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GIF Slips Away From Unisys; Your Move, IBM 609

Posted by jamie
from the do-the-right-thing dept.
Twenty years ago, Terry Welch's improvement on Lempel-Ziv compression appeared in IEEE Computer magazine. The authors of unix 'compress' and the GIF standard incorporated that algorithm without realizing it was patent-pending. When the submarine patent surfaced ten years later, its new owner Unisys intimidated developers and web authors into moving away from GIFs, inspiring the creation of a better standard, though sadly still a less popular one. Today, July 7, 2004, Unisys's last LZW patent (in Canada) expires, leaving GIF once again free... almost. See, there's the small matter of IBM's patent, granted on the same algorithm, which is valid for another two years. That still has a chilling effect on GIF development, though the consensus seems to be that IBM would lose any court action it tried to bring. So how about it, IBM? You've got nothing to lose! Want to make a lot of geeks happy and release that final patent into the public domain?
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GIF Slips Away From Unisys; Your Move, IBM

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  • GO IBM! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bernywork (57298) * <bstapleton@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:02AM (#9630886) Journal
    Do it for the common good. Aside from business, really what open source is for!
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:02AM (#9630887)
    and png truly is a better standard why should geeks care what happens to gif?
    • by I confirm I'm not a (720413) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:05AM (#9630915) Journal

      Well, one reason is that, once-upon-a-time, we had to build apps for browsers that didn't support .png, so even though we could handle .pngs, we had to consider our clients who were stuck with .gifs. Thankfully, even the lowliest [microsoft.com] of browser almost supports .png these days.

      • not even close! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ender Ryan (79406) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:16AM (#9631037) Journal
        IE does not support the #1 most useful aspect of PNG, namely, alpha transparency. Without alpha transparency, you may as well use JPEG or GIF in most circumstances.

        Indeed, the web would be much more beautiful if IE supported alpha transparency in PNGs.

        • Cha-ching! I'd use PNG, but if the browser with 95%+ market dominance doesn't support its most useful feature...
          • by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @12:10PM (#9633410) Homepage
            According to the stats at this link [w3schools.com] (thanks to an earlier poster), IE share is declining, with IE6 being only 72% and IE5 just over 8%. Mozilla (>12%) makes up most of the rest, with Opera, Netscape and others trailing.

            The 95% figure may be the Windows share of the market (more like 94.5% by that link), but not everyone using Windows uses IE. (If I'm setting up a desktop that has to have Windows, Mozilla is the first app I load on it, and then remove the IE icon from the desktop.)

            The recent notices from Homeland Security about IE being unsafe will only accelerate this.
        • And here [ntlworld.com] is how you force IE into properly supporting PNG transparency.

          Works like a charm, doesn't introduce any MS "extensions" into your documents, and doesn't do anything if the user is smart enough to be using a web browser that actually supports standards.
        • Re:not even close! (Score:3, Informative)

          by ncc74656 (45571) *

          IE does not support the #1 most useful aspect of PNG, namely, alpha transparency. Without alpha transparency, you may as well use JPEG or GIF in most circumstances.

          FWIW, there's a hack to display transparent PNGs in IE without breaking things for other browsers. Try this script:

          <script type="text/javascript">
          function DisplayPNG (id, path, xdim, ydim, alttext)
          {
          if ( navigator.userAgent.indexOf ("MSIE") != -1 )
          {
          document.write ( '<div style="height: ' + ydim + 'px; width: ' + xdim + 'px; fil

        • by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @11:51AM (#9633221) Homepage Journal
          Its become received wisdom the IE6 sux for (among other reasons) "not supporting PNG".

          Wrong.

          That's a techie urban-legend. The truth is that IE6 does support all required PNG features. Therefore it "supports PNG".

          Yes, IE6 doesn't support PNG transparency, at least not in any easy way. However PNG transparency is an optional part of the PNG spec. That IE6 doesn't support transparency properly is unfortunate but doesn't invalidate their meeting the required PNG spec.

          Furthermore as others have pointed out there are indeed work-arounds (ugly ones) that will enable reliable PNG transparency on IE6. Also as others have pointed out (including MS staffers) even if IE7 were to ship tomorrow and support PNG et al we'd still be stuck with a huge IE6-using population for years to come.

          It would be great if IE, and indeed all of the browsers, were to fully meet all relevant standards. It would also be great if they were to then go on and meet more of the optional parts of those standards, including PNG transparency. However lets hold everyone's feet to the fire on these, not pick on one author's neglecting a feature many would like while they and others are still missing more fundamental required parts of specs.

      • by SiMac (409541) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:07AM (#9631497) Homepage
        PNG transparency works just fine in Internet Explorer. It's just a pain in the ass.

        This website [eae.net] will tell you how to turn it on. You can see it working on my website.

        No idea why it's not on by default, but if it works...
        • Main #1 problem with that: it relies on DirectX, which, if you have any brains, is turned OFF on IE.

          Oh wait.

          I forgot all of the morons who leave it on.

          My Mistake. Guess it will work after all.
    • by Ghengis (73865) <.seluR.XINx. .ta. .SIRaLwoLS.> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:06AM (#9630922) Homepage Journal
      Because GIF is used MUCH more, so people writing software that make use of images in general (browsers, image editors, etc.) have to deal with this patented algorithm, or risk losing users because their software doesn't support one of the most widely used formats.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:06AM (#9630926)
      It's hard to do away with GIF because GIF's are animated. PNG's are not. There's the MNG standard, which is basically an animated PNG, but it isn't widely supported yet.
      • hmm, that's funny, the first thing I do when setting up a new computer with Mozilla is to set image.animation_mode(once). I can't stand being distracted by annoying animations at the corner of my vision. In fact on the rare occasion where there IS a need for animation you can either do DHTML tricks or use flash.
      • by DVega (211997) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:57AM (#9632056)
        Mozilla used to support MNGs, but that support was removed in orther to reduce "cruft".

        If you would like to get MNG back into Mozilla, then you can follow/vote/contribute to Bugzilla bug 18574

        http://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1857 4

        (Please don't post useless comments on that bug)

    • Principle mostly, and perhaps gif development can make it better than png if it becomes free. It's possible anyway. And png does offer better compression/quality from what I've seen in my admittedly limited experience, but the free software community that basically dominatess /. (not a knock, just saying the OSS community here is pretty big) would like it free as a victory for OSS, regardless of its usefulness. Just my $0.02
    • by Davak (526912) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:08AM (#9630956) Homepage
      Quick source view of the main slashdot page shows that "gif" is found about 50 times.

      "png" is found twice -- both of which are related to the original post.

      Now you know why we care. The web community uses gif more than png. For better or worse...

      Davak
      • Quick source view of the main slashdot page shows that "gif" is found about 50 times.

        "png" is found twice -- both of which are related to the original post.

        Now you know why we care. The web community uses gif more than png. For better or worse...

        i'm not sure this web community would be pleased that slashdot's being used as an example of currently-accepted design choices. at least on the front end, slashdot's code is dated and inefficient. alistapart.com has a fun article [alistapart.com] on how it could be made bet

    • by DrEldarion (114072) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:09AM (#9630959)
      There are many "better" things that, for whatever reason, just aren't as popular compared to other "inferior" things.

      The PNG and GIF situation is like the OGG and MP3 situation. Sure, OGG may be better, but everyone already knows what MP3 is, has all their songs in MP3 format, has programs that know what do wo with MP3s, has players that know what MP3s are, etc. etc.
    • Because of the LZW compression algorhythm.

      It's still superior to PNG's compression and I hazard a guess that PNG can be modified to use LZW.
      • It's still superior to PNG's compression

        You can only claim that it is "superior" in that it executes more quickly. However, it produces significantly larger files. PNG should be redefined to also use BZIP2 compression, since that produces even smaller image files than GZIP compression. (BZIP2 is also particularly good at XML data--if you ever hear anyone talking about proprietary XML compression, mention that BZIP2 is the generic method to beat, not GZIP.)
  • by NoMercy (105420) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:04AM (#9630907)
    I'm not sure on the merits of the GIF format after all these years, the only thing it brings to the web expierence is flashing adverts, PNG provides full alpha-transparency which is really required for the future of web design.
    • by AuraBorealis (772837) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:07AM (#9630934)
      Yes, because what we really need is alpha-transparent flashing adverts!
      • by ajs (35943) <ajsNO@SPAMajs.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:50AM (#9631953) Homepage Journal
        Alpha transparency is critical to good Web site design for many reasons. Among them:

        1. Blending with any background means you can change the background globally and not worry about re-blending all of the images.
        2. An image which is produced externally (e.g. by a partner) can blend with your layout cleanly without being customized.

        However, MOST uses of alpha blending in web design would ACTUALLY be better done in SVG if SVG in browsers could finally get first-class status.

        Why? Well, just for starters, LCDs and CRTs have different optimial anti-aliasing strategies. If I want to put a circle on a Web page, right now I have to choose one of those strategies ahead of time (or resort to a plug-in). If we allow SVG "images", then we can simply render that circle however the user directs it to be (presumably because they've selected a "CRT-friendly" or "LCD-friendly" preference in their browser or desktop).

        Once you eliminate anti-aliasing as a concern, there are still reasons to do alpha-blending in regular images (such as those above), but the general case (logos, text, shapes, etc) will be handled more cleanly.
        • by AnotherBlackHat (265897) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @10:44AM (#9632530) Homepage

          Alpha transparency is critical to good Web site design ...


          The quality of a web site is determined more by it's substance than by it's appearance.
          Good web site design doesn't even require images.

          Alpha blending is not critical.
          It's nice, but IMO it's ranks below "spell checker" in the hierarchy of good web site design tools.

          -- less is better.

    • Sadly whilst few web designers care that my browser doesn't render Arial and my system doesn't play windows media, they *do* care about the large number of punters out there whose old windows 9x system's browser doesn't support png...
      • by NoMercy (105420) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:16AM (#9631036)
        Everything which supports modern CSS styling supports PNG... it's just not everything supports all the features of PNG, the most noted case being IE doesn't support alpha-transparency.

        Many people also believe PNG's to generally produce larger images to GIF, if youre generating PNG's using the 'recomended settings' then yes for many images this is the case, but if your image doesn't need 16.7 milion colors and full alpha-transparency, don't enable them switch to pallete based with no-transparnecy.
    • by julesh (229690) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:14AM (#9631013)
      Compatibility. A huge number of existing web sites still use GIF as their primary image format. We need to be able to produce software that can manipulate these images if we want any hope of penetrating the web authoring market. This has prompted many workarounds in the past (such as libungif, a piece of software that produces GIF files without using the patented algorithm -- but unfortunately this means not having any compression) which will become obsolete once all patent issues have been cleared up.

  • by solarmist (313127) * <(joshua.olson) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:04AM (#9630909)
    Having one of the most commonly used compression algorithms in the public domain is going to be a huge boon for me as a student because it'll allow me to finally see how commonly LHZ is implimented and let me study compression.

    Anyone happen to have a copy of the alg. lying around?
  • Why should we care (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultrabot (200914) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:06AM (#9630919)
    What would be the benefit of giving up the patent? We've already got .png, right?

    What would be more interesting is suing someone over it. This patent "cold war" is annoying - it would be more beneficial to see an all-out war where large companies crumble, and the idiocy of software patents is demonstrated once and for all. Cold war only server to suffocate, and masses never learn of the damage being done, because it's so invisible.

    Interesting article on how IP law conflicts with ancient chinese tradition is here [slashdot.org]
  • Not in the old days (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DrDebug (10230) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:07AM (#9630932) Journal
    In the 1980's I'm pretty sure that IBM would fight tooth and nail for any patent infringement. But those were the days when IBM was the 800 pound gorilla and what Microsoft wanted to be (and eventually became).

    Nowadays IBM is on the rebound, and wants to put forth a kinder and gentler face. In as such, along with the almost impossible task of enforcing a practically public domain standard, it would be politically correct for them to just look the other way on GIFs.
  • by N Monkey (313423) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:08AM (#9630952)
    Unless the IBM patent introduces something new (but I couldn't see anything like that in the first claim) and you were actually using it then, assuming the expired patent was filed before the IBM patent, the former should constitute (public) prior art. You should be able to use it without concerns .

    Of course, the lawyer types might still want to argue the case since that's how that make their money

  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:13AM (#9631000)
    Beware of Geeks bearing GIF's
  • Chest Thumping (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Samus (1382) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:14AM (#9631018) Journal
    For all the chest thumping that has gone on on slashdot about the gif patent it never made sense to me why they never replaced their gifs. How hard would it have been to have a page with gifs and a page with pngs and then switched between them based on user agent string? I think all the arguments that were made would have had much more weight if they would have put their money where their mouth is.
  • PNG (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HungSquirrel (790165) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:16AM (#9631041) Homepage
    Internet Explorer still fails to correctly support PNG's superior transparency capabilities. Otherwise I would have adopted it much sooner in my web development. Can't run round incorporating standards into your websites that the browser that holds 95% market dominance does not support.

    </TokenMicroSuckJab>
  • LZW tiff, too (Score:3, Informative)

    by Willard B. Trophy (620813) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:16AM (#9631042) Homepage Journal
    Does this mean we can get LZW compression back in libtiff [libtiff.org] too, then? It would be really nice to be able to supply compressed press-ready images to printing houses.

    Yeah, I know there are deflated TIFFs, but they can be like "wha...?" in the prepress world.

    • Re:LZW tiff, too (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BitwizeGHC (145393)
      If you're sending stuff to press, chances are you're not using GIMP, you're using Adobe Photoshop. Adobe is a licensee of all the relevant patents, not that it's necessary since most houses will simply accept your PSD's (which format is doubtless protected by a suite of patents of its own).

      Either way, you're safe.
  • by Sheepdot (211478) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:18AM (#9631061) Journal
    So how about it, IBM? You've got nothing to lose!

    Why yes, nothing to lose. Which is exactly why you're practically begging them.

    ... though the consensus seems to be that IBM would lose any court action it tried to bring.

    No offense jamie, but you should really refrain from making things up like this. There is no one anywhere with any sort of legal background that would agree with this. Hell, it's probably libel to say that. It most assuredly is an outright lie.

    If IBM releases it, then that's great, but don't try to badger them into it.

    • by jamie (78724) <jamie@slashdot.org> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:51AM (#9631971) Journal
      "No offense jamie, but you should really refrain from making things up like this. There is no one anywhere with any sort of legal background that would agree with this. Hell, it's probably libel to say that."

      I traded email with several people who know the history of this algorithm and its patents fairly well. I wasn't able to get a quote from a legal expert backing this up by press time, but it hardly matters because this opinion indeed is the consensus of those I have talked to. And I mentioned the duplicate-patent issue to an IBM PR rep, who had plenty of time but didn't offer a correction.

      I stand by what I wrote.

  • by solarmist (313127) * <(joshua.olson) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:20AM (#9631074)
    Is there a reason that the writer of this topic chose to talk about the implications about having GIF open to the public rather than talk about having LZW open?

    I personally think having LZW is of much more significance than GIF.
  • by k98sven (324383) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:26AM (#9631128) Journal
    I really doubt IBM is going to go after anybody.

    Unisys was collecting money on GIF licenses for years, if IBM wanted to capitalize on this, they would've sued Unisys back then.

    Besides that, there is good reason: It is, by all accounts I've read, the same algorithm.
    The Unisys LZW patent had even been granted before the IBM patent had been applied. It had priority by a mile. The IBM patent is simply worthless.

    Developers shouldn't concern themselves with bogus patents. I for one have written programs which save GIF files, and although I respect(ed) the Unisys patent, I'm not at all worried about the IBM one.
  • by yourruinreverse (564043) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:29AM (#9631161)
    So how about it, IBM? You've got nothing to lose! Want to make a lot of geeks happy and release that final patent into the public domain?

    Actually that patent is being used in IBM's (second amended) counterclaims [groklaw.net] in the SCO v IBM case.

    • by Alizarin Erythrosin (457981) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:52AM (#9631348)
      This is true. It is counterclaim #175:

      175. IBM is the lawful owner, by assignment, of the entire right, title and interest in United States Patent No. 4814746 ("the '746 Patent"), duly and legally issued on March 21, 1989 to Miller et aI., entitled "Data Compression Method". A copy of the ' 746 Patent is attached hereto as Exhibit X.


      176. Upon information and belief, SCO has infringed, contributorily infringed and/or actively induced others to infringe the '746 Patent within this judicial district and elsewhere in violation of35 U. C. 9271 by, without authority or license from IBM, (a) making, using, selling and/or offering to sell products, including Unix Ware and Open Server, that practice one or more claims of the '746 Patent and (b) actively, knowingly and intentionally causing and assisting others to infringe one or more claims of the' 746 Patent.

      While it would be nice for IBM to release the patent to the public domain, they would have to drop this particular claim from the SCO lawsuit if they did.
      • While it would be nice for IBM to release the patent to the public domain, they would have to drop this particular claim from the SCO lawsuit if they did.

        I'm not sure that's true, but IANAL. The current status of the patent probably has little to do with the status of the patent at the time of infringement.

        It would probably reduce the amount of damages but would still achieve the primary purpose of making SCO burn through cash. We all know [or at lwast strongly suspect] that the total damages to IBM by SCO will far exceed the value of SCO...

  • IE can work with PNG (Score:4, Informative)

    by Patik (584959) * <cpatik.gmail@com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:43AM (#9631270) Homepage Journal
    Just use Sleight [youngpup.net] to make PNG transparency work with IE on your site.
  • PNG vs. JPEG (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hey (83763) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:48AM (#9631317) Journal
    A while ago a told a colleague that PNG was the best format for loss-less graphics (not photos) and we should use PNG for an application.
    After all that the textbook line.
    But then he sent me a JPEG with the quality turn to max and it looked perfect and was way smaller than PNG. Do the textbooks have it all wrong?
    • Re:PNG vs. JPEG (Score:5, Informative)

      by julesh (229690) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:19AM (#9631616)
      No. JPEG at max quality looks perfect to the human eye, but it still has differences from the original image. Lossy compression should be avoided in situations where images are going to be decoded and recoded many times, as these errors build up to the point where they can become noticeable.

      Also: make sure your PNG encoder is configured correctly. In most cases you want to be using the 'adaptive' filter.
    • Re:PNG vs. JPEG (Score:5, Informative)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:49AM (#9631938) Homepage Journal
      I'll bite.

      JPEG, like MPEG (and Vorbis, Theora, ...) changes an image in such a way that humans don't percieve the difference, but it can be stored more efficiently. At lower qualities, you will begin to notice some artifacts. It can go all the way down to a completely useless collection of pixels. It's a common misconception that 100% quality JPEG images are not distorted in any way. I don't know what 100% means, other than the lowest compression your encoder supports.

      PNG images, on the other hand, encode the image exactly as it looks. Basically, a PNG image is a collection of pixels, some metadata, optionally compressed with deflate (same algorithm used by gzip).

      JPEG images are the better choice for photograpic images (which is what they are intended for), where the exact pixel colors don't matter that much. PNG is better for line drawings, text, high contrast images; basically anything that doesn't bear slight changes to the colors. For large images, JPEG can be significantly smaller, making the case for using JPEG for screen dumps and such.
  • Alpha-Transparency (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The-Bus (138060) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:49AM (#9631328)
    So people know what an "alpha-transparency is" -- it's this very beautiful flower [swri.edu]... which is also on this page [libpng.com], unless you're using IE, in which case it's just blank. Some examples are also available here [tephras.com]. Basically it's just a much nicer version of GIF's transparency.
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``Basically it's just a much nicer version of GIF's transparency.''

      Or, actually, what GIFs have is transparency, whereas PNGs have an alpha channel, which allows for the specification of translucency - or opacity which is the opposite quality.
  • by callipygian-showsyst (631222) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:54AM (#9631361) Homepage
    It never really bothered me that these compression algorithms were patented.

    It was a big breakthrough when algorithms like LZW, which compressed data that contained repeated multi-byte patterns (like text, or bitmap drawings), were developed. The previous state of the art was to pre-analyze the data and build a table that would have to be exchanged before the data could be decompressed (like Huffman encoding). LZW lets you built the table on-the-fly as the data is compressed, and exchange it on-the-fly as its being decoded (because the compression "table" and the data stream are actually the same.)

    LZW does seem simple to us now; in fact one standard Job Interview question I ask is to put the LZW algorithm on the whiteboard! However, for those of use who have been around for more than 20 years, it was a significant breakthrough.

    • Hello? People don't complain that LZW is obvious. They complain that Unisys sat on the patent for ten years while it found its way into standard data formats like gif and compress. Hence the term "submarine patent."
  • hmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OS24Ever (245667) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:56AM (#9631380) Homepage Journal
    I for one am the first to admit I don't quite get all this 'patents are evil' that seems to come from Slashdot articles.

    A quick cursory overview of the patent link on IBM's patent doesn't say one thing about the GIF format, just the compression algorithm (with JCL code).

    What if this patent doesn't cover GIF at all, but a hardware implementation of compression on a hard drive, or a MO drive, or some other device? They can't exactly release all claims to it that easily.

    Just seems silly to 'call out' a company to release a patent. Contrary to popular belief the bigger companies out there can't turn on a dime and have hundreds of processes to do things to keep a rogue employee from releasing all claim to all patents or something crazy like that, so it could take them two years just to release something that's going to die quietly anyway.

    Also speculating on what a company will/won't do with a patent based on some arbitrary IANAL comment from the editor seems a bit risky. While IBM is into Open Source heavily they're not there to stop making their stockholders money either. Patenting things lets them do so.
  • Intimidated? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr_Silver (213637) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:13AM (#9631564)
    When the submarine patent surfaced ten years later, its new owner Unisys intimidated developers and web authors into moving away from GIFs

    Not very well I hasten to add, GIF's are still used rather a lot [google.com] and even Slashdot hasn't bothered to convert all their images to PNG.

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:24AM (#9631668) Journal
    In the JPEG standard, there are two possible compression modes for the DCT coefficients, Huffman and Arithmetic encoding. The arithmetic coding is about 10% smaller, far faster to compute, but is unfortunately proscribed by the IBM patent.

    If IBM would release this patent, we could change some #defines in the JPEG code and get 10% smaller pictures with no change in quality.

    Thad Beier
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:35AM (#9631771) Homepage Journal
    If PNG is so great why doesn't it support animation? And don't say MNG, because not even my fancy open source web browser supports [libmng.com] them yet. JNG doesn't seem to be supported [libmng.com] by my fancy browser either.
  • by chopper749 (574759) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @09:35AM (#9631774) Journal
    From the GNU website...
    "We were able to search the patent databases of the USA, Canada, Japan, and the European Union. The Unisys patent expired on 20 June 2003 in the USA, in Europe it expired on 18 June 2004, in Japan patent expired on 20 June 2004 and in Canada until 7 July 2004. "
  • by hugesmile (587771) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @10:10AM (#9632170)
    Found this on Usenet [google.com], proving that geeks have too much time on their hands:

    OK.. I have been watching the debate for several years (it's like watching the grass grow). Here's where things are:

    There are several arguments for GIF being pronounced with a HARD G:

    1) "G" stands for Graphical. Graphical has a hard G.
    2) The majority of people pronounce it that way.
    3) Most words that start with G have a hard G.

    The main case for Soft G is that the designers of the file format specifically stated in their specification document that it's a soft G.

    Item 1 has been shot down as follows: Yes, G stands for graphical (*as specified by the designers of the file format*). Three problems with that:

    a) The technical pronounciation of Graphical is gha-raf-i-cal. So it's not the same phonetical sound as hard G. You would need to then pronounce it Gh-IF, NOT hard G "GIF".

    b) What something stands for has nothing to do with how an acronym is pronounced. Modem, for example, stands for modulation/demodulation. Is it pronounced "mah-deem"? Laser would be pronounced as if it rhymes with brassiere... etc. The fact that g stands for graphical has nothing to do with the pronounciation of the acronym.

    c) If you are referring to the word "graphical" as the basis for the argument, then you are basing your argument on the the words picked by the designers, and used in the specification. And in that specification, the designers said that it's pronounced JIFF like the peanut butter. So for consistency, if you go back to the specification to determine what it stands for, then you must live by their specified pronounciation.

    Item 2 has been shot down because the majority doesn't rule on matters of punctuation. (pronounciation?)

    Item 3 has been shot down because there is no rule. There are MANY words that have a soft G pronounciation. People have even argued that GIF is part of Gift, and so they should sound the same. (Gin (soft g) and gink (hard g) are examples that shoot down that logic.)

    So we go back to the specification... no one seems to be able to logically shoot this down. The folks who invented the file format decided what it would be called, and how to pronounce it. If you want to invent your own file format, you can pronounce it any way you want. You can even pick a symbol, and then be referred to as "The file format formerly known as Prince". But as inventor, it's your call.

    I want to say this in a *gentle* way... the *gist* of my message is that most GIF pronounciation arguments amount to *gibberish*, when you consider the *general* logic behind them. I'll let the *genie* out of the bottle here: Have a *gin* and tonic, and cool your *genitals*. You have to go back to the *genesis* of the file format, at the *germination* of the idea, when they first *generated* the specification. to determine the correct pronounciation. It is soft G, like JIFF.

    (it's really fun to read the posts where people write.. "Those who pronounce GIF as JIF..." and correctly read that aloud ("Those who pronounce JIF as JIF"))

    OK.. let this be the definitive guide to pronouncing GIF. You can pronounce it any way you want, but if you are one who insists on being "correct", get used to saying JIF. And I haven't read a logical, solid argument YET for pronouncing it with a hard G. Right now, Soft G is winning the debate, and it's not even close!

    • by Snowmit (704081) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @11:15AM (#9632858) Homepage
      Item 2 has been shot down because the majority doesn't rule on matters of punctuation. (pronounciation?)

      Actually, the majority do rule on matters of pronounciation when it comes to English. The major linguistic project of English (the Oxford English Dictionary) is a descriptive not a prescriptive document. That means that once a significant minority of English users use or pronounce a word in a certain way, it'll get recorded in the dictionary.

      All this is just to say that both "jif" and "gif" are acceptable pronounciations of GIF.

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