* Chrome was supposed to drop H264 support a >1 year ago in favor of WebM. It never happened.
* The spread of H264 video wasn't slowed down by Mozilla's stance.
* Firefox users were effectively forced to install Flash (a far more closed solution) to view videos.
* The split in HTML5 video support (Firefox and Opera being the lone holdouts with no H264 support) weakened HTML5 compared to alternatives.
* Flash is going away on Mobile devices, which mean that Firefox Mobile users had no way to view videos. This is why it's going into B2G + Android first.
* Adobe announced two years ago that Flash would support WebM, but it never happened. (And since then they have stopped updating Flash for mobile platforms, and for non-Chrome browsers on Linux.)
This is pivotal. A big part of why WebM looked like it could win was Chrome's announced support for it and the dropping of H.264. It looks like Chrome has backtracked on that - over a year passed, no follow through on Chrome's promise to remove H.264 - so it is forcing Mozilla to reconsider it's position.
Does anyone know more about Chrome's current stance?
There was and still is no realistic way for Google to switch to WebM. Not exclusively. (Yes, they can also encode their videos in WebM but h.264 versions are always necessary.)
YouTube, no. Chrome, obviously YES. Firefox and Opera did and still do it. Their failure to use Chrome to push WebM means they killed off their own format. Tells you something about their priorities.
That format would be h.264. And nothing changes.
Switching to WebM is pointless if all other browsers still can get h.264. That way you can’t change anything.
This is still entirely true (note that "afford" in the above should be read in the "free license" context, not monetary). For the same reason, Chromium has no H264 support. Patented codecs don't mix well with free software. They took a stance here based on their philosophy, that much should have been obvious.
The reasons not to do it with system codecs before are enumerated here:
Most of them still apply, but are simply less important 2 years later. The Windows XP thing was even brought up in the original discussion thread.
put the user back in the stone age of the internet
I would say that's essentially what the current patent legislation is doing. Worth fighting against.
They can afford to pay for stuff if they want to. It seems that Mozilla is more concerned with Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer.
IIRC, there were other reasons not to support using the OS codecs. H264 license fees are not an issue when you just use the codecs the OS provides, as they are already covered by the OS or codec vendor. With all the Google millions that Firefox gets each year, the license fee should not really be a problem anyway.
What I understand from it, is that it would take a lot of effort to use system codecs for different video formats, while still providing the complete set of HTML5 video functions for every format.
I never really bought this argument since IE, Safari and Chrome appear to handle this just fine, if you have Perian installed for example, you can even play HTML5 WebM directly from Safari. So I think we can safely conclude there were no other arguments for Mozilla's decision not to support H264 through system codecs, besides ideological ones.
Personally, I think this is great news. Everyone should just stop complaining about the supposed H264 patent issues, standardize on it, and move on. The patents have never been a problem and they never will, you only need to pay license fees if you make money off of H264, in which case you should just pay up, technology like this doesn't fall from trees. The moment WebM/VP8 would gain any traction at all on the internet, it would prove to be a patent minefield just like H264, as you simply cannot make a modern video codec without violating any patents these days.
The real issue with the H.264 patents and why it is anathema to any libre ecosystem is the impact of the H.264 patents on video creation, encoding and distribution. Here's a thorough discussion of the issues (created by someone who actually took a substantial amount of time to talk to a representative of the MPEG-LA for clarification):
To me, this is a key conclusion:
"Related to point #2, it may not be possible to release an H.264-encoded video under, for example, a Creative Commons license that allows commercial usage. More precisely, should you release your H.264-encoded content under such a license, it would not be legally usable under such a license. This cuts out a large portion of options related to how you may share your creative content."
I find the idea that we should standardize on a video codec with that sort of usage restriction completely incomprehensible. I just do not understand how people can accept a data format whose licensing doesn't just constrain people who produce encoders, decoders and other related tools and technology, but also constrains end users.
I would modify what you've said, software can be open source and be totally laden with patents, but free software (especially GPLv3) probably can't.
Continuing my argument: Claiming Mozilla are poor as the GP did is a bad argument. Claiming that the software can't be re-distributed is a slightly less bad argument, but only for larger distributions.
The pool sets certain payment stages. If your distribution of the codec has fewer than 100,000 users there is no license fee payable at all.
Also ,the license fee for h.264 is capped at $6.5 million, so Firefox can distribute it to anyone and any smaller project (less than 100,000 users) can distribute it as well.
It's the mid-sized redistributions that can have trouble, because they will lack Mozilla's money but have larger user bases that might trigger the fees.
If they just ship Mozilla's official binaries the license would be carried along. The only problem is that distros insist on recompiling stuff that already works fine.