So Much For Standards, Google Says WebM Plugins Coming Soon For Safari And IE9

We’ve already done a full breakdown of Google’s clarification of their H.264 pullout today. But buried in their post is another interesting nugget worth highlighting by itself: WebM plugins are coming shortly for Safari and IE9.

Yes, plugins.

This is both humorous and terrifying on a few levels. First and formost, the point of all of this H.264/WebM stuff is so that the web can shift to an HTML5 video standard going forward. Of course, since neither IE nor Safari will support Google’s, Mozilla’s, and Opera’s preferred codec for that standard, we’re right back to plugin land! Why don’t we just call WebM, Flash 2.0?

Here’s Google on the matter:

Bottom line, we are at an impasse in the evolution of HTML video. Having no baseline codec in the HTML specification is far from ideal. This is why we joining others in the community to invest in WebM and encouraging every browser vendor to adopt it for the emerging HTML video platform (the WebM Project team will soon release plugins that enable WebM support in Safari and IE9).

In other words, they’re going to try to get Safari and IE users hooked on WebM by working around Apple and Microsoft. It’s an attempt to create a standard by way of plugin. Again, ugh.

And while somewhat interesting, it’s unlikely to work. And it’s a dangerous move away from working together on standards and instead is likely to piss off Apple and Microsoft.

Generally, plugins suck because they’re not standards. Even ubiquitous ones like Flash aren’t everywhere. And that creates headaches for web developers and surfers alike. There will never be a truly unified web with plugins. Even plugins backed by Google.

Update: Google has this to say in response:

The HTML <video> tag specification actually provides a capability known as canPlayType. Web developers use this capability to see which codecs are supported by the particular browser and it is completely transparent to them whether the codec was shipped natively in the browser or later installed by an end user. Safari and IE9 provide a way for users to install support for additional codecs via this capability. So basically web page developers still write their site based on the standards and all this “plug-in” does is add a capability to the browser in the context of what is permitted by the standard.

That’s a bit obtuse, but as I read it, that sounds as if Google is trying to say that the WebM plugin more of a “half plugin”. When I asked if that was a fair way to think about it:

Haha, yeah, a ‘half-plugin’ is one way to think about it. There are plug-ins that add non-standard capabilities to a browser that web developers can make use of but then their code is non-standard and reliant on that particular plug-in. This is not the case here. The HTML standard <video> tag specification provides a way for a web sites to check which codecs a particular browser supports and then serve that. It’s totally transparent to web site how those codecs got there and they are writing HTML standard code. That’s what we’re talking about here. IE9 and Safari allow users to install support for additional codecs and the WebM Project Team is using this capability to bring support for WebM to those browsers in a standards based way.

So it’s a standard-compliant plugin. But still a plugin. Also, does this mean Apple will make a H.264 Chrome extension next? I’m only half-kidding.