"Get with the program"

John Gruber on Vimeo’s new HTML5 player:

“Nice. And, just like YouTube’s, it only works with Safari and Chrome because they’re using H.264. Firefox supports the HTML5 video element, but only for Ogg Theora video. Get with the program, Mozilla.”

Mr. Gruber, I subscribe to your blog in my feed reader because I enjoy feeling like a rational human being. I am still a recovering Apple zealot, and it’s interesting to see how much my views have changed over the last five years.

Some of my friends know that I started with Linux simply because it was free and accessible to me, but I stuck around because of the philosophy behind it—most notably, the concept of free software, and the concept of what is “bad” software because you can’t change it or legally use it.

When I hear comments such as Mr. Gruber’s—”get with the program, Mozilla”—I wonder if people really understand the patent issues that surround the HTML5 open video debate. (Read more on the debate from Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul.) Long story short, H.264 is patent encumbered, Ogg Theora isn’t (as far as anybody can tell). Full stop.

Unfortunately here in the United States, we still permit software patents. Also unfortunate is that somebody is charging for patent licenses to the H.264 codec.

There’s a reason Mozilla is staying away from H.264, and it’s not just about the monetary cost of a license. Mozilla has taken on the responsibility of providing a free-software solution for browsing the web, which often directly conflicts with anything that requires a separate license. Even if Mozilla did want to pay for the patent license, even redistributing Firefox with the H.264 codec would taint the very freedom that it touts.

So, Mr. Gruber, et al.: Get with the program. Understand what Mozilla and its hundreds of contributors want to do. Help put an end to software patents. Or, help to make Theora better, making it more useful to YouTube and Vimeo. It takes a community to have real action, not just the beck and call of the few and powerful.

16 thoughts on “"Get with the program"

  1. Pingback: Ian Weller: “Get with the program” | TuxWire : The Linux Blog

  2. I try to put all my video content online as Theora, sometime even if it is painful, but I think the point may be: if the codecs are installed (gStreamer-plugins-whatever), why Firefox should not be able to play HTML5 videos encoded in other formats? I know is for the greater good, but it looks to me like trying to force the greater good, which does not work.

  3. Ok, I thought that I was the only one annoyed at that since John Gruber seems to not grasp the debate behind the decision.
    But then again, John Gruber seems to also miss that Chrome and Chromium have done two different things with video currently.

    Good to head that I am not the only one fed up with this lack of understanding.

    @nicu: First IANAL. Over at Robert Accettura’s blog, there has been similar talk… but I think that exposing any program to the format is an issue from what I grasp about the legal context. There is a good chance that by doing that one is likely to expose one to a rather big legal risk, since Firefox would be expose to the risk of exposing the function (which considering that it’s more a function of Gecko, victimizes more than just Fx) and the framework (Be it Mircosoft, Apple or anyone else) is liable for not licensing the format to begin with (assuming that they haven’t).
    Considering that H.264 is free only for the year for both decoding, encoding and hosting, I am not sure that YouTube/Vimeo is going to do more than play with HTML5 video (using H. 264) at this time since that would be a lot to lose for the both of them come the end of the year.

  4. Pingback: The Grand Fallacy » Restoring a voice.

  5. Licensing fees are not trivial things. Blizzard has mentioned in the past that shipping just mp3 decode in FF would cost Mozilla around $500,000 per day just for the license. h.264 is considerably more expensive on all of the MPEG-LA’s licensing charts.

    Sure talk about freedom all you want, but that’s an awful lot of ‘cold hard cash’ incentive.

  6. Adopt a Theora Video

    As you may have noticed Youtube and Vimeo have started experimental HTML5 video support. Right now they are using the H.264 video format since this is what they already have.

    By my personal interest to make an open and free video format de-facto used and support Mozilla’s and Opera’s aim to make these available for everyone, I propose to start an adopt a Theora video campaign.

    It is that simple: Just embed a Theora video of your choice on your homepage or soup – e.g. from TinyVid – and add some information about how to play it like installing the XiphQt extension (for Safari/QuickTime) or a Theora-supporting browser. Also there is the Cortado-Applet available, which is a usable fallback.

    It would be pretty nice if someone, who likes this idea, could create a template for this. ;)

  7. Monty’s right, ultimately Google and Apple can afford the licensing. And apparently, it costs less to them than the endeavor of shifting their content to Ogg/Theora. Despite our personal feelings about this situation, it’s obvious that entities like Google have an incentive to upsell h264 and ignore our idealism. Patents and freedom have nothing to do with this, really. And unfortunately, Mozilla and Opera (among others) will have no choice but to buckle under unless a miracle occurs, or simply suck it up and risk losing market share.

  8. Just accepting “H.264 is patented, we can’t use it, besides the patent being unfair and the implementation being fully fair and open source” is very disgusting. H.264 has a really good technical quality, and very good open source implementations, so this patent thing is very sad.

    I think the way to go is to fight software patents, not asking everyone to use an algorithm unencumbered by patents, even because it may be encumbered without someone knowing it, because of the patent system nature.

    The way to go while software patents persist in the US is perhaps to use a source-based distro. Source code is free speech and can be distributed unrestricted.

  9. Building codecs into the browser is insane. What happens when someone comes out with a better free codec? Under the Apple/Google approach, you would install the new codec on your system, and then you could view websites that use it. Under the Mozilla approach, you’d have to wait for Mozilla to decide to build the new codec into the browser.

  10. On the other hand, Apple is afraid to use Ogg due to patent concerns as well. They can’t research whether it infringes, or they might discover that they are infringing in some other way. They have deep pockets compared to Mozilla so they would be targeted in a way that Firefox would not. Sucks.

  11. So what you’re actually saying is the United States needs to get with the program.

    Why should the rest of the world care because you’ve painted yourselves into a patent corner.

    If you really care so much, just ship the DLLs for H.264 from European servers as a once-off at startup of Firefox, or first time you try to play H.264 content.

    Problem solved.

    I don’t hold out any hope for Mozilla Foundation to get head out of ass any time soon though.

  12. Like James, I think it’s Mozilla that needs to get with the program here. If they can’t afford to pay the H.264 license, they should at the very least make the codecs pluggable, so those that need not/do not care about software patents could get it easily, instead of having to switch browsers to watch video.

    Let’s face it. Ogg Theora is a nice codec, but H.264 is better in almost every way and almost universally supported. And it has very good open source implementations, too. I don’t think Mozilla should be holding back the web from getting rid of Flash on the basis of some ideological argument that this other codec is free-er.

  13. The most glossed-over fact in this debate is that there is no hardware support for Theora. Apple supports H.264 because they will not let precious (mobile) CPU cycles be wasted decoding a video format just because it’s “free” when it could be done on the GPU at a fraction of time/power. Many more users care about battery life than software freedom.

    Theora supporters, put your money where your mouth and implement a theora decoder in hardware. Then get the big semiconductor companies to buy your design, then bemoan Apple and Google for not supporting Theora.

    Until then, get off your high horse and realize there’s more to the story than “free” vs. “closed”.

  14. It is worth noting that the version of Chromium distributed by the Ubuntu PPA does not ship with H264 support. It is unlikely that the big community distributions (Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora) would ship Chromium with its H264 support enabled out of the box (not that this is a significant market share).

    As for codec bundling with browsers: this is quite a popular choice for cross platform browsers. Firefox (via libogg), Opera (via GStreamer on OSX and Windows) and Chromium (via ffmpeg) all bundle codecs. It could even be argued that Safari on Windows does something similar by using QuickTime…

Comments are closed.