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Comment Re:Putting the snideness of the summary aside... (Score 1) 663

Firefox could simply use external H.264 decoding capabilities, present in both Windows 7 and OS X by default, and trivially available for Linux.

Frankly, this whole argument is a straw man. Would you really want the codec implemented in the browser anyway? What are the odds the browser developer would implement things as well as the OS developer, especially with respect to features like hardware acceleration? The vast majority of applications, including browsers, have no reason to contain their own implementations of video codecs.

And as far as Firefox in particular, the Mozilla Foundation makes nearly $100M/year in revenue from search engine referral payments. They could trivially afford H.264 decoder licensing, if for some reason they did want to include a decoder internally.

The Mozilla Foundation's decision not to support H.264 is political, not practical.

Comment Re:Easy fix... (Score 2) 663

Are you under the impression that H.264 is owned by Microsoft? H.264 is an open standard under the umbrella of ISO/ITU, and developed by VCEG/MPEG. This is a real standards process, like what lead to CD, DVD, the ATSC broadcast standard, etc.

The reason there's a patent licensing pool is not because some company (least of all Mircosoft) developed it in order to make money licensing it. Rather, the reason there's a patent licensing pool is because video compression techniques are heavily patented, such that nearly any modern codec you design ends up requiring patent licensing. This will probably end up applying to WebM as well. A patent pool is merely a way to handle this in an organized fashion, so that individual implementors don't have to license patents from a few hundred different companies one at a time.

Nobody is getting rich off of H.264 licensing fees.

Comment Re:Putting the snideness of the summary aside... (Score 5, Insightful) 663

Although very crudely worded, "Anonymous Coward" is right. H.264 is created to make money. By Google removing support for H.264, it pushes for an actual open standard.

This is simply false. (Lifted from a post I just made about this in the Ars forums) MPEG-LA licenses the H.264 standards under RAND (reasonable and non-discriminitory) terms -- they're not playing favorites to give some companies strategic advantage over others. Moreover, if you think about the fact that there are 1000 patents in the H.264 license pool, and no individual company owns more than a few, you quickly realize that nobody who actually implements H.264 is making more money from it than they pay for it. The idea that anyone is supporting H.264 because they want to get rich off of license fees is ludicrous.

H.264 is a real standard, developed and governed by a multi-party process, recognized by international standards organizations, and extensively documented. WebM is some C code that Google bought and dumped on the public. Other stakeholders had no input into the "specification". There is no formal multi-party governance process; the format is de facto controlled by Google, because they employ the developers. In practice, WebM is defined by Google's code, not by standards documents.

Oh, and WebM is also technically inferior.

And as if that weren't enough, it's extremely unclear, given what happened to Microsoft with VC-1, that WebM has actually managed to avoid patent liability. Keep in mind, Google hasn't indemnified anyone, and their strategic interests are served here even if a patent licensing pool does eventually need to be set up for WebM. So they have essentially nothing to lose by pretending its unencumbered, even if it's not.

Comment Re:A really nasty trick (Score 1) 765

So who pays for the OS? Linus Torvald? ;)

To be frank, Apple and Microsoft are already paying for OS X and Windows, and that's 98% of the desktop market right there.

Linux users are up the creek without a legal paddle again, but a) they're used to it -- the same thing happened with MPEG-2/DVD and MP3, and b) MPEG-LA tends to turn a blind eye to open source implementations of codecs when there's no plausible entity they could collect from anyway. In practice, there are already GPL-licensed H.264 decoders for Linux that Firefox could use via GStreamer, and they're not likely to go away.

Comment Re:A really nasty trick (Score 4, Insightful) 765

Anything that slows or halts the transition to a standard that depends on commercialized patents is good for users. If MPEG LA has its way, everyone who uses firefox (for example) will have to buy a proprietary plug-in to use youtube.

Pure FUD. The per-decoder license fee for H.264 is $0.20, capped at (IIRC) $4M/year. Firefox could simply pay out of the pool of cash it collects from search engine referrals, or, even more sensibly, avoid the entire problem by using operating system libraries to decode H.264.

And, once again, why are you arguing as if WebM is actually unencumbered? This is extremely unlikely to be the case.

Incidentally, by damaging the prospects of HTML5/H.264, Google is effectively promoting Flash/H.264. All the same patents, except with a proprietary closed source browser plugin thrown into the mix as well. Not exactly a victory for freedom.

Comment Re:A classic-era Microsoft move (Score 1) 765

What you say about patents is true in theory. In practice, however, MPEG-LA (and the companies that own the underlying patents) have been turning a blind eye to open source implementations of MPEG-family codecs for well over a decade. I suspect if some major organization with the means to pay started distributing, say, x264, MPEG-LA would try to collect from them, but there seems to be no interest in going after developers.

And not to belabor the point, but you're arguing as if there's some non-encumbered alternative to H.264. That's probably wrong. Again, it's extremely unlikely that WebM has managed to avoid all patent liability.

Comment Re:A classic-era Microsoft move (Score 2, Insightful) 765

The idea that WebM is a "more open standard" is effectively Google propaganda. H.264 was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and the Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG), which are standards committees that draw members from industry and academia under the umbrella of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which are (in practice) intergovernmental public/private partnerships. It's is governed by a multi-party governance process representing many different stakeholders.

It's a real open standard. Does it require patent licensing? Yes. But that's not because (as some people seem to think) it was developed by some company that licenses it out to make money. Rather, it requires patent licensing because it turns out that a lot of the techniques you'd want to use in a modern video codec are patented, so the standard that MPEG/VCEG created ended up infringing on a bunch of them -- about 1000 of them, in fact. As is common with such things, a patent licensing pool was set up to make licensing all of those patents easy for implementors.

It is extremely unlikely that WebM does not infringe on some of those very same patents. It's a very similar codec to H.264. Moreover, this has happened before. Microsoft's VC-1 codec was supposed to be a patent-free alternative to H.264, and guess what? It ended up requiring a patent license pool as well.

So, with H.264 you get a codec that's an actual open standard, with a formal multi-party governance process and with easy patent licensing. With WebM, you get a codec that's not formally standardized, has no formal governance process (and is de facto controlled by Google, because they employ most of the developers), and that has huge 'submarine' patent risk.

And Google has managed to convince people the latter is a "more open standard".

Comment Re:A really nasty trick (Score 2) 765

The answer to all of these is that web developers generally won't start using technologies until there's very wide support for them. Dropping out of the box support in Chrome, even if a plugin is available, will do significant damage to the momentum HTML5/H.264 was finally staring to build up. Some web developers will figure they should probably just stick with Flash until this all settles out.

Comment Re:A really nasty trick (Score 2, Insightful) 765

That's nice in theory, but in practice a lot of devices are going to get left behind. Consumer electronics device vendors aren't always great with updates.

And then, of course, there are all of the devices that don't connect directly to the web, but still stream/play video. Vendors of many of those devices probably won't feel especially compelled to implement WebM at all... but of course it will be a big hassle for content providers if they have to encode everything once for web sites, and then a second time for non-web-enabled devices.

Look, no matter how you slice it, this is bad. The world was finally settling down on a next-generation standard for digital video after more than a decade of proprietary nonsense and terrible cross-device compatability... and now Google has thrown a wrench into the works.

Comment Re:A really nasty trick (Score 4, Informative) 765

Huh? You seem to be under the impression that "x264" is some for-profit organization that owns the rights to H.264 or something. That's now how these standards work; H.264 was developed by standards committee, not by some particular organization.

x264 is an open source GPL-licensed H.264 encoder. I'm posting the opinion of an open source developer familiar with the technical and legal issues surrounding video codecs.

Comment A really nasty trick (Score 3, Interesting) 765

This serves two strategic purposes for Google. First, it advances a codec that's de facto controlled by Google at the expense of a codec that is a legitimate open standard controlled by a multi-vendor governance process managed by reputable international standards bodies. ("Open source" != "open standard".) And second, it will slow the transition to HTML5 and away from Flash by creating more confusion about which codec to use for HTML5 video, which benefits Google by hurting Apple (since Apple doesn't want to support Flash), but also sucks for users.

It is, in other words, a thoroughly nasty bit of work. It's not quite as bad as selling consumers down the river to Verizon on 'net neutrality, but it's close. And if Google is actually successful in making WebM, not H.264, the standard codec for web video, they're literally going to render hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tablets, smartphones, set-top boxes, etc. with H.264 hardware support obsolete.

"But wait!", the OSS fans are saying. "Isn't Google really standing up for freedom and justice, because H.264 requires evil patent licensing?"

No. Expert opinion is that WebM infringes on numerous patents in the H.264 pool, and will need a licensing pool of its own to be set up, just like Microsoft's VC-1 did. So the patents are a wash. This is Google manipulating the market entirely for selfish advantage here, and it's all the worse because they're pretending otherwise. And it's going to be really frustrating watching people fall for it.

Comment Re:not only that (Score 5, Insightful) 171

Google's preference order for the structure of the mobile market, from most preferred to least preferred, is probably something like:

1) Android is a popular, unified platform controlled by Google.
2) Android is a popular but fragmented platform, with carriers and handset makers doing whatever they like.
3) Android is an unpopular platform. Apple dominates the market, and has the power to lock Google out of mobile advertising.

Based on Google's behavior, it's clear their primary goal with Android was simply to avoid #3. Trying to achieve #1 would have required Google to exert control over the platform that carriers and handset makers would have likely objected to, this lowering adoption rates and increasing the probability of #3 occurring. So Google was willing to give up nearly all control, and settle for #2. They'd rather have a fragmented market than one controlled by Apple.

Comment Re:No mention of Apple? (Score 5, Interesting) 388

You're really drawing a false parallel here. The motivations behind Apple's deprecation of 3rd party platforms are pretty transparent.

Apple is ditching Java and Flash. At the same time, they're actively supporting legitimately open web technologies, they've relaxed restrictions on the use of third-party development tools for iOS, and they ship Ruby bindings for Cocoa (and Ruby on Rails) with every Mac.

I merely see Apple picking and choosing what third-party platforms it likes. And as nearly as I can tell, they're doing it on the basis of quality and meaningful openness. That is, not just looking at whether there's an open specification for something, or an open source implementation, but whether it's de facto controlled by a single vendor and what the intentions of any such vendor seem to be.

I don't think the timing of Apple's Java announcement in relation to the Oracle acquisition is a coincidence. Steve Jobs might be friends with Larry Ellison, but Apple is rumored to have also walked away from ZFS over concerns about how Oracle might handle licensing of it. I don't think Apple trusts Oracle's intentions at all. And who could blame them?

Oversimplification is always bad.


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