Why? It is a media format that is up-to-date and Google is putting some muscle (mainly in the form of YouTube, but also Chrome Browser) behind it. Not to mention Mozilla and Adobe is backing it. However, its most potent weapon is the fact that it is free.
Will WebM succeed? I hope so, and I think it is important. HTML5 chicken out on defining a must-support video format. Companies, e.g. Microsoft and Apple, are pushing for non-free (both sense) and that is not good for web development particularly and digital multimedia development in general (Imagine having to pay someone just to put video in your document)
History shows that digital development favours free stuff: VoIP (against IBM’s Token Ring), MP3 (against AAC audio). Hopefully, this will be another happy case.
Here is what WebM project resolves:
- Steve Job is said to had hinted that a lawsuit is heading for Theora/Oggs (based on earlier reincarnation of VP8, the main WebM protocol). Patents uncertainty was the main reason most browser did not want to support it. This did not go away with WebM, but Google has the muscle to make them think twice.
- The argument about Theora/Oggs being ‘old-technology’ is resolved. Sure, there are problems and flaws. For example, see this article. As ArsTechnica points out, no show stopper. Badly written specs? It worked inside On2 (before Google’s acquisition) for a long time now. Moreover, you can argue a lot of open source projects started this way, for example, the Eclipse Project. It might not be as good as H.264, but it is early days and it is possible that like MP3 vs AAC, the said-to-be-weaker format wins.
What still remains to be seen is whether IE and Safari’s refusal to implement VP8 will means H.264 becomes the standard, or they will be forced to change their mind.
Google did put in a nuclear clause:
“If You or your agent … alleging that this implementation of VP8 or any code incorporated within … constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, or inducement of patent infringement, then any rights granted to You under this License for this implementation of VP8 shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.”
This is ingenious. At the minimum, it buys time for it to flourish. A lot of companies will not want to sue for the fear of not being able to implement a potentially important technology for the web.