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Mozilla grudgingly adopts H.264

No other choice but to take on patent laden standard
Mon Mar 19 2012, 16:47

SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Mozilla is about to start supporting the H.264 video codec despite its better judgment.

The organisation suggested that it had been pushed into adopting the standard, which it said is patent laden, and assured its users and developers that it would never charge for its software as a result.

"Mozilla is on the cusp of changing our policy about our use of video codecs and making use of a format known as 'H.264.' We have tried to avoid this for a number of years, as H.264 is encumbered by patents," wrote Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation in a blog post.

"The state of video on the Web today and in mobile devices in particular is pushing us to change our policy. We've declined to adopt a technology that improves user experience in the hopes this will bring greater user sovereignty. Not many would try this strategy, but we did," she added.

"It's time to shift our weighting. It's time to focus on shipping products people can love now, and to work on developing a new tactic for bringing unencumbered technology to the world of audio and video codecs."

Another blog post from Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich covers the decision in more detail and throws up the suggestion that Mozilla could have avoided this move if it had support from other firms such as Google and Adobe, both of which made noises about supporting more open standards in the past.

Google looked to be a saviour when it acquired On2, suggesting a focus on WebM, and actually said that it would drop support for H.264, and Adobe when it announced in 2010 that it would include VP8 support in an upcoming Flash release. Now, two years later, "Changes promised by Google and Adobe have not been made," added Eich.

Because the standard will be so commonplace, for example in use on Apple devices and in the increasing number of mobile handsets, including Android based ones, not supporting it would be a very bad move indeed.

"Some say we should hold out longer for someone (Google? Adobe?) to change something to advance WebM over H.264. Others say we should hold out indefinitely and by ourselves, rather than integrate OS decoders for encumbered video," he added.

"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.... Failure on mobile is too likely to consign Mozilla to decline and irrelevance." µ


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