m betting that’s at least two years out.
There will be plenty of time for WebM to gain traction, and with Adobe soon adding WebM support to Flash, the tables could turn one day — clients not supporting WebM may default to Flash on many sites. Firefox (and likely now Google) have taken a stand against ever supporting H.264, but the opposite is not true for Apple and Microsoft — if WebM gains enough momentum, it’s likely that they (especially Apple) will add WebM support .
The mobile picture is murkier. H.264 has more of a stronghold there, due to Apple’s strong position, and the importance of hardware decoder support. Even there, word is that WebM hardware support is coming on many chipsets this year. Within the next year or two, it may be commonplace for chipsets to support both formats out of the box.
On the other hand: critics have a valid point that Google’s ideological justification for this move (“hooray for open”) rings hollow, considering Google’s recent embrace of Flash. It would be one thing if Google merely tolerated Flash due to its ubiquitous use on the web, but there’s more to it than that. Does no one remember Google I/O? Google was practically gloating about Flash support on Android, and Flash support on mobile certainly isn’t the sort of obligation that it’s become on the desktop. In fact, many people (myself included) would prefer that mobile platforms remain Flash-free. Not only that, they also announced support for Adobe AIR on Android, trumpeting both with big shiny icons (Flash more than once). And for good measure, they invited Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen (among others) on stage. This is far more than toleration–Google has embraced Flash as a competitive advantage against Apple. Open, schmopen; we’ve got it and they don’t. That was Google, circa Google I/O 2010. It’s doubtful that this move means they’ll treat Flash with any less deference.
HTML5 is now a misnomer — the WHATWG, the standards body charged with defining this stuff, has decided to turn HTML into a rolling standard. There will be no HTML5.1, HTML6, or what have you. Just continuous revisions of HTML. Oddly this comes just a day after the W3C unveiled their shiny new HTML5 logo too.
I’m not so optimistic about recruiters and their ilk, though. Expect to see job ads erroneously demanding HTML5 skills for some time — probably until another buzzword is found to take its place.