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Mozilla To Support H.264 249

Posted by Soulskill
from the lost-the-battle-but-not-the-war dept.
suraj.sun writes with a followup to last week's news that Mozilla was thinking about reversing their stance on H.264 support. Mozilla chairman Mitchell Baker and CTO Brendan Eich have now both written blog posts explaining why they feel H.264 support is no longer optional. Eich wrote, "We will not require anyone to pay for Firefox. We will not burden our downstream source redistributors with royalty fees. We may have to continue to fall back on Flash on some desktop OSes. I’ll write more when I know more about desktop H.264, specifically on Windows XP. What I do know for certain is this: H.264 is absolutely required right now to compete on mobile. I do not believe that we can reject H.264 content in Firefox on Android or in B2G and survive the shift to mobile. Losing a battle is a bitter experience. I won’t sugar-coat this pill. But we must swallow it if we are to succeed in our mobile initiatives. Failure on mobile is too likely to consign Mozilla to decline and irrelevance." Baker added, "Our first approach at bringing open codecs to the Web has ended up at an impasse on mobile, but we’re not done yet. ... We'll find a way around this impasse."
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Mozilla To Support H.264

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  • Good move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vivek7006 (585218) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @01:52PM (#39415907) Homepage

    better live to fight tomorrow, rather than become irrelevant

    • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @01:54PM (#39415945)

      They have recently declined to pledge that they won't sue over standards essential patents like H.264, instead of demanding 2.5% of proceeds of devices(ad revenues in this case). Apple and Microsoft have pledged this.
      http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/02/regulators-to-google-you-can-buy-motorola-but-we-still-dont-trust-you.ars [arstechnica.com]

      Interesting to see Google becoming the patent trolls over H.264 that it previously warned others over and recommended WebM.

      • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:08PM (#39416149) Homepage

        Given that Firefox is free, 2.5% of revenues from Mozilla would be $0.00, and still satisfy the agreement. Right?

        • by ccguy (1116865)
          Firefox is free to final users, but someone (Google at least) is definitely footing the bill.

          Most likely that 2.5% doesn't apply to what you pay for firefox but to their global income.
      • Considering they give the Mozilla foundation a huge chunk of money every year, wouldn't that be like suing themselves?
      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:14PM (#39416235)
        Key patents are also held by... actually, there's a list [wikipedia.org]. A long one. Will all of them agree not to sue too?
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:44PM (#39417733)

          Key patents are also held by... actually, there's a list [wikipedia.org]. A long one. Will all of them agree not to sue too?

          By joining the pool, the ones on that list have put their patents under a common license. So as long as you buy a license from the pool, then yes, they have agreed not to sue you.

          (That's no help against Google/Motorola, or patent trolls that aren't in the pool, however.)

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:28PM (#39416425)

        Or better yet... why doesn't Firefox on Android use the standard, pre-licensed, OS library to play back h.264?

        All Android devices support h.264 playback these days and it's baked into Android's media playback architecture, so it's prelicensed by the device manufacturer.

        I don't think an app needs to pay in order to use h.264 playback if it's already been paid for and provided for everyone else to use.

        Heck, Firefox on regular PCs can do the same - Windows 7 supports it, and I'm sure Firefox could leverage other plugins like QuickTime to support h.264 playback on other OSes (really, Apple's giving away a h.264 decoder, for free. Licensed that they have to pay for! Each download costs Apple money!)

        Not sure what they want to do with Boot 2 Gecko though, since there won't be a pre-licensed library already.

        • by Tridus (79566) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:15PM (#39417185) Homepage

          That's exactly my understanding of what they're doing. They're not licensing it themselves, they're just going to rely on the OS implementaiton where one exists.

          • by RebelWebmaster (628941) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:42PM (#39417685)
            Exactly, which is also why they brought up Windows XP, which does not have a built-in H.264 decoder.
            • by msobkow (48369)

              I'm pretty certain I was playing H.264 content in VLC under Windows XP SP3 last year before the partition got infected, nuked, and reformatted for Linux space. So obviously there are H.264 codecs that can be installed.

              If a user purchases or licenses or otherwise obtains a codec, of course it should be accessible! It doesn't have to be provided by Microsoft to be valid. Heck, most of the codecs I use aren't installed or available from Microsoft.

        • by Henriok (6762)
          Yes, Apple is paying for each download.. up to a cap of $6.5 million annually. Google payed 125 million for On2. That's 19 years worth of h.264 licenses. Money google probably will have to pay anyway.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Oh please, it would be utterly *insane* to pledge to not sue anyone over patents because that is how the game - disgusting as it is - is currently being played by the likes of Apple (and in a more indirect and shady way, by Microsoft). People need to get over the fact that Google isn't holy and can't be the good 'do no evil' guy here as long as this patent situation is allowed to spiral out of control.

      • by Tridus (79566) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:11PM (#39417117) Homepage

        Firefox isn't implementing h.264 though. They're simply going to call the system codec if the OS has one. Typically the OS vendors that do that also offer patent indemnification for their users, so if someone sues you for using h.264 in FIrefox on Windows, Microsoft would get involved because they already paid to license it to Windows users.

      • by JDG1980 (2438906)
        Almost all modern smartphones and tablets support H.264 decoding in hardware. Likewise, virtually every video card and integrated video chipset made in the past 5 years (with the exception of Intel's Atom) supports H.264 decoding in hardware. There should be nothing to sue over, since the hardware manufacturer already paid the H.264 license fee. All Firefox has to do is send the raw data stream to the hardware using the appropriate API and say "Here, decode this."
        • Which, by the way, is a much better solution than the stupid "OH GOD WE HAVE TO DECODE IT IN THE BROWSER" that they originally cited as a reason they couldn't support H.264. You know what the best thing about decoding in the browser is? You get to either not take advantage of hardware acceleration, or write a multitude of different implementations to take care of every unique hardware setup. Awesome!

          Codecs are a service that are almost universally an OS-provided thing. Windows, Linux, Mac, all of them have

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:04PM (#39416093)

    We currently use MPEG1, MPEG2, and JPEG in our browsers (and TVs) but the world has not collapsed, or our personal savings wiped out.

    I don't see any problem with moving onward with MPEG4 audio and video (AACplusSBR)(h.264)(ATSC 2008).

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:12PM (#39416205)

      They wanted a completely patent and royalty free standard. Now I can accept that is the preferable way to go but it wasn't very practical. The problem was nobody in the open and unpatented world wanted to get their shit together and develop a next gen video format in a timely fashion. So AVC got standardized and started to get implemented everywhere since it gives quite good quality/bit. Once it was huge and implemented in near everything, there was movement to create an open standard but too little, too late. When standards get entrenched, they get entrenched hard. GIFs are a great example, people still use them all over despite PNG being more or less in every way superior.

      Well FF wanted to fight back against that and so said "No AVC evar!" They backed WebM, which had Google gotten done 3-5 years earlier, might have had a shot, but they are finding it just isn't feasible.

      So AVC is what we have now, and probably will for a long, long time. When the next better standard comes out, it'll be hard to get people to switch because AVC is "good enough". We finally have a "good enough" video streaming solution, meaning it offer the kind of quality we want and can do so in bandwidth we have.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>GIFs are a great example, people still use them all over despite PNG being more or less in every way superior

        My ISP (and Opera's Turbo) can compress GIFs and JPEGs prior to sending them, and thereby speed up webpage loads. Not so with PNGs. As for the rest of your post I agree completely; the OSS crowd acted too late with their development of a new video standard. (And WebM really is not better than MPEG3 in quality; it's inferior.)

        • by slew (2918)

          (And WebM really is not better than MPEG3 in quality; it's inferior.)

          I think you mean MPEG4 (the original MPEG4pt2 which was kinda like DivX or H.263L), as opposed to the "new" MPEG4pt10 which is known as AVC or H.264. There is no MPEG3. The standards process that was going to lead to MPEG3 (aka HD-MPEG2) encountered the roadblock that none of the proposed techniques was much better than MPEG2 at the proposed resolution and bitrate so it was cancelled which is why HDTV on first-gen satellites and terrestrial broadcast still used MPEG2 compression that was originally develop

      • That's the BS. This was just Google's play to push a standard they define over a standard defined by their competitors (Apple, and Microsoft chief among them) because owning one of the largest online media properties AND the file format would've given them a lot of leverage. As things stand now the competition technically has leverage over YouTube and Google through control of a format Google must support to remain competitive (the reason they left their Firefox homies high and dry by continuing to support

      • by Gazzonyx (982402)

        When standards get entrenched, they get entrenched hard.

        QFT.

      • by Jonner (189691)

        There has been a "good enough" solution for video playback on web pages for many years. It is the one that replaced ubiquitous Quicktime/WMV/Real selectors on major web sites. It is no longer considered good enough mainly because of efforts by Apple, Google, Mozilla and most recently Adobe themselves to declare it so. The reason encumbered MPEG-4 video is now considered "good enough" is because there hasn't been sufficient promotion of unencumbered alternatives by those with clout. I'm particularly disappoi

    • There were similar fights over patents back then too - the LZW patent in particular was a huge pain for developers, being essential to the GIF image format. There is just a lot more money involved today. Back when the fight was over GIF, there were not more smartphones on the planet than people - and every one of them a potential royalty.
      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        GIF was developed in the early 80s by CompuServe (national BBS) and I don't remember anyone fighting against it? On the contrary the user community was still small but they embraced GIF. It gradually became the defacto standard when you wanted to share images across multiple platforms (Atari, Commodore, IBM, Mac). When Mosaic browser introduced webpages with images, GIF was already the default.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Mozilla browsers have never included the ability to decode MPEG-1 or MPEG-2. They have included the ability to use plugins to interpret any content a plugin is designed for, including MPEG video and Flash applets. Mozilla can and do include JPEG, PNG, SVG and even GIF decoding in their browsers without paying anyone for a patent license or otherwise getting permission. Decoding of any MPEG standard media (with the possible exception of ancient, very inefficient MPEG-1 video) requires a patent license from a

  • by mark-t (151149)

    ... that you can get away with pure html5 and h264 for all video concerns.

    What about, for example, wanting to show a video with certain mandatory commercial points during the main video, which the user cannot skip? Not that I'm a big fan of this, but at the same time I can respect that a company might still find this sort of thing desirable.

    You can get a flash video player to do this easily, but to the best of my understanding, can't be done so easily with just html5 and a <video> tag. Not that

    • With just a tag? No, not possible. In combination with javascript? Very possible.

      There are plenty of javascript libraries out there that might get you most of the way there, like this one here [projekktor.com].

    • by Jonner (189691)

      It is not a flaw in HTML that it can't be used to subvert the will of a user as completely as a proprietary solution. I'll be very happy to avoid any web site which doesn't switch to functional open standards because of this. However, I'm sure it would be easy to implement GUI controls which work sometimes and not others in Javascript. Someone who knew how the underlying technology worked would be able to circumvent this, but the vast majority of users wouldn't bother. It's a similar situation to ad blockin

  • No flash support makes for a lot of web content I cannot access. Dolphin works great though, I just miss out on the automatic synchronization of bookmarks like I get with FF.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:28PM (#39416417)

    It is true that firefox should try to work its way onto mobile devices. There was some talk about the alternative such as the Ogg formats that were not patent encumbered, one wonders if some sort of plugin for browsers like IE would have removed a barrier to adoption.

      However, I think the idea that firefox will become irrelevant if they do not make their way onto mobile is dubious, because desktops will remain the primary means of computing, for many reasons. This is due to the fact that desktops are superior and a better value overall, mobile devices are only good in a niche usage when in a car on in a subway or out and about town. However, at home in the evening, mobile devices provide a drastistically worse usage characteristics and value than desktop. Do we really think that its a good idea to trade in your 20" screen, full sized keyboard and fast, memory expansive system for a 4" screen with a chiclet sized keyboard or some overpriced tablet that gives far less computing power and reliability than a desktop system? It seems absurd to me.

    I do think that desktops will be used in conjunction with a mobile device, like a smart phone and or lap/netbook and that allowing these two to share data will be important (hello, remote desktop anyone).

    Smart phones are a very specific usage niche, they only really make since when one is on the go, in their car, on a subway, or walking about town. This is a trade off because the mobile device provides much worse user experience and value than a desktop, which is only tolerable where portability is important. At home, in the den, the desktops strengths vastly excel over a mobile device, and in that place the mobile has absolutely no advantage. So, desktops will be used at home, few people want to do spread sheets, work on a collage paper, play a 3D game or such on some lousy mobile device.

    Another fact is that since the mobile has a smaller display and different usage characteristics, the GUI is customized for that environment, however, the GUI that works well on a mobile, such as tabs, does not work very well on the desktop where full window system is very workable. So these two classes of computing device will have different UI designs.

    It is true there has been growth in the smart phone sector. However, this should not be read as these becoming more popular than desktop, but that the mobile platform is unsaturated so far so that there is more room to growth. This growth as well is due to a technological tresh-hold that has been reached recently which has made smart phones viable for purposes. However, this is a business cyle, eventually mobile sales will fall of significantly, and i expect that mobile and desktop sales will eventually equalize as people have purchased both and enter more of a long term wear out replacement cycle on mobiles as with desktops.

    As well, desktops are a better value in general for computing, providing higher speeds and more RAM for lower cost. They are also a general all in one computing device which can fill the role of DVR, Game console, office management, home management, communications and web browsing, telephone and video chat from home, and so on. Doing all of this with a desktop general purpose computer is a much, much better value than buying a bunch of seperate specific purpose computers like a wii or a tivo. It is far less wasteful becuse all of these devices have a general purpose computer and it makes sense to do all of these functions with a single general purpose computer rather than 3 seperate devices. As CPU speeds have increased and RAM has increased, a single desktop computer has enough resources that gaming, DVR, and office functions can all be done simultaneously. All of this results in desktops being able to multiple things for less cost making them a better value.

    Mobile devices are a niche device and eventually sales of these will decline. Desktop sales will remain steady over time due to the much better value and better and more versatile usage characteristics.

    • Is this satire?

      • Nope. Actually its pretty logical. Mobile devices are great for on the go, such as in a subway. But are just lousy at home. Destops will always be the best value and experience at home. Also, i said that mobile smartphone market is unsaturated, hence the growth, eventually the growth will stop as everyone who wants to buy the phones has one, and it enters more of a replacement cycle type thing where people replace their phones when they become worn out.

    • Notice on Youtube the lower income looking people in a trailer typically we be on a phone commenting on showing a friend a song or video clip? Same is true with minorities who are statistically poorer.

      Rich people own desktops and some offices. In places like India more people go on the web with phones than desktops. This trend will continue as costs go down. Phones will be the prefered method for teenage girls to communicate and use the web even if they have a computer at home for homework.

      It is not a niche

      • Eventually many will get tired of having to use a tiny screen (even 15" is tiny compared to my 27" monitor) and all of the inflexibilities of a tablet. They will also get tired of the carpal tunnel and taking 1 minute to type a sentance on a crappy screen or chiclet keyboard.

        If tablets came first, desktops would be considered the next great thing that will replace tablet. You mean you can actually choose and replace your own mouse, keyboard and monitor? You can actually have the unit upgraded or service, ev

    • by jdogalt (961241)

      "However, I think the idea that firefox will become irrelevant if they do not make their way onto mobile is dubious, because desktops will remain the primary means of computing, for many reasons."

      I can't claim to have read the entire comment, but this is close enough to the comment I was going to make. Basically, I see mobile phones, and their presently non-desktop OSs as a temporary thing. I mean, can't we all agree, that 20 years from now, we'll probably be wearing some device on our body, smaller than

      • I'd rather not have your corporate/government tracking and electronic body monitoring thing so I can be monitored 24 hours a day by facebook. I enjoy my privacy and being able to get away from the electronics, such as going out on a nature walk. Your idea is right out of 1984 Orwellian nigthmare. No thanks.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:36PM (#39416533)

    I'm really glad to see Mozilla making the pragmatic move. I understand it's ultimately a question of their own self interest; but in this case that dovetails nicely with what's best for their customers, in my opinion.

    The best of all worlds would be for Google to continue development of WebM so it reaches quality parity with h.264. Right now I think it's harder for WebM to gain traction when most of the "pro" arguments are about licensing issues and gloss over any technical deficiencies.

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      No actually this is going suck. Let me tell you what will happen. Many or possibly all of the major distributions are going ship Firefox / Seamonkey binaries without h264 support compiled in. Its going to be just like the mp3 fiasco a couple years ago.

      Microsoft and their kind are going to run around say pfft, Linux boxes can't even play web video, you need us for multimedia again. Linux users are going to nod and wink at each other and download libx264 and do their own Firefox / SeaMonkey / ffmpeg build

      • by jbolden (176878)

        Firefox is going to hand H264 off to the OS. So it will be compiled in but it will either be an optional dependency where it just doesn't work if you don't install (or the distribution doesn't install for you) the pluggin that ties your version of Linux to the h.264 handler.

        Now the distributions of course won't incluse a h.264 handler in their default repository....

    • by slew (2918)

      I'm really glad to see Mozilla making the pragmatic move. I understand it's ultimately a question of their own self interest; but in this case that dovetails nicely with what's best for their customers, in my opinion.

      The best of all worlds would be for Google to continue development of WebM so it reaches quality parity with h.264. Right now I think it's harder for WebM to gain traction when most of the "pro" arguments are about licensing issues and gloss over any technical deficiencies.

      It's easy to say that the WebM folks should just "do something better", but unfortunatly many of the simple techniques that they could use to get better quality w/ the same framework (predictive motion-compensated transformed block encoding), would likely tread on the patent portfolio of H.264. Most video compression experts are pretty sure many of the VP8/WebM features/limitations are a result of engineering around existing well-known patents.

      Doing something better would probably mean stealing mindshare o

    • Re:Glad to see it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by roca (43122) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @06:51PM (#39420461) Homepage

      It's not really about self-interest at all.

      If not supporting H.264 isn't reducing H.264 usage, but reduces the influence of Firefox by turning users away from Firefox, and increases the usage of Flash vs HTML5 video, then not supporting H.264 is a net lose for freedom and standards on the Web and supporting H.264 is the right thing to do for our mission.

  • There are lots of clients that Firefox runs have which have H.264. Why focus on using it for just mobile? Using pre-existing technologies on the system, regardless of its mobileness, should be the right thing to do.
  • I was eager to use Firefox Mobile after using the desktop browser for years. I've been running it for a couple of years on Android and color me unimpressed. I do like the way they handle tabs, and I like the ability to use plugins like adblock. What I DON'T like is the terrible performance. Slow to start, laggy, prone to lock up. This is on my Galaxy S, which granted is not a brand new phone. However, FF Mobile was one of the first apps I installed and it's always been a poor performer, time and revisi
  • This is a classic dumb idea, if you want to do this create do it via a plugin. The reasons for the browsers declining popularity is simple, performance...

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