If you’ve ever been to Google Video, you may have tried to download the video onto your computer. If you do this with Windows, however, Google tries to force you to download their player, and the video in what’s either .gvp or .gvi format. These are formats that actually just link their player to the video stored on their servers.
If you use linux, however, they will gladly give you access directly to the .avi format of the video. Straight to your hard drive.
Why the discrepancy and how can you combat it?
First the latter: change/”spoof” your User Agent string in your browser. Basically, you want your browser to report itself as a non-Windows operating system. That is the sole determination of how Google formats its links. That is why it’s sending you the player and the bogus format.
I’m assuming you use Firefox or another sane browser. Opera likely has a method for changing the useragent. Via Firefox you’ll want to use an extension (User Agent Switcher) and have it be a linux-based useragent. (google is your friend, and I’m too lazy to give complete instructions) The temporary-switch is superior to using the Firefox built-in “general.useragent.override” option, as it changes the useragent on startup and can cause some problems with the HTTP headers with some extensions.
Now why does Google do this? The best guess I’ve got is usage data. The majority of computers are windows, and thus they are a primary advertising audience. By getting the player downloaded, they may be able to gather statistics on how often you watch the content and what content you watch. Apparently the .gvp/.gvi format is a symbolic/metafile sort of like a .torrent file. It stores the info of what content you’ll want if you access it. The player then downloads the content. It’ll probably cache a copy for a limited time, but provided you go back to that video in the future it will likely redownload it.
That’s my best guess. The other plausible explanation is that they are “ensuring availability” of the video via having a player for you. Maybe some people don’t have a player for .avi files.
And of course, it helps them spread their brand. More software on your computer by Google leads to more trust and familiarity with the brand leads to future opportunities and greater revenues.