This serves two strategic purposes for Google. First, it advances a codec that's de facto controlled by Google at the expense of a codec that is a legitimate open standard controlled by a multi-vendor governance process managed by reputable international standards bodies. ("Open source" != "open standard".) And second, it will slow the transition to HTML5 and away from Flash by creating more confusion about which codec to use for HTML5 video, which benefits Google by hurting Apple (since Apple doesn't want to support Flash), but also sucks for users.
It is, in other words, a thoroughly nasty bit of work. It's not quite as bad as selling consumers down the river to Verizon on 'net neutrality, but it's close. And if Google is actually successful in making WebM, not H.264, the standard codec for web video, they're literally going to render hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tablets, smartphones, set-top boxes, etc. with H.264 hardware support obsolete.
"But wait!", the OSS fans are saying. "Isn't Google really standing up for freedom and justice, because H.264 requires evil patent licensing?"
No. Expert opinion [multimedia.cx] is that WebM infringes on numerous patents in the H.264 pool, and will need a licensing pool of its own to be set up, just like Microsoft's VC-1 did. So the patents are a wash. This is Google manipulating the market entirely for selfish advantage here, and it's all the worse because they're pretending otherwise. And it's going to be really frustrating watching people fall for it.
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