Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Amor Robustum

I suppose I'd better give my take on John Gruber's spiel, especially because Mark Pilgrim was pushing a similar line on #whatwg:
But if Mozilla’s position were really about idealism — tough love for the good of the web in the name of free, open file formats — then in addition to not supporting H.264, they’d drop support for plugins like Flash Player.

Let's assume for the sake of this argument that eliminating NPAPI plugins (and their shapeshifted ActiveX cousins) would be a good thing for the open Web. Would dropping support for NPAPI plugins in Firefox be a good thing for the open Web? Not necessarily. If we dropped support for Flash in desktop Firefox, then (since desktop browsers are so competitive and the switching costs are quite low) a very large number of users would stop using Firefox and start using another browser that does support Flash. So Flash usage would not decrease much. We would certainly not even get close to eliminating the use of Flash on Web pages. On the other hand, there would be significantly less competition in the browser market. Overall, that's not a win for the open Web. Pointless martyrdom can be fun, but it's not good strategy.

The situation with the HTML5 <video> element and H.264 is very different. At the moment, lack of support for H.264 in <video> is not driving users away from Firefox. That is a battle we can still fight and possibly win without destroying our relevance.


What will happen when every other major brower out there ( IE, safari, chrome, maybe even opera ) started supporting H.264.
Will firefox try to support it then ?
Robert O'Callahan
It doesn't directly matter what other browsers do. Some things that could impact our plans:
a) lack of H.264 support causing significant harm to our users
b) complete domination of H.264 to the point where further resistance is futile
c) getting to a point where supporting H.264 with <video> actually lets us drop support for Flash (I don't think this will happen)
d) H.264 becoming free because the U.S. Supreme Court blows up all related patents (I don't think this will happen either, but I can dream)
There are extremely obvious networking effects with all interop technology like this, so I don't understand why people would be confused that Mozilla's position on supporting H.264 differs to their position on supporting Flash. I'm assuming Mozilla likes neither, but in "the real world" they can only block one (for now).
Then again, there are many things that confuse me too: such as why people believe the current degree to which H.264 has a higher quality per bit is more critical than a completely open video format, why Apple believes the heavily patented H.264 would be legally safer than Theora, why Apple haven't implemented Ogg audio, why Hixie (who I think does an amazing job) decided that this one case of a stubborn vendor was different to all the other cases of stubborn vendors and why *some* users who currently enjoy the fruits of open processes and organisations are so incredibly ungrateful when those organisations try to fight the good fight for those user's rights.
a) If by "harm" you mean "annoyance of having video served with Flash", then yeah
b) This is the case already
c,d) Not happening
I sympathize with Mozilla's idealism but given that 99% of Firefox users have Flash installed, for all practical purposes Firefox supports h.264, therefore you do absolutely nothing by not supporting it natively. Except "a)", of course.
So on the whole Google/VP8 thing: what if, rather than (directly) worrying about releasing VP8 royalty-free, Google was trying to use the threat of doing so as leverage on the h.264 playback licensing system? If h.264 licensing for playback were guaranteed free for the remaining duration of the patents (or at least per-computer, seeing as Win7 and OSX have already paid for such licenses), would Mozilla support its inclusion?
Given the almost complete lack of tools on the Vorbis side compared to the near ubiquity of h.264 support in new hardware/software (even if some of the h.264 encoders are rather crappy), I have a hard time seeing any valid -practical- reason to support Vorbis. Google has the money and manpower to build a sufficient amount of the support software to go along with VP8 that I could see that as a credible threat, though.
Joe Stevens
What about Gruber's larger point that although OGG is not patented technologies that are included in it may very well be?
Also, aren't you guys concerned that IE9 is going to support H.264? If that happens its not likely that publishers will encode their videos in OGG and H.264 its more likely that they will serve browsers that support H.264 in the video tag H.264 and browsers that don't will get Flash. Do you really want Firefox to be lumped together with IE6, IE7 and IE8. That can't be good for the image.
Robert O'Callahan
Gruber's larger point is pure FUD. He and the MPEG-LA are welcome to point out specific patents they think Ogg violates. They have not done so. We've done our legal research and we're shipping Theora.
@Joe Stevens
"What about Gruber's larger point that although OGG is not patented technologies that are included in it may very well be?"
Patents that apply to Ogg Theora are known and the developers of Theora have a license to use them. If there are "unknown" patents then this same problem applies to H264 or any other piece of software.
We can't create something about what is unknown, only with what is real. And the reality is that Ogg Theora has not any patents problems.
If you, Joe Stevens or Gruber, know of any patent that apply to Theora and isn't already known please inform us.
Else, please stop the FUD!
I humbly don't why so many people give such attention to people like Gruber.
His posts about this matter have all been debunked. As his most recent one. They can be described in one "word": FUD!
His most recent one is filled with false statements and poor reasoning, so poor that I can only conclude it is intentional. Like Fox News, he is acting a part to please his followers.
He, like any single end user, would have been pleased with the position of Mozilla and should have been supportive of it, for the web as an open platform depends on it.
Instead, he chooses the opposite position. Why? Doesn't it make you think.
Like every person which took a similar position throughout history, his position is self serving.
Egotistical and egoistic. As long his short term needs are served the hell with common good.
I'm pleased that the people that known about the subjects also care about them.
My advice: Mozilla, Opera, the people behind the Ogg Theora project and other like minded people should create a website debunking this type of FUD.
Then, every time Mr. Gruber makes one of his poorly researched and poorly reasoned posts, you only have to redirect your readers to that website.
The "ogg theora is a bigger patent risk" has been an orchestrated campaign since it was first suggested as codec for HTML5 Video.
It's time for Mozilla to respond!
I'm all for making an effort to drive the web towards unencumbered standards but frankly the fact that Mozilla has indicated it will not allow the browser to render media using codecs installed on my system is pissing me off! A full decade and more on I can't play an mp3 in a website without installing some monstrosity like Quicktime. I don't want Mozilla to include locked down codecs but I would appreciate it if they would give me the freedom to use them if I choose to. h.264 with the video tag and mp3 with the audio tag vs Quicktime and Flash; Let me make that "bad" decision because I can pick the lesser of two evils (Flash free Youtube makes me happy!). I think h.264 fees may bring the content providers along to free codecs eventually and if they are already using the video tag it will be an easier change.
Joshua Cogliati
Mp3 (MPEG-1 layer 3 audio) might actually be usable relatively soon in Mozilla. MPEG-1 had a publicly available committee draft in December of 1991, so by December of 2012, it will have been 21 years since publication, so all US non-delayed patents (which is all the patents I know about) filed by December 1992 will have expired by then. For H.264 baseline, the relevant date is 2003, and for the current version 2009, so 21 years later is 2024 and 2030.
"At the moment, lack of support for H.264 in is not driving users away from Firefox."
Sorry, I must disagree. I have been using Firefox since the Phoenix days and am now making the switch to Chrome specifically for H264 playback. I am not the first in my office to have done this; nor, I suspect, will I be the last. As a user, I want to use what works. The Foundation's moral stance is admirable, but I'm afraid largely meaningless to 90% of users who want to just *use*.