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The GIF Format is Finally Patent-Free 369

Posted by Zonk
from the happy-birthday dept.
tonymercmobily writes "Not many people noticed that the GIF file format is only now free from patents, as of the 1st of October 2006. Quick recap: first in 1999 Unisys tried to extort money from users and developers. Then, in 2003 the world hoped that the saga would finally be over. Then, in 2004, it was IBM's turn. Now, the SAGA seems to be over for real! Does anybody find Unisys' page on GIF as hilarious as I do...?"
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The GIF Format is Finally Patent-Free

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  • by xENoLocO (773565) * on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:06PM (#16248627) Homepage
    ... for it to be obsolete.
    • Re:Just in time... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by creepynut (933825) <teddy(slashdot).teddybrown@ca> on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:11PM (#16248695) Homepage
      I for one, don't think GIF is going anywhere. Limited to 256 colours, sure. Keep in mind GIF is one of the most well supported image formats out there, and in the same format we have both transparency (1-bit, at that) and animation. PNG is nice, but thanks to Microsoft, and it's own not supporting animation, it just doesn't work for some things yet.

      I'm sure a big supporter of PNG, but understand why GIF is still around.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:19PM (#16248817)
        Not supporting animation is PNG's greatest benefit!
      • Re:Just in time... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazztNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:27PM (#16248945) Homepage
        When MNG (animated PNG) is supported by all major browsers, I probably won't use GIF for anything anymore.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:40PM (#16249185)
          Bow down before MNG the merciless!
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by vadim_t (324782)
          Pity the library is so annoying though. I was looking at using it in a small game and found this:

          http://www.3-t.com/libmng/faq.html#id-1040 [3-t.com]

          It's horribly annoying, I thought "screw it", and went with plain PNG.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            from the linked page:

            There's no easy way (yet). You should keep in mind that the structure of MNG allows for multiple loops and also unlimited loops. These kind of animations would generate an endless amount of frames, since the end of the file is never reached. There's a big difference with simple GIF files! MNG gives you more power, but also makes it a little more difficult to know what's going to happen further down the file.

            So what they're saying is that you can create multiple loops and script t

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by NeMon'ess (160583) *
              That quote makes it sound like it supports different loops that can be sequenced together. Meaning a dancing animation could have loops of moves that play in a scripted order, instead of always the same routine repeating. That make for a smaller, and more dynamic file.
              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                So what they're saying is that you can create multiple loops and script them up or something?

                That quote makes it sound like it supports different loops that can be sequenced together.

                Yeah, I didn't say that very well, but I didn't contradict it either.

                The point remains; a GIF animation can have an unlimited number of displayed frames, pulling from the same set of frames repeatedly. A MNG may be able to have more loops, but in the end, all of the source information must be in the file and it must b

        • Re:Just in time... (Score:5, Informative)

          by value_added (719364) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:52PM (#16249397)
          When MNG (animated PNG) is supported by all major browsers, I probably won't use GIF for anything anymore.

          Not being a web developer, I'm not familiar with the features and benefits of MNGs, but if they're at all similar to animated GIFs, I hope Firefox's image.animation_mode=none setting will apply when visiting the web sites you design.
        • Re:Just in time... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Carewolf (581105) on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:00PM (#16249521) Homepage
          No. Konqueror is the only browser to natively support MNGs, all other browsers need plugins. Mozilla used to some years ago, but they removed native support when no one used MNG.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by OverlordQ (264228)
            Mozilla used to some years ago, but they removed native support when no one used MNG.

            Not true, they removed it due to the fact that they had nobody that could maintain the code.
        • by jZnat (793348) *
          When [and if] APNG gets accepted into the normal PNG standard, anything using libpng will have support for APNG pretty much automatically.
        • That's gonna be a fun file type to say out loud...

          "Dude, check out this mung!"
      • Re:Just in time... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mugnyte (203225) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:32PM (#16249035) Journal
        Dude, GIF for animations?

          Like spinning arrows marking paragraphs?
          Howabout dancing pokemon?
          Forum avatar images that flash, blink and jump?
          Emoticons that wink and wave?

          Really, is there any way that technology has enhanced your web experience for the better?

          There are two metaphors here people are used to: Static reading mode, and TV mode. Combining the two is a no no. Do NOT animate portions of a reading metaphor (over-stimuli), and do NOT ask people to just read words via video (under-stimuli).

          The same goes for sound. If people want to listen to something, OFFER it to them, and let them control the start and stop of it. Playing sounds unasked on a web page is just...trashy. Animations are no different.

          HINT: Adblock is popular for a reason. Even IE6 allows one to stop GIFs from animating.

        • by jthill (303417) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:38PM (#16249163)
          I have two [googlepages.com] answers [ytmnd.com].
          • Re:Just in time... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by OakDragon (885217) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:48PM (#16249327) Journal
            And let's not forget... Hamster Dance [webhamster.com]!

            Hmmm... don't know why it wants QuickTime...

            • by rucs_hack (784150)
              that's not the original music is it? I don't remember it being that jazzed up. Shame, otherwise I'd archive it.
              • that's not the original music is it?

                The original music from Hampster Dance is a sample from "Whistle Stop" performed by Roger Miller, sped up 70% (as if a 45 RPM vinyl record were being played at 78 RPM). This song originally appeared as the theme song from Disney's animated feature film Robin Hood, and when Hampster Dance went commercial, it might have proven cheaper to cover the song (as Cuban Boys did with "Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia") than to license Miller's recording.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by truthsearch (249536)
            Thanks. You just lowered my IQ. I wish I didn't click on those links.
        • by TheSpoom (715771) *
          Wait, you're talking about GIFs here? I thought you were referring to MySpace.
        • by daniil (775990)
          Really, is there any way that technology has enhanced your web experience for the better?

          Dude. Inlined animated gifs are like the bestest thing ever [imageshack.us]! Pity that Slashdot doesn't allow inlining images...
          • by pete6677 (681676)
            What do you think Slashdot would look like if trolls were able to post images directly in their post? Remember the days of constant goatse trolls?
            • by daniil (775990)
              More colorful, perhaps? Unfortunately, you're right. We can't have nice things around here because someone will find a way to abuse them.
              • by daniil (775990)
                And yes, for a moment, I was tempted to post a NSFW gif image instead of the cat in a hole one.
        • Really, is there any way that technology has enhanced your web experience for the better?

          Yes, it has allowed me to view small animations with a limited number of frames and colors in my web browser with very little overhead.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          Really, is there any way that technology has enhanced your web experience for the better?

          Animation is useful to draw the user's attention to something. It's frequently overused, but that doesn't mean it's a bad technology. I mean, there's probably more viewers of the O'Reilly Report than of the educational program of your choice but it doesn't make Television itself evil, just the news media :P

          • by notque (636838)
            I mean, there's probably more viewers of the O'Reilly Report

            It's the factor, and it's losing ratings like crazy ever since Keith Olberman decided to stand up for what he (we) beileve in.
            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Yeah, I just saw 'im on that ol' MSNBC while in Vegas for business, and I was actually really impressed. I'd watch that show again if I could get TV where I live. I mean it's not like I agree with everything he said, but it was more than any other political pundit that's not on Comedy Central.

              It's really amazing to me the quality of news that comes off comedy central. Just watched Musharraf on there, it was a pretty good interview I thought. And funny :) But CC is owned by Viacom, it's not like they're

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          " Really, is there any way that technology has enhanced your web experience for the better?"

          On the CG forums I visit people frequently show animated how-to's using animated .GIFs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Trogre (513942)
          Animation does have other uses you know, often to convey information that would be very difficult on a static page:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barycenter [wikipedia.org]
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wankel_engine [wikipedia.org]
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guitar_moves [wikipedia.org]
          http://homepages.cwi.nl/~dik/english/traffic/signa ls/vl-v.html [homepages.cwi.nl]

          As is most often the case, it's not the format that's the problem, it's what people use it for:
          http://www.citilink.com/~grizzly/anigifs/itchy.gif [citilink.com]
      • Re:Just in time... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:38PM (#16249149)
        I for one, don't think GIF is going anywhere. Limited to 256 colours, sure. Keep in mind GIF is one of the most well supported image formats out there, and in the same format we have both transparency (1-bit, at that) and animation. PNG is nice, but thanks to Microsoft, and it's own not supporting animation, it just doesn't work for some things yet.

        I'm sure a big supporter of PNG, but understand why GIF is still around.


        You mention that they are limited to 256 colors, but I think the real strength is that they can be limited to as few as two colors (or one and a transparency.) You can get crisp effects where they are needed (like black and white line art, or text) much better than the JPEG (which will do its best to bleed, in an effort to make the image look more like a photograph.)

        It's also far more compact-- which is less of a concern for the end user now that dial-up modems are the exception rather than the rule, but can be a boon for a site concerned with bandwidth. And for simple animation it's far easier to create than a flash banner.

        I prefer PNG myself-- but it's amazing how many users still have browsers that don't support it. Hell, it's amazing how many users don't have browsers that support flash for that matter. GIFs will always have a place with those who know the strength of the format.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          I cannot seem to make PNGs get as small as GIFs. Am I doing something wrong, or what? PNG also allows channelized colors, and AFAIK it supports at least an 8 bit palleted mode... but nonetheless, if I am posting say a screenshot of a dialog (not my whole desktop mind you) the GIF is something like a quarter the size of the PNG in every case.
          • by metamatic (202216)
            Well, I assume you're reducing the image to 256 colors before writing it as PNG, to get a sensible comparison to GIF.

            Maybe your graphics program only writes badly-compressed PNGs? There's a program called pngcrush which will losslessly optimize PNGs written by crap software.
      • by prmths (325452) <prmths&f00,org> on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:11PM (#16249681) Homepage
        Now that it's october 1 and unisys cant kill me anymore... i propose we expand on gif to be capable of a whopping 512 colors! that's right... 9 bit color! who's with me?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kelson (129150) *

        PNG is nice, but thanks to Microsoft, and it's own not supporting animation, it just doesn't work for some things yet.

        I'm sure a big supporter of PNG, but understand why GIF is still around.

        I'd only count the lack of animation as a cause. Microsoft hasn't done anything to hamper PNG as a GIF replacement. IE has been able to read indexed PNGs (<=256 colors) with binary transparency for years. That's identical in capabilities to a static GIF.

        For a GIF-equivalent PNG, you have to go all the way b

    • GIF is still usually a SMALLER format than PNG if you want to display a few-color, non-lossy image. If you're dealing with bandwidth issues and lots of users, it can add up.
      • Evidence? (Score:4, Informative)

        by eddy (18759) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:24PM (#16248903) Homepage Journal

        Evidence? Except for 1x1 images and the like, you're wrong. And you shouldnt' be using 1x1 images anyhow so...

        Before sending any examples, make sure you're comparing same-depth images and have used pngout [advsys.net].

        I once, as a demonstration, took a review off HardOCP and converted/recompressed all their GIFs into PNG, and saved several hundreds of kilobytes.

        Still webmasters continue to use GIF because of ignorance.

        • by binarybum (468664)
          I think this depends on the software used to save the image. perhaps pngout does a good job, but with most programs I've used including photoshop, PNG usually creates larger file sizes. I'm willing to bet that if there was a forced shift to png right now we'd see a significant bit of bandwidth wasted.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jZnat (793348) *
            That's why you use "Save for Web" in Adobe Photoshop; it basically pngcrush's it.
        • Re:Evidence? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:20PM (#16249837) Homepage

          Well, it might be partially due to ignorance. I think many people don't know that there are different bit-depths for PNG, which (obviously) result in files of different sizes. I mean, there are other optimizations as well, but my point is that many web developers don't realize that you can make PNGs smaller.

          But also there are support issues. PNG wasn't supported [well] in old browsers, and many web developers don't like to drop support for those browsers until it's necessary. Since little is lost by using GIF, they use GIF.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tuffy (10202)
        I've written a small PNG encoder and found that for 1 and 4-bit grayscale images, PNG routinely trounces GIF. I expect a 4-bit palette color PNG would yield similar results. PNG's method of cramming multiple pixels per byte prior to compression seems to be much more effective than GIF judging by the file sizes - though I admit I've yet to take a hard look at GIF to discover exactly why.
  • but really.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by celardore (844933) * on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:08PM (#16248647)
    This doesn't affect the average user, or even creator of GIFs. I imagine that companies like Adobe would not have to pay a royalty any longer, but this saving is unlikely to be passed to purchasers of image software.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:10PM (#16248681) Journal
    Does anybody find Unisys' page on GIF as hilarious as I do...?
    What's so hilarious about it? It plainly states that the patents have expired and that they have more patents based on the technology. I find it sad that their legal department found that necessary.

    What I find genuinely hilarious, however, is the United State of America's Patent System.
  • by xsarpedonx (707167) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:11PM (#16248699)
    October 1st came early this year...
    • by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:32PM (#16249029) Homepage

      Not many people noticed that the GIF file format is only now* free from patents

      *For large values of 'now'

    • by richdun (672214)
      GWB heard that a King of England decreed a whole week or so out of the month of September when England switch from Julian to Gregorian calendars, and thought he should do the same as we switch from nuclear time to nuculear time.

      Eh, it's Friday. I'm not thinking too hard. That's the best I could come up with.
    • Crap! I read the headline, got so excited I infringed the GIF patent all over the place, and I've only just now checked the calendar. Hide me, Slashdot!
    • Eternal September is over?
    • What?? (Score:3, Funny)

      by Headcase88 (828620)
      Slashdot posted something two days early?? *head explodes*
  • well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:15PM (#16248763) Homepage
    As lame as this whole thing was, if it hadn't happened, we wouldn't have the PNG standard today.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756)
      Yeah, the lack of true 16-bit and 24-bit support in GIF would never have spurred the development of something better. Try again.
      • Yeah, the lack of true 16-bit and 24-bit support in GIF would never have spurred the development of something better. Try again.

        I'm not saying it wouldn't have ever happened. I'm saying we wouldn't have it TODAY.
      • well if you can show me how jpg is animated or that the animated PNG, aka MNG, is fully supported in browsers, I'll grant you "better" otherwise there are just tools that are better for different uses. Color depth isn't always the biggest concern any more than is a format being capable of animation.
  • no. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Heem (448667) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:16PM (#16248785) Homepage Journal
    Does anybody find Unisys' page on GIF as hilarious as I do...? .....No
  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:23PM (#16248883) Homepage

    Of course, like most on here, I will relish the day that the LZW patent expires. But look at how long that took to expire. Every day someone patents yet another obvious invention and it holds everybody back.

    Take the Certicom 'Patents' on Eliptic Curve cryptography (ECC). Certicom act as if they own ECC - the write it on practically everything [certicom.com] they publish.

    Yet on close analysis their patents give them almost no real control of ECC. The long and short of it that anything that operates on GF(p) is not covered.

    The consequences of this is that NOBODY is using ECC, despite the fact that it's faster and has shorter keys. The whole field is held back for 20 years and nobody can make any progress.

    It's not even used in Europe where these patents don't exist. Let me repeat this: The fact that some jerk of a company says it's theirs means the *whole* world doesn't use me.

    I really wonder what goes through the minds of these poeple. Nobody wants to pay a fucktard like Certicom (tm) for a license for their mathematics. Nobody in the history of cryptography has made any serious amount of money from selling a security scheme. Why bother?

    Simon

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times (778537)

      The worst thing, in my mind, is the fact that some of these things are ambiguous, and there's a lot of misinformation out there. Take MP3, for example: I've heard from lots of people that you need to buy a license to use MP3, or you'll get sued. A little research, and it seems that there are lots of people who own patents related to MP3, and one of these companies which holds one of these patents has said that they want to get paid. Now, as far as I can tell, (and IANAL), this only applies to people who

  • by coaxial (28297) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:24PM (#16248907) Homepage
    Looking back at the whole GIF patent saga, I believe Shakespear said it best. Much ado about nothing.
  • Does anyone have any estimates of how much Unisys collected in blackmail^Wlicensing fees on GIF? And any analyst estimates on the costs of producing, defending and prosecuting that "submarine patent" [everything2.com]?

    Is the flagship submarine patent really worth the money Unisys sank into it? Worth the money the US government spent protecting it? Worth it to "the progress of science and useful arts" [findlaw.com]?
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:47PM (#16249319)
    Finally, I can now sleep soundly, knowing the flaming torches on by web site are -fully legal- flaming torches.
  • Gimp already allows saving images in Gif format. It didn't earlier because of patent issues. It is nice really because now we can create banners which are less than 2k in size - even just a couple of hundred bytes.

    But I do find that saving images in gif using gimp creates larger size image compared to saving the same image using say photoshop. I have sometimes wondered why this happens ....
  • In addition to flashing banner ads and stylish web sites [homestarrunner.com], the Graphical Interchange Format has brough us another important wonder.

    Your The Man Now, Dog [ytmnd.com].

    Imagine if we never had such a format. Would YTMND even be possible? We can only speculate, but I, for one, would like to thank Unisys for this valuable contribution. Afterall, 361,984—and growing—YTMND sites can't be wrong!


  • But it's too bad there isn't more excitement about more modern (and more functional) formats like SVG.
  • Isn't TIFF's patent mess now over as well? And if so, when will I be able to view TIFFs in Firefox? Soon? Please? Question mark?

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