Firefox (wallpaper)

Addendum to the previous story: an “end user” and an “application” are not the same thing. Watching comments from some users dumping on Firefox and Opera because they don’t understand this is painful. Watching it come from journalists is even more so. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what today’s announcement met. The “free” applies to end user, free, “broadcast” Internet video. It doesn’t apply to the tools you use even to view that video – including Firefox.

Here’s the deal: today’s “free forever” MPEG LA announcement was mostly a PR coup. It changes very little: critics of the use of the patent-encumbered, royalty-bearing format in HTML5 video were aware that the free end user license might be extended.

But, boy was it a PR coup, because the words “forever free” starting spreading around the Web, and some people got the wrong idea. You’re not free to use MPEG LA’s technology as a content publisher if you want to use H.264 as your distribution format for on-demand or for-sale video. More importantly, you’re not free to ship H.264 encoders or decoders.

That means if you’re making, say, a truly free and open source Web browser like Firefox, you can’t distribute H.264 support without paying millions for a license or breaking the law. Giants like Apple and Google and Microsoft pay anyway, so it’s not an issue for them. But it is an issue for free software developers. Writing for the Mac blog TUAW, author Chris Rawson fails to understand this point:

Mozilla’s Firefox browser doesn’t currently support HTML5 video (via H.264, that is -Ed); the uncertainty of H.264′s licensing future meant Mozilla wanted to stick with Ogg Theora, a video codec Mozilla believed would be unencumbered by patenting issues. With MPEG LA’s announcement that H.264 will be royalty-free in perpetuity, it’s likely only a matter of time before Firefox joins browsers like Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 9 in fully supporting HTML5.

Royalty-free H.264 is a big win for HTML5, big loss for Flash [TUAW]

(Due credit to the site’s readers, lest you think all Apple users are Apple fanboys – a number of commenters utterly savage the author. Hey, I get stuff wrong – feel free to go after me when I do, and I’ll try to take it.)

The headline’s wrong: Flash already has an H.264 license; the browsers don’t – so it isn’t a Flash issue. Nor is it an HTML5 issue. HTML5 doesn’t directly support any video codec because no one can agree on what the format should be – partly because of patent-encumbered H.264, which is just as patent-encumbered and license-fee-ridden today as it was yesterday. It’s wrong because cross-browser support for codecs remains at an impasse: Apple is mum on WebM support in Safari, meaning Apple is currently the biggest immediate roadblock, as every other major browser has pledged WebM support (Microsoft via a more lukewarm commitment to separate codec support). That’s not to solely blame Apple: patent disputes could sink WebM, too. But the folks backing WebM are certainly hoping to keep it patent- and royalty-free. And lastly, the author apparently didn’t get the memo that Firefox now backs Google’s WebM container and VP8 codec, not exclusively OGG and Theora.

If you actually read the reasons Mozilla isn’t supporting H.264, you’ll see this particular end user issue cited almost as a footnote to a whole litany of more significant problems with having to license a proprietary, encumbered format.

It wasn’t just Mac bloggers getting the facts wrong. Here’s Macworld’s Lex Friedman (syndicated across various other sites), making exactly the same mistake:

One hopes that with MPEG LA’s announcement, Mozilla and Opera will now feel comfortable supporting the H.264 codec, and HTML5 Web video can standardize on the format…

But should Mozilla and Opera offer H.264 decoding in future versions of their browsers, the Web will finally have a universally-accepted, royalty-free, high-quality video codec for use everywhere.

Analysis: Royalty-free H.264 may clear way for HTML5 video standard

That certainly qualifies as potent wishful thinking, for the reasons already mentioned. With vocal support not only from the Mozilla Foundation, but Opera and the entire open source community, H.264 is far from universally-accepted, and with good reason.

Friedman, like Rawson, I think just misreads the announcement.

By contrast, Cade Metz, writing for The Register, gets the details exactly right – and talks to Firefox rather than speculates. The answer: Hell, no, we won’t support H.264.

Mozilla shrugs off ‘forever free’ H.264 codec

The Mozilla Foundation’s VP of Engineering, Mike Shaver, not only sums up why this doesn’t change Mozilla’s position, but adds a nice zinger: don’t expect H.264 to even matter in four years.

“The MPEG-LA announcement doesn’t change anything for the next four years, since this promise was already made through 2014,” he says in the statement shared with the The Reg. “Given that IEC [International Electrotechnical Commission] has already started accepting submissions for patents in the replacement H.265 standard, and the rise of unencumbered formats like WebM, it is not clear if H.264 will still be relevant in 2014.”

Well worth reading the whole article, but Metz lines up the players:

Though WebM uses a royalty-free license, the MPEG-LA has said it’s “looking into” a patent pool that would challenge its royalty-free-ness. And apparently, this jibes with the thinking of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. But Google is confident that WebM can stand up to pressure from patent holders — and clearly, Mike Shaver is too.

In other words, the playing field is lined up: Apple’s Safari is the one browser without any announced support for WebM as the new standard. (Even Microsoft is tentatively on board, albeit with a separately-installed VP8 codec.) And the current landscape could mean pitting Google and the free software community on one side, Apple and MPEG LA on the other.

That’s the future, and requires a bit of speculation. But the fact that H.264 still doesn’t really work for free software – that’s (for the present) simply reality.

Addendum addendum:

Microsoft and Apple. As Nanairo notes in comments, it’s possible that you’ll be able to install an external codec on Safari for Mac and be able to get WebM+VP8 support that way. But only Microsoft has committed at this point to that support; Apple has been silent. Of course, what would be really good news for VP8 is if Microsoft added VP8 codecs in-box in Windows, as it has done with H.264; that may depend on how the rest of this shakes out and whether VP8 becomes a patent target. (Ironically, one thing that would make it a more likely patent target is if Microsoft shipped VP8 codec support in-box in… okay, yeah, you see why this is such a pain.

Apple and Safari. I don’t mean to imply that Apple’s reticence regarding VP8 and WebM should be surprising. On the contrary, it’s not hard to see why Apple would avoid the format. The codec and container are far from technically perfect, and may not achieve the same output quality as H.264. Apple’s already paying for an H.264 license. Taking on VP8 – as with OGG Theora before it – could mean taking on patent liability.

Equating Apple and MPEG LA would be just as incorrect. Apple’s stake in the AVC patent pool is relatively small. But that means they are shelling out licensing fees as it is. The status quo is always easier to support than a change, let alone one that introduces new technical and legal issues. There just isn’t a single, easy answer on this – neither H.264 nor VP8. It’s simply that, from the perspective of those who want unencumbered and open source solutions, WebM and VP8 is the best compromise, and a major leap forward from OGG Theora.

MPEG LA and PR. I also certainly didn’t mean to imply that MPEG LA was saying something misleading or untrue. Everything in their press release is factually correct. They explicitly refer to the limitations of the “free” license they’re describing. The problem is, some people didn’t carefully read this press release, or the logic expressed by the Mozilla Foundation in defending their decision. But there’s a lot of wishful thinking around this issue on all sides.

  • rjp

    "The Mozilla Foundation’s VP of Engineering, Mark Shaver"

    Should be Mike Shaver, I think.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Shaver

  • Tom

    Might want to @gruber this – strange that some didn't read the small print/work if there was nuanced weasel wording in the H.264 PR message.

  • Nanairo

    I believe that Safari does exactly what Internet Explorer does, i.e. use external codecs. So according to your logic Safari is not a roadblock at all. (and let's be honest, with 5% or so of the market, I doubt Safari could block much).

  • tommi

    i lol'd

  • Tim

    Are your Safari comments specific to Safari or Webkit in general, because wouldn't that include Chrome and most mobile browsers as well?

  • /b

    I am always amazed at people who have this idea that firefox is being "stubborn" and "refusing" to ship h264 because they "don't want to." The licensing and patent issues quite simply make it so that they can't.

    @Nanairo:

    >I believe that Safari does exactly what Internet Explorer does, i.e. use external codecs. So according to your logic Safari is not a roadblock at all.

    Except right now, neither supports WebM at all, and when asked if they would in the future, Apple said "no" and Microsoft said "if you have an external codec installed, sure." So Peter appears to be taking them at their word for now.

    >(and let’s be honest, with 5% or so of the market, I doubt Safari could block much

    True, but it's 100% of the influential iPhone and iPad market, where, by the way, I don't think you can just install external codecs.

  • Wilhelm Reuch

    The trouble with WebM (apart from the technical ones) is that Apple is a big target for patent trolls. So using WebM can turn out to be very costly for Apple. Also WebM is still controlled by Google, it is not free. And Google is a big competitor to both Apple and Microsoft – and as a company they have a less than stellar record when it comes to respecting other peoples intellectual property (or privacy).

    Same goes for Microsoft of course – but Microsoft still does mostly desktop software and can afford to what they do now, let the users download the codec themselves. Apple's applicances (iPad, iPod, iPhone) are not generic computers in the same way as the old desktop computers and do not allow tinkering like downloading codec:s (like old vs. new cars :-) )

    For Mozilla this is not a problem. They have no money so why would anyone waste money on trying to sue them.

    So unless Google agrees to take responsibility for any WebM patent problems I dont see how Apple could ever use it even if they wanted to. Same goes for Microsoft in their phones.

    Smartphones+mobile devices is overtaking computers in sales just about now – so you cannot judge everything from behind your Ubuntu oldtimer computer-box.

    But Firefox is mostly a desktop browser and could use Flash for video. This would make H.264 a universal format.

  • Hob

    WebM is just a ploy to use the weight of YouTube to render hardware acceleration on iOS devices useless for a huge chunk of online video. The Verizon/Google deal is another piece of the same skullduggery against the iPhone by Google. I don't think anyone at Google really believes that WebM is going to stay patent free.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Hob: That's an interesting theory. H.264 hardware acceleration is present in *most* hardware devices, not just the iPhone. So that wouldn't make any sense. As for the Verizon/Google policy proposal having anything to do with the iPhone, uh – no idea whta you mean. (It's a policy proposal, not a deal, for starters. And while I think it's wrong-headed to the extreme, you can bet that every single mobile carrier would like to write their own rules for wireless, including AT&T and other iPhone carriers.)

    I think Google spent the money they did on On2 because they do believe that VP8 is going to stay patent and license-free. I think the many WebM and VP8 supporters think the same way.

    Nor is there any particular conspiracy on the Apple side. People are making their best guess as far as what concerns their own interests.

  • http://praegnanz.de Gerrit

    Nobody states that H.264 is now "free". (Whatever that would mean.)

    But as a company or private person who wants to publish free high quality videos on the web, you won’t have to pay irrational high fees to the codec maker. This is what caused mixed feelings about H.264 and let me chose VP6 instead two years ago, when I was working for a small video portal for a scientific project.

    For most web designers it is now perfectly okay to use H.264 video for their clients. For browser who cannot play them natively, there will always be the Flash plugin to fill the gap.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Tim: I'm referring to Safari, not WebKit. Chrome/Chromium are a perfect example: WebKit-based, but the video support comes from elsewhere. They're supporting WebM. There's a lot of stuff in the browser that isn't WebKit, which is why the Chromium project is cool.

    @Wilhelm Reuch: Fair point, but yes, I'd say Google is an enormous target. I don't agree that there's a clear desktop/mobile divide. There's a concerted effort to get this format on mobile, too, and that's obviously a concern for Google.

    You hit on a key issue here, though, which is that as long as the video formats remain fragmented, Flash is the clear winner. Adobe pretty much wins regardless – they've added H.264 support, they'll clearly be supporting all manner of HTML5 standards and WebM, and designers will buy their software – and mobile makers license their player – pretty much regardless of what happens.

  • RichardL

    Peter, once again you've put your finger on the pulse of the issue. The story here is not that MPEG-LA changed anything. The story was that MPEG-LA managed to snow the media and the general public with a non-event.

    @Wilhelm Reuch: While Firefox/Mozilla has little cash they do have value as they own a considerable chunk of the browser market. Not-for-profit interests can be manipulated too. And patents are primarily a tool for manipulation and negotiation.

  • Mike

    I think it's fair that many took a shallow view on this news, but it's also fair that one of the biggest things toss out as to why not to not adopt h.264 is the idea of what's free today may not be tomorrow. If you're saying this news doesn't change anything, then that's also saying the whole cost argument was nonsense to begin with. The argument now is now purely on principle and consumers don't care.

    There is a lot of mature technology behind h.264 and rights appear to be settled. I think there are a lot of advantages to building products around it, and it's reasonable the IP holders be compensated for their investments. There's nothing wrong with that, in face it's the core of our economy.

    Microsoft just said that will provide the necessary support for users to install. Apple doesn't want to do this because it fragments their vertical strategy. Either Apple will have to put their ass on the line with WebM or break the system consumers have overwhelmingly preferred.

  • http://roughlydrafted.com Daniel Eran

    A primary problem with Ogg Theora and WebM is that neither is supported by mobile devices, because neither has hardware support to enable mobile devices to efficiently decode those formats. That might happen at some point in the future, but it won't help the 100 million installed base of iOS devices now in existence.

    Of course Netscape/Mozilla doesn't care about this because it has no showing in the mobile race. It's only interested in making a free browser, something that hardly matters anymore because everyone now has access to free browsers (via WebKit) and the mobile web is not dominated by IE (Microsoft barely has a showing on the mobile web).

    If Mozilla refuses to support H.264, users who want a free desktop browser will simply move to Chrome (or perhaps Safari), both of which cost nothing, are based on open source and provide better support for web standards than Mozilla. And of course, both support H.264.

    So rally behind the failure of Netscape's now irrelevant open source project all you want, but it doesn't really matter to anyone other than free software ideologues, and it's completely irrelevant on the new mobile device frontier.

    Shifting the web to use WebM (or Ogg codecs) would only render such content unplayable. As for attempts to vilify H.264: it's a standard that employs the state of the art in video processing and compression. Not everything needs to be free (in my opinion) as you get what you pay for. And since WebM almost certainly uses the same patented technology (according to experts who examine it) as H.264 (out of necessity), there's no basis for claiming that it will be royalty-free in the future. It's just as patent encumbered; there's just no convenient licensing agreement in place to handle the patent minefield.

    Ideal? Perhaps not, but everything is not convenient and perfect. H.264 is a lot better than having web content in a proprietary format that open source users can't decode, such as a Microsoft WMV or a proprietary Sorenson QT (as it once was) or one of the proprietary VP-n codecs that Google supposedly freed as WebM (without due diligence concerning patent encumbrance).

  • Sam

    Mozilla makes a tremendous amount of money from Google. I can't think of a better way to spend it then a license for the h.264 so we can move on.

  • honkj

    ———–

    Here’s the deal: today’s “free forever” MPEG LA announcement was mostly a PR coup. It changes very little:

    —————

    actually watching you post that was painful..painful in its ignorance…. it CHANGES EVERYTHING…. now there is a clear path, a known cost structure, ZERO CHANCE OF GETTING SUED….. unlike Google's option, unlike ALL OTHER OPTIONS…. it has cleared the path to be chosen as the HTML standard now… it is huge…

    geesh man, that party is over, and you are sitting at the light switch asking why no one is dancing with you……..

  • W

    The one thing that is certain: Apple as a company behaves in a more proprietary way than Microsoft. Microsoft allows people to use whatever development tools they want to develop for thier platforms. Apple requires developers to use Objective-C and thier tools to develop for the iPhone. Users cannot install third party plug-ins on thier iPhone (like Flash).

  • honkj

    ——————————-

    I believe that Safari does exactly what Internet Explorer does, i.e. use external codecs. So according to your logic Safari is not a roadblock at all. (and let’s be honest, with 5% or so of the market, I doubt Safari could block much).

    ——————————

    the noise and discussion has advanced because of mobile platforms… saying Safari or webkit is only 5% of the mobile browser market would be…. naive….

    the mobile market will decide the future of this discussion… and to be clear about this discussion, the cake is done, it is cooked.. baked …. eaten….. with that announcement…

    NO ONE is going to choose WebM when they are about to get sued, when the total costs of H.264 are laid out for all companies wishing to enter the field to see the effect on their customers……. none of which want to get sued for using WebM except Google who happily appropriated many people's property including Java and are getting sued for it…

    most companies don't go around appropriating other peoples property except Google (and MSFT), who ripped off multi-touch for Android, happily used webKit for browsers, and appropriated java for apps… is embracing WebM even though it is filled with others intellectual property…

    anybody else sense a pattern to what Google does here? Only Google is "devilish" enough to copy everyone else's ideas… they are going to be tied up in court for years, and not just for WebM…

  • honkj

    ——- Apple as a company behaves in a more proprietary way ——–

    yes, and in this way, they don't have a "dell" being moronic enough to come out with an Android phone sporting 1.5 version of the OS….

    Apple doesn't have Millions of it's users info sitting on Chinese servers because of "open" apps that stole a whole bunch of Android users info….

    yes, Apple is proprietary where it counts, where they can make money and protect their customers, which is one in the same in reality…. and they are "open" where it counts, interacting with the web with webkit… using HTML5 throwing off the proprietary flash (which sucks like a toilet on mobile anyway)

    and an Android user is fed to the sharks…. but hey they are "open" sharks atleast…

  • http://mikecanex.wordpress.com Mike Cane

    Thank you! I posted about this yesterday because I was shocked so many people thought something had changed!

    MPEG LA’s PR Fluff
    http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/mpeg-la

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  • Jerry

    Calling it "Apple-centric" makes no sense, could you please explain this bullshit?

  • http://Wileywiggins.com Wiley

    I really do not care if firefox supports h.264. What I want them to do is to have their browser properly fall back to flash if the only source in the video tag is mp4. I am not going to continue encoding extra inferior versions of videos just because firefox wants to throw a political temper tantrum over formats.

  • Peter Kirn

    Okay, judging by the animosity of some comments here, I think this link got passed around a bit. ;) But anyway, they raise some important questions.

    @Jerry: That's not a swipe at Apple. The pattern I saw was that some observers writing with a greater knowledge of Apple platforms got part, but not all of the story. So they got what Apple had communicated – that H.264 has advantages as a codec, and since they've licensed it, reduces patent liability. All of that is true. But they missed concerns raised by the open source community, Opera, Mozilla, Google, the open video community, and other technical observers, that there are other licensing costs and uncertainties incurred with MPEG LA and AVC beyond just this end user license.

    I'd say that qualifies as an "Apple-centric" point of view. The alternative is not a "Linux" point of view; it simply takes into account certain realities of licensing restrictions around this video format.

    Translation: this isn't just free software nuts saying this. If you want to make a new, non-proprietary standard, you'd better get the whole story on H.264. There's no pretty solution right now – not from MPEG LA, not from Google, not from Adobe, not from anyone. It's a sticky issue.

    I'm not going to comment on Apple as a corporate entity here because I don't think that's really what's at issue.

    @Sam: Mozilla makes a lot of money via donations, too; they'd rightfully anger their user community if they made their browser non-free.

    @Mike: Absolutely a good point. Mozilla de-emphasized this particular argument even before the deadline was extended from 2010 to 2015 (earlier this year). But I think they answer this here — even though various parties used the *end user* license expiration to make the argument, there are various other issues that don't change.

    So, there's not a doomsday scenario where every user pays royalties on every video they say on YouTube. But that scenario was always hypothetical. If it were the only argument, then this whole thing would be over. It happens that it wasn't, in fact, the only argument.

    If you're trying to get away from Flash containers for video because it's proprietary, moving to a video container with a patent-encumbered, license-bearing codec isn't really a step forward.

    @honkj: Technically, while licensing from MPEG LA is likely to greatly reduce the odds you'll be sued, they definitely do not make those odds "ZERO," which is why part of what many developers want is patent reform and not only new codecs.

    Re: WebM/VP8 on mobile — I think this argument is exaggerated. Google is certainly promising WebM support for the next major OS build. There's already mobile video that isn't H.264 that works today, without that particular hardware acceleration. There are other ways to accelerate video on modern mobile platforms, beyond a chip specific to one codec. Anyway, that doesn't change the original point – H.264 isn't "free."

  • Peter Kirn

    @Wiley: the Web developer can fall back to a proper format. You can't blame all of this on the browser. The thing people keep forgetting is that this is early days. It's getting tons of attention, but the development is still early on. So a browser-based fallback may even become practical soon.

  • http://Wileywiggins.com Wiley

    Right now if I include an html5 video element, it's got a tag, which has my source links, and then inside the tag is the fallback. I can include multiple sources inside the video tag, mp4, theora, webmaster whatever. If the browser doesn't support the video tag it shows the fallback inside the tag. The problem here is the semantic argument about when you go to the fallback. I say if you (the browser) cannot play any of the files listed in the source elements, then you proceed to the fallback. Firefox says, no- ogg IS the video element, and if there isn't an ogg source in there then it's the developer's problem, not ours, and it refuses to go to the fallback.

    The only thing that webm would change is that firefox acknowledges one other format. Firefox is interpreting the video element this way and refusing to fall back if I don't include one of the formats they like because they are making a political stand against h.264, which is an objectively superior codec for anyone who actually cares about how video looks.

  • http://Wileywiggins.com Wiley

    Webmaster=webm autocorrect :)

  • RichardL

    @Wiley – the same issue with HTML5 video fallbacks is true of Safari since it only supports H.264 and not WebM nor Ogg. The fact is there is no single combination of containers and codecs that works in all HTML5 browsers. And even using fallbacks there are major bugs, such as on Apple's iPad where it only recognizes the first source.

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  • Steve

    There seems to be an awful lot of wishful thinking here on Mozilla's part. Whether we like it or not, H.264 will remain dominant for multiple reasons.

    First and foremost is technical superiority. Yes, WebM is much better than Ogg Theora, but it's not up to H.264 standards.

    Second, there seems to be an assumption that WebM is unencumbered by existing patents. That hasn't been established and is likely NOT the case. http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2010/05/g… MPEG LA is currently working on supporting a patent pool for WebM.

    Third, as Daniel mentioned above, H.264 has hardware support in devices like video cards on the desktop and on various mobile devices. That's simply a huge advantage over any competing codec right now. Having Microsoft provide half hearted support isn't going to be enough here. Even MS is firmly behind H.264 for both technical and legal reasons.

    H.264 isn't free. Likewise, I understand why Mozilla is taking the position that it is. However, as an end user, I don't want to sacrifice quality because Mozilla has chosen to fracture the market due to budget considerations. Mozilla will lose share to Chrome, Safari and possibly even give share back to Microsoft due to their stubbornness on this position. Opera was irrelevant before this controversy came about and will remain so in the future.

  • RichardL

    @Steve How do we know that MPEG-LA's threats against WebM are anything other than "self-serving saber rattling"?

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  • Peter Kirn

    Yes, there's a technical and legal argument for H.264, of course. But Steve, you go a bit far –

    Mozilla's not "choosing" to fragment the market. And I don't think it's fair to paint Mozilla as either going it alone or at risk of losing share or relevance. There's this company called "Google" that's in the same camp, with their "YouTube" site — maybe you've heard of them? (Case in point: even on Linux, Google ships Chrome with H.264 support. But these days, go to YouTube, and you see VP8-encoded video, not H.264.)

    @RichardL: actually, even as saber rattling goes, what the MPEG LA said was pretty tame. Larry Horn said this in a single email exchange with Digital Daily's John Paczkowski only *after* Paczkowski prompted him:

    "Yes, in view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies, there have been expressions of interest from the market urging us to facilitate formation of licenses that would address the market’s need for a convenient one-stop marketplace alternative to negotiating separate licenses with individual patent holders in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so."

    All he said was "looking into prospects." So it's possible that both jittery VP8 advocates (yes, myself included) and on the opposite side those chomping at the bit to make H.264 part of the HTML5 video tag blew this a bit out of proportion.

    There's no guarantee on this, and MPEG LA is no stranger to patent litigation, but so far we're relying on one email comment from MPEG LA and the analysis of the guy who wrote the x264 decoder.

    And it's worth mentioning again that there's no indication that either H.264 or VP8 will be enshrined in HTML5 as a standard.

    I don't see Firefox losing users over this. I think the big winner is likely to be the video hosting sites, whether that's YouTube, Vimeo, or the bigger commercial service like Brightcove, because they'll deal with the pain of transcoding to deal with all these incompatibilities. And because HTML5's video tag is more flexible and reliable than using Flash in a number of applications, we'll see more implementation of it from smart developers — regardless of codec — even without devices like the iPad forcing the issue.

    But seriously, are Web devs really going to crap on Firefox users just because they don't like the fact that the Mozilla Foundation didn't want to spend millions of their own cash to make their software non-free? Not any Web devs I'd hire. (For that matter, would you hire a Web dev who refused to make a non-Flash rendition for iPad readers? Compatibility first. That decision didn't slow down the iPad, so I can't imagine this decision will hurt Firefox.)

  • Tom

    A correction to the biased original article – the cost of an H.264 licence to a we browser developer is USD$5000 and not "millions" as the article claims. If you are going to try and be even handed in reporting, be even handed, not biased in a different direction.

  • Peter Kirn

    Tom, might check your zeros. I'm going by the license cost Mozilla claimed. "USD 5000000" is the fee according to Shaver, not "5000." That's $5,000,000.

    Source: http://www.osnews.com/story/22787/Mozilla_Explain

    Now, I do see that one blogger has claimed that the fee isn't that high:
    http://obamapacman.com/2010/02/the-5-million-doll

    But I can't find any further verification for that claim. I'll add this mention to the story; perhaps someone can figure out if Mozilla has exaggerated their math here.

    The dollar figure issue I think is the biggest one here, but not the only issue; it's still encumbered even if the fee is less.

  • Doug Petrosky

    Maybe a better question is should the codec for he web be free? Is it reasonable with the complexity and sophistication of video encoding today that anyone should expect nobody to be compensated for using it? Who is hurt by licensing H.264? Virtually every hardware manufacture is already doing it. MS and Apple are paying it so who really cares? Is this all for a couple linux geeks?

    So, all my hardware for the forceable future will have already paid money to MpegLA, thus I have paid MpegLA and I wouldn't want to use it why?

    Ok, so I get it, H.264 isn't totally free, but who is hurt by that?

  • Peter Kirn

    Actually, wait a minute, I had to re-read that story just to make sure I hadn't lost it — here's the punchline on the "5 million license fee is a myth" headline:

    "The $0.10 per unit H.264 royalty is capped at the maximum fee of $5 million in 2010. So the actual cost of H.264 for large businesses can be pennies per unit."

    So, the $5 million license fee is a myth, except it's not. And based on my reading of the license, Mozilla would absolutely be responsible for that fee; I can't find reason to disagree with Mozilla's own assessment.

    Then it goes on to explain that $5 million really isn't that much money:

    "For example, instead of actually investing into competent R&D, Microsoft regularly spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year for its various failed products. To support the Vista launch, Microsoft is reported to have spent half-a-billion dollars in advertising."

    – as if Windows Vista is somehow pertinent to the discussion. I'm not a fan of calling people fanboys, but I see no reason to drag Windows quality issues into this already convoluted debate.

    I'll grant this: MPEG LA's licensing terms are mysterious to say the least. And it's very possible Mozilla is wrong about the fee for which they'd be responsible. But at this point, with no hard evidence to the contrary, I'm still inclined to give Mozilla the benefit of the doubt; it's certainly how I would read the same license terms for a developer.

  • RichardL

    Yes, it's $5M per year.

  • Doug Petrosky

    To be a bit more accurate, it is free for any entity with less tha 100,000 units. At about 5 million users you would pay $1 Million and at 45 Million users you would hit the cap of $5 million. So this isn't going to stop some small developer from inovating, even if they choose to write their own H.264 codec instead of relying on existing codecs in most platforms.

    Which brings up another problem I have with Mozilla's stance. They choose not to support existing H.264 codec's that already exist on all major platforms for fear of security holes, and leaving some platforms behind but yet they do support embedding flash, jpeg, Gif, Tiff, and dozens of audio codecs. Why not be high and mighty in these areas as well?

  • RichardL

    > H.264 isn’t totally free, but who is hurt by that?

    Video and audio are essential elements for the free (not as in free beer) dissemination of ideas, information and creative works. Such exchange forms the foundation of our society and culture at all levels. There should not be tolls on the use of any such elements. Imagine if you needed a license to write text here or distribute pictures over the internet.

    The MPEG-LA's free distribution of free-to-end-user content license goes only partway to a solution. There are many other parts of the tool chain that MPEG-LA has no intention to make free (as in beer).

    As a user of Apple products you are probably a rich person living in a very rich country. But not everyone in the world enjoys your privilege. People of all walks of life all over our planet deserve the benefits of free expression — a basic right that our technology has enabled — it's not just a privilege for Mac users.

    The use of software patents to create toll barriers is stifling innovation, enterprise and expression.

  • Pingback: [BitTech] H.264 is Free for the Free! - Page 3 - Overclock.net - Overclocking.net

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    > Apple-centric

    H.264 is not Apple-centric, it is Consumer Electronics -centric. It's the ISO/IEC standard for sharing audio video data. It is the video from Blu-Ray. You just think it is Apple-centric because they are the biggest manufacturer of consumer and pro video editors, and the biggest retailer of online music and video, and the biggest maker of portable media players.

    Actually, H.264 is of more advantage to companies other than Apple. Apple's domination of digital music and video would be even greater if not for ISO standards. As it stands, the video that is recorded on an iPhone or edited in Final Cut Pro or played on an iPod also works on devices from RIM and Sony and Motorola and hundreds or possibly thousands of other manufacturers.

    So H.264 is not only not Apple-centric, it's an antidote to Apple's dominant position.

    > The “free” applies to end user,

    And the content creator, who never pays any royalties in any way. And the publisher of free video, or ad-supported video, which is almost all publishers.

    The only non-free use is Apple or Amazon and similar selling video, or Apple and Avid selling video tools, or Apple and Nokia selling video players.

    > But it is an issue for free software developers.

    Who cares? You guys are 0.0000001% of the world's population, and you have done almost exactly nothing for audio video. The "free" alternative to H.264 is NOTHING, no video. Ogg might as well be AES-256 with no key, that is how viewable it is, how practical it is for video, how little deployment it has in tools and players.

    MPEG has put video on our phones and iPods and into our GPU's and has been providing working video standardization across the huge Consumer Electronics industry for 20 years.

    Standardization sometimes means compromise. You don't always get your way when the entire world comes together around one codec so that we can all share video, even if we are streaming it live from a phone, even if we are selling millions of copies. Mozilla and other free software developers are a decade late and have no standing. Some humility is in order.

    Instead of trying to break the world's 20 year successful record of audio video standardization, Mozilla should be lobbying MPEG-LA for a license exemption, for a free license. But they are not doing that, because they are opposed to the terms of the MPEG license, they do not want an MPEG license, they want the world to change for them. They want the Web to have its own proprietary video format. It's not going to happen. Video needs to go from the user's phone or camcorder or camera directly to the viewer in real-time in some cases, there is no time to transcode, it is not practical. And this already works now, if you don't use Firefox.

    And H.264 already plays in Firefox today via a proprietary, closed source plug-in that also closes other open standards, wrapping HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into Adobe-only binaries. Mozilla has no high horse here.

    > You’re not free to use MPEG LA’s technology as

    > a content publisher if you want to use H.264 as

    > your distribution format for on-demand or for-sale

    > video

    The 2% that video sellers pay buys them universal playback for a potential audience of billions of viewers. It is a very, very small price to pay for all the work that was done to develop and universally deploy a common codec in all of the video players in the world. It's a *tip*!

    Video sellers are free to try and make money selling royalty-free Ogg. Good luck with that. People will not buy video they cannot see.

    The math is like this:

    - number of Ogg copies sold x unit price = x

    - number of H.264 copies sold x unit price – 2% royalty = 100,000x

    Everybody wins.

    > That means if you’re making, say, a truly free

    > and open source Web browser like Firefox, you

    > can’t distribute H.264 support without paying

    > millions for a license

    That means if you're making software that has completely ignored audio video for its entire history, you have the opportunity to put a world class video player with universal compatibility in your software simply by paying a small fraction of the money you make from the Google searches your users perform, and that video player will play all of the existing audio video content. Even though many companies have been working in Consumer Electronics and making video players for decades while Mozilla completely ignored audio video, because of ISO standardization and the MPEG patent pool, Mozilla can just waltz in and have an equal seat at the table to Apple, Sony, and many other long-time video player makers. In fact, Mozilla cannot be excluded because it is an open standard, unlike the FlashPlayer that is currently used in Firefox, although even FlashPlayer plays H.264.

    So it is not Mozilla that should be pissed. It's Adobe, who has been making video players for quite some time and yet Mozilla can replace FlashPlayer with their own H.264 video player and nobody can stop them. It's Sony and other long-time video player makers that should be pissed. It's Apple that should be pissed, because they have been making digital video players since 1992. But all these companies are not pissed, because they recognize that a common video codec is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

    Mozilla makes well over 10 times the maximum MPEG-4 license fee from Google Searches. If they lose only 10% of their audience to another browser due to lack of H.264 playback, they will have lost more money than the H.264 licensing. So the economic argument is BS. Not only can Mozilla afford to license H.264, they cannot afford not to. The Web is becoming interactive TV, not an interactive print magazine.

    If Mozilla can profit from Google, they can tip MPEG. Plain and simple.

    > WebM standard

    WebM is not a standard. A "standard" is an actual thing, and WebM is not that. Words have meaning, except to propagandists.

    > Apple’s Safari is the one browser without

    > any announced support for WebM as the new

    > standard. (Even Microsoft is tentatively on

    > board, albeit with a separately-installed VP8

    > codec.)

    In the first place, no more than 10% of IE9 users will install the VP8 codec. Especially not if they understand that doing so exposes them to liability from submarine patents. And H.264 in IE9 is GPU-accelerated, while VP8 is not. On batteries or on smaller systems installing the VP8 codec will be a major disadvantage.

    Secondly, you're only looking at the desktop. There are 5 times as many mobiles. On mobiles, video playback happens entirely in hardware, and only H.264 is available there. The reason Apple is the desktop browser maker who is least interested in VP8 is they are mainly a mobile browser maker. They sell about 5 times as many mobile browsers as desktop browsers.

    > There just isn’t a single, easy answer on this

    > – neither H.264 nor VP8.

    Yes there is. H.264 is the ISO/IEC standard for audio video and is deployed for 10 years in the hardware of every video player, video editor, and video capture device in the world. VP8 is not a standard, is less than a year old, is not in any hardware, is not in any video editor, is not in any video capture device.

    The choice is very clear.

    > It’s simply that, from the perspective of those

    > who want unencumbered and open source solutions,

    > WebM and VP8 is the best compromise, and a major

    > leap forward from OGG Theora.

    No, H.264 is the best compromise, because IT WORKS and it is THE STANDARD. Now that free software people have looked up from vi to notice that audio video exists, they should have the f'ing humility to not try and sabotage a working system. They should save their political arguments for MPEG-5, which they will probably want to actually know about and participate in this time.

    The PC industry and it's monopolistic ways are being subsumed into the much larger CE industry and content industries and their rigid standardization. First, you follow the standard, second: everything else. The standards are what enable users to have the most important freedoms in CE: choose content and devices from any source and they all "just work" together. Shoot your video on Flip, edit in Final Cut Pro, view on BlackBerry, share with users of every other kind of device. Open source is important but not important enough to break video standardization and have users failing to play audio video. That is simply not allowed. Failing to play audio video is a PC thing, it's Microsoft and Adobe and Mozilla who do all of that. In CE, CD and DVD and MP3 and MP4 all just work.

    The irony of all this is HTML5 is supposed to bring CE-type standardization to the nonstandard, perennially-broken, user-unfriendly Web. Yet we have Mozilla, who were almost killed by Microsoft's lack of respect for standardization, pulling a Microsoft and trying to make CE video look like the HTML4 Web, aka IE6.

    Time for Mozilla to grow up.

  • Peter Kirn

    Myth: WebM and VP8 aren't relevant to mobile, only desktop.

    Facts:

    Google has promised support for WebM and VP8 across Android in the Q4 revision of the operating system.

    TI's ARM architecture should be pretty darned awesome at decoding VP8.
    http://e2e.ti.com/blogs_/b/mobile_momentum/archiv

    It supports VP8 right alongside H.264 and a mess of other formats — at 1080p.

    Nor is the TI announcement relative only to coming architectures — check out comments:

    "The Davinci processor family (like the OMAP family) has an active third party ecosystem working on the programmable cores (ARM/DSP) and these processors are capable of supporting VP8. All these OMAP and Davinci cores are able to run the open source versions of VP8/WebM today. With this large third party ecosystem and the programmable cores I am sure we will see VP8/WebM applications running on these processors in the near future."

    Myth: You won't be able to use VP8 in creation tools, because it's not the "standard" that H.264 is.

    Side comment: Give me a frakkin' break. A standard in video? Non-standard codec use, containers, editing implementations abound. Transcoding is a fact of life.

    Fact: Google had lined up codec support across a range of free and commercial tools the *day* WebM was announced, and have since done a lot more. (Note that the TI announcement was concurrent with Google's.)

    Yes, again, there are plenty of arguments for H.264. But some of this is just FUD.

    And I think the bottom line of all of this is that no one should expect to be locked in to any particular format for all time. Take a look at the TI architecture — the hardware and DSP engineers are working hard at supporting just about everything. Ditto software.

    The real problem right now is that patent liability can tie your hands and keep you from offering what's best — including, for instance, H.264, and whatever else may be next in line (H.265?). Never mind that many of the owners of these patents have enormous business in consumer electronics, software, and platforms and could benefit from interoperability — they're too protective of their patent portfolios to be bothered with creating real, interoperable, accessible standards.

    But fine, go ahead, dump on the open source community. They haven't done anything in audio and video lately, except for building amazing a/v engines (ffmpeg, gstreamer), extraordinary creation tools (ranging from Blender to Pd to Processing to OpenFrameworks), come up with astounding technology from major players (like Intel's OpenCV), and revolutionize Web browsing and Web standards… including, yes, Apple's own WebKit and the community that has worked on it alongside some brilliant Apple engineers.

  • Peter Kirn

    Incidentally, that's not to say I think VP8 is even preferable to H.264 on technical grounds. I just think somehow the image is this is something bearded Linux geeks running Firefox on their home-built towers want. It's going to be on your phone – your current smartphone, let alone the next phone you buy. It's going to be in set-top boxes. And backing from parties like Google and TI (and Adobe, I might add) matters. You can even hate VP8, if you like, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a hell of a lot of misinformation out there.

  • Tom

    The figures you are quoting for H.264 licensing are for shipping media, like files on disc.

    For browsers and the internet (and TV distribution) its covered by a broadcast licence.

    The second licensing fee is an annual broadcast fee. … [T]he annual broadcast fee is broken down by viewership sizes:

    $2,500 per calendar year per broadcast markets of 100,000–499,999 television households

    $5,000 per calendar year per broadcast market of 500,000–999,999 television households

    $10,000 per calendar year per broadcast market of 1,000,000 or more television households

    … With all the issues around “free” television, why should someone involved in nonbroadcast delivery care? As I mentioned before, the participation fees apply to any delivery of content. After defining that “free” television meant more than just [over-the-air], MPEG LA went on to define participation fees for internet broadcasting as “AVC video that is delivered via the Worldwide Internet to an end user for which the end user does not pay remuneration for the right to receive or view.” In other words, any public broadcast, whether it is [over-the-air], cable, satellite, or the internet, is subject to participation fees.

  • Tom

    So it would be $10,000 per year worst case.

    Unless the recent changes have changed this pricing?

  • Ricardo

    Hmm. So, why exactly H.264 still ain't free?

  • aha

    Mozilla support plug-ins. It is their choice not to support them in the html5 video tag. They could easily do this and still be open source. They wouldn't have to pay anything, because the license is already being paid.

    But wait, Mozilla says this is not about the money. Then what is it about? If they add open source support for plug-ins already, why would it be bad to support this in their html5 tag? Why would this hurt "downstream" developers.

    As has been stated in this thread already, consumers are what really matters. The H.264 codec is clearly the winner in consumer technologies (and AAC by the way, which also isn't "free" for all uses).

    Perhaps the conversation should really be about the patent system. It's obviously far from perfect. Making everything "free" isn't the necessarily the answer either. For example, I see this site is protected with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Under that license I am not "free" to distribute this content unless I also use this license. I guess it depends on your definition of "free." This is just one of the CC licenses – for example others restrict commercial use. Perhaps something like CC licensing would be something to push for in future A/V patents. I think it would be a step in the right direction. The CC license is pretty compatible with MPEG-LAs recent policy announcement (from a content perspective – which is really what matters).

    So, what we have isn't perfect. However, this is the same setup that brought us other consumer electronics like DVD (using MPEG-2, another MPEG-LA licensed technology). Notebook and desktop computers, cell phones, media players, tvs – these are all consumer electronics and need to play by today's rules. If you don't like them, work to change them in the future.

    Maybe that's what Mozilla is trying to do – change the future. In the past, they had the guts to do this without bitching (remember Eolas?). They could easily implement a setup that was still open source, but didn't require any patented technology (see above). Instead, they are tilting and the windmill of the CE industry. Admirable, but it doesn't benefit consumers and ultimately that means they lose.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Tom:

    $10k/yr is substantially different than $5m/year. But if Mozilla is that far off, why didn't MPEG LA correct them when they raised these numbers back in January (and before that, and again several times this year with each revised license agreemtn)?

    I'm perfectly willing to be corrected here; I'm just puzzled why Mozilla would quote numbers that wrong and/or not get called on it.

  • Doug Petrosky

    Where are you coming from?

    >> Imagine if you needed a license to write text here or distribute pictures over the internet<<<I>>But not everyone in the world enjoys your privilege<<</I>

    Excuse me but everyone who can view video on the internet already has access to a H.264 license. Ether via their operating system, their hardware, or a download from Adobe for flash! This is not about class warfare. Companies are already footing the bill. We are already paying for that by an increase in the cost of our devices of a dollar or two. Why the hell wouldn't we want to take advantage of what we already paid for?

    I totally disagree that webM and VP8 are on any sort of fast track because Google is going to support H.264 right along side it. And so unless you believe Android is going to knock Apple, RIM, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft out of the consumer electronics markets any time soon, Everyone will publish to what plays on the largest number of devices and that will be H.264 for the foreseeable future.

    This announcement just makes that all even more likely.

  • Peter Kirn

    Tom, I'm pretty sure it's the decoder license language we're talking about; i.e., "In the case of the (a) encoder and decoder manufacturer sublicenses…"

    That language indeed has the $5 million cap, and in the opinion of Mozilla, at least, includes browser decoders.

    Mozilla cited two reasons not to use the codecs in the operating system. Contrary to popular opinion, they weren't concerned foremost about Linux, but about Windows. (Why? Most Linux users in countries like the US with strict software patents simply violate patent laws and install the codecs anyway, and they're savvy enough to do it.)

    Here's that reasoning, via Robert O'Callahan, the Mozilla blogger cited before:

    Most users with Windows Vista and earlier do not have an H.264 codec installed. So for the majority of our users, this doesn't solve any problem.

    It pushes the software freedom issues from the browser (where we have leverage to possibly change the codec situation) to the platform (where there is no such leverage). You still can't have a completely free software Web client stack.

    http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/roc/archives/2010/

    O'Callahan has a point. Remember that on point two, part of the reason we're going through this agony in the first place of switching to HTML5 video is that we wanted independent browser stacks.

  • aha

    I call BS on:
    http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/roc/archives/2010/

    Flash Player supports H.264, check these specs:
    http://www.adobe.com/products/player_census/flash

    With an iPod, iPad or iPhone you get iTunes, QuickTime (and h.264). If you haven't noticed, there are lots of those out there and I'm sure they are using "Windows Vista and earlier"

  • Peter Kirn

    @aha: QuickTime delivers H.264. Mozilla is referring to the codec support shipped by Windows in the operating system. Apple would likely be the first to argue for an integrated stack for which you can assure quality – just for them, that stack is the QuickTime framework. But the browser vendor can't assume everyone running Windows has installed a particular version of QuickTime. Welcome to the wonderful world of media support.

  • aha

    @Peter "Mozilla is referring to the codec support shipped by Windows in the operating system." Umm. Mozilla Firefox doesn't ship with the OS either. So this argument is that consumers can download and use another browser (that's their business model right?), but are incapable of downloading and using (free) technology to play media?

  • Peter Kirn

    @aha: Microsoft made H.264 decode part of Windows 7 and later. There isn't an easy, consumer-friendly, legal way to download an H.264 decoder for browsers on Vista and earlier, and Microsoft hasn't provided one of their own for earlier versions of the OS.

  • Mike

    If you have QuickTime installed, doesn't that provide support for h.264 playback in older systems?

    If this is true, then only dogma can explain why Mozilla is still making such a stink. The video codec and containers have been fragmented from the start. Either way new and old systems users will need to install WebM on their own, so it seems silly to fret over legacy users will have to install something. With this news, I don't see why not just let Apple and Microsoft foot the licensing bills and make h.264 the standard for HTML5 video?

  • honkj

    —— There should not be tolls on the use of any such elements ——-

    so accordingly we shouldn't have to pay for Phones… after all they are critical to communication, right? and we shouldn't have to pay a toll to Comcast, or ATT to have access to the internet, right?

    hey, here is an idea, maybe you should get out more and see that we actually do pay a toll for video and audio…

    the fees people already pay to have "use of any such elements" seems to actually make people want more, and for people to make more audio and video now…

    yet you can't seem to realize this…

  • Walt French

    @Peter K said, “@honkj: Technically, while licensing from MPEG LA is likely to greatly reduce the odds you’ll be sued, they definitely do not make those odds “ZERO,” which is why part of what many developers want is patent reform and not only new codecs.”

    Well, how long is THAT going to take?

    I think it's valuable to make sure everybody understands the fine print in these licenses, but as many people have observed, in practice this is GAME OVER for the video format wars.

    No major platform has a good reason for not supporting h.264, and making codecs available to apps that run on them. No new video format is likely except under the aegis of some MPEGLA-like entity because of the high improbability of escaping lawsuits. Some absolutely new approach would be required, in this very well-worked field.

    In fact, allow me to ***speculate*** that this is a (conditional) predecessor to lawsuits against VP8, Ogg and any other video format that treads on MPEGLA patents: if a format still shows any life in six months, there would be little risk in the court of public opinion (and in the MPEG consortium) from suing it. After all, competitors could/would be using MPEGLA technology to deprive MPEGLA of licensing fees. Might even go after those obsolete formats in Flash, so its video support would use h.264 exclusively, instead of as a choice.

  • Walt French

    @Peter K, here's another angle on the lawsuit issue.

    Suppose I work for Microsoft and somebody wants us to support Ogg in our code. I take a reasoned guess that in today's litigation-happy world, there is a 10% chance of getting sued for it.

    It would be costly to defend against, we would have a good risk of losing, it would be embarrassing because it would suggest that our Silverlight technology somehow needed the crutch of Ogg, etc.

    And for what? The ability to play freetards' videos with worse quality/bit and an anti-establishment message. Compared to an easily-licensed format that reinforces our message that we're up-to-date on web technology.

    Ditto, even more so, for Apple. Why I say, "game over."

  • Paul Walker

    “As Nanairo notes in comments, it’s possible that you’ll be able to install an external codec on Safari for Mac and be able to get WebM+VP8 support that way. But only Microsoft has committed at this point to that support; Apple has been silent”

    Well, they have remained silent because they’ve been doing what Microsoft has promised to since they first implemented HTML5 video. As yet, no stable, complete WebM components are available, but one is being developed by the webM project. http://code.google.com/p/webm/downloads/list

  • Peter Kirn

    Recall that the original reason for this debate was establishing consistency and reliability across platforms without plug-ins — and that all major browsers are also expected to work on all major platforms.

    Yes, it might be possible to graft together support for QTKit, DirectShow, GStreamer, QuickTime for Windows, and various different codecs and OS versions with slightly different results.

    And it's absolutely worth pointing that out — that's a proposal various parties have considered.

    But that wouldn't be an improvement on the status quo (relative to Flash, it'd actually likely be much, much worse). That's the reason Mozilla and others drew a line in the sand in the first place: they wanted consistency. I don't think anyone in this debate — Apple, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Google — would say that the resulting path has been easy or obvious, and I seriously doubt any one of them would read this announcement as "game over," because it doesn't change any of the major stumbling blocks for any of those players — period.

    I won't respond to anyone using the word "freetard." It's immature, it's offensive on a number of levels (non-technological included), and given that we're talking in this debate alone about players ranging from independent volunteer developers and advocates to Google with a $150 billion market cap, it's just kinda silly. Railing against open source technologies at this point is a bit like standing in ancient Rome and saying all mathematicians are idiots. You've got evidence of what it's built all around you. It's a little late to argue that it's fundamentally wrong. It doesn't mean the poets and military guys and people pouring concrete are irrelevant, either, but it is a fact of life.

  • Bob

    Peter, I just have to point out that many truly open technologies were coded from the very beginning with rigorous cognizance that software patents, like them or not, do indeed exist. Linus, for instance, knew that copying code, while a shortcut, would ultimately sink his free project.

    Google has taken a HUGE shortcut here, essentially trusting that On2 did not copy code. Look around a little and you'll find that people have gone to the source code and found evidence, and apparently plenty of it, of wholesale copy-and-paste from h.264 in VP8.

    Google built a lot of trust over the years. But the purchase of VP8 appears to be a rushed and sloppy attempt to fracture the solidifying support for h.264 as the ISO global video standard that it is.

    I appreciate all of the work the W3C has done in creating and promulgating free and open standards. But at some point there are other people in the room; the worldwide standards for digital video are not going to be set by web folk. They've already been set by digital video folk. h.264 is already the lingua franca. WebM is Esperanto. Good luck with that.

  • /b

    "Peter, I just have to point out that many truly open technologies were coded from the very beginning with rigorous cognizance that software patents, like them or not, do indeed exist. Linus, for instance, knew that copying code, while a shortcut, would ultimately sink his free project."

    This statement reveals a lack of understanding about the difference between copyright and software patents. Even if you come up with an idea all by your lonesome and have never even heard of anyone else doing something similar, let alone copied someone else's code that does it, if someone else has patented that technique (or, more to the point, can argue that your implementation is covered by their patent) you are sunk. There is nothing you can do to avoid a software patent you don't know about. In short: you can copy absolutely nothing and still be in violation of a patent.

    And again, Mozilla isn't just being stubborn, they're not denying themselves an opportunity, they're not disregarding their users. They simply can't ship h264 support. It's not an option for them.

  • RichardL

    @honkj who said anything paying for phones? Are you talking about you cell phone bill? (It used to be such things were considered basic rights and were regulated with special protections as common carriers.) But that's a whole other orthogonal discussion to the issue at point here which is that video is a basic and fundamental communication datatype — the use of which shouldn't be gated and tariffed by a cartel of special interests.

    No matter what a passel of trolls say or a press release attempts to pass off as free beer, bottom line: H.264 ain't free to use. WebM is.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Bob: Google says they've done a legal analysis of VP8. So, assuming they're being accurate, they didn't just take On2 at their word. That doesn't mean there aren't potential patent problems around VP8, of course.

    H.264 is far from a lingua franca. It's almost never the capture format or editing format. Even if we're talking about Web video, there's a wide range of formats out there which have been changing very quickly. Flash remains the key to online H.264 adoption, but that means it's the container player that matters more than the codec, precisely because the situation around browser support is complex (and even in fairly forward-looking CDM reader analytics, more people have the latest version of Flash than the latest browser).

    And as for hardware support, I think this issue has been profoundly exaggerated. Those chipsets usually support hardware acceleration for a variety of formats, not just H.264, precisely because there isn't a dependable lingua franca. (especially once you start talking capture formats, etc.) And contrary to what people are saying, hardware acceleration for VP8 is happening reasonably quickly.

    As for concerns about Google and ISO, I wouldn't describe this as "fragmentation," as that would have to ignore all the problems with H.264. Just because something is certified as a standard doesn't mean it works for everyone, and the fact remains that the most important fully-free browser simply *can't* ship this.

    However, point taken on the fact that Google hasn't sought standards certification. There's a thoughtful article about that from May, I see:
    http://www.robglidden.com/2010/05/how-googles-ope

    The headline I think is a bit overheated, but the point makes sense. Now, obviously, Google is moving forward because they think they have a limited amount of time, since H.264 advocates are already claiming they've won. But it should remain a long-term concern, even with some of the problems with ISO (see: Office Open XML)

  • Bob

    "Even if you come up with an idea all by your lonesome and have never even heard of anyone else doing something similar, let alone copied someone else’s code that does it, if someone else has patented that technique (or, more to the point, can argue that your implementation is covered by their patent) you are sunk."

    Yeah I get that.

    But you stand a whole lot better chance of defending yourself when faced with litigation if your source code doesn't look like the world's most cheatinous term paper. VP8 has code in it that has been shown to have been lifted wholesale. In the fullness of time, it's likely we'll find that WebM is just as 'free' as a copy/pasted and renamed h.264 can be.

  • RichardL

    @Bob Where is there a citation that the open sourced VP8 implementation "has been shown" to have been "lifted wholesale" from an H.284 implementation?

    I have to ask, what does Google gain by putting VP8 out open sourced and royalty-free knowing it's actually patent encumbered or without doing due diligence on the codec's patent liability?

    The reasoning put forward is that Google is either a) incompetent or b) propagandist. Neither explanation holds much water.

  • Kevin Hackett

    Google is evil and soon they will show their horns. Anything funded by the CIA can not be good.

  • RichardL

    Here are a couple of interesting takes on how VP8 is very likely not patent encumbered.

    The first article presents how the media codec standards process has actually encouraged patent encumbrance of their product by providing an incentive for all participants to contribute narrow patents to the pool.

    http://blog.ibeentoubuntu.com/2010/05/lead-ogg-de

    http://carlodaffara.conecta.it/?p=420

  • Walt French

    @Peter K, here’s another angle on the lawsuit issue.

    Suppose I work for Microsoft and somebody wants us to support VP8/WebM in our code. After discussions with our best video technology types and our counsel, I take a reasoned guess that in today’s litigation-happy world, there is a 25% chance of getting sued for it.

    It would be costly to defend against, we would have a good risk of losing, it would be embarrassing because it would suggest that our Silverlight technology somehow needed the crutch of Ogg, etc.

    And for what? The ability to play videos with worse quality/bit and an anti-establishment message. Compared to an easily-licensed format that reinforces our message that we’re up-to-date on web technology.

    Ditto, even more so, for Apple. Why I say, “game over.”

    (Apologies for my earlier use of a word that suggested some people's principled choice of technologically inferior software was defective.)

  • Tom

    "H.264 is far from a lingua franca. It’s almost never the capture format or editing format."

    Careful with this one. AVCHD is a very common capture format for camcorders. And Canon SLRs.

    The ability to capture AVCHD on a camera and then copy that to a DVD for high definition playback is a wonderful thing.

    I like VP8 too. I already said this, but your video master should be something nicer (like VC-3), and then just transcode it as needed, MP4 or VP8 or whatever comes next.

  • Peter Kirn

    Tom: no, true, fair point. I may have gotten overexcited in the comment thread. AVCHD with H.264 is common on capture. I guess the question is whether the Internet standard should be royalty-bearing, ISO-certified or not.

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