back to article Dev goes 'Wild' with H.264 Firefox

A Dutch open source developer is building a version of Firefox that uses the HTML5 video tag in tandem with the H.264 codec. Mozilla's official Firefox incarnation handles HTML5 video solely with the free and open Ogg Theora codec, sidestepping H.264 because it's a patented technology that carries license fees in certain …


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  1. Combat Wombat

    I for one...

    Applaud her stance !

    Software patents are an incredibly damaging and stupid thing. the h.264 standard is merely a way of locking up all the video content again, it is the slippery slope back to the bad old days where only a few companies control how to present video.

    The fact that Mr Jobs and Mr Ballmer agree on it should be sending alarm bells ringing across the whole content community.

    If we all ignore software patents... hopefully they will go away.

    Sadly with the ACTA coming, I think that will be a lot harder.

    Beer for the Dev's !

    1. Lou Gosselin

      @I for one...

      I agree entirely about software patents being damaging and stupid. They erode the efficiency of software development and result in increased costs for no tangible gains.

      However I'm not optimistic about progressive's all the money.

  2. Llanfair

    Software patents

    That's the problem with software patents. You have some ill defined statement that can mean many different things and then use that to stop anyone having a slightly similar idea. I also hate the way Microsoft goes after Linux to say it infringes a few patents without mentioning which one. That is what Apple and Microsoft are planning for Ogg Theora. I do hope that either Dirac or VP8 becomes available for HTML5.

  3. Christoph

    Why branch the code?

    Is there some reason this can't be done with a Firefox add-on instead of branching the code base?

    1. Renato


      As I have analyzed Firefox's code to do the same thing this dev is doing, I can say that it is possible, but you would have to do some hooks and hacks to get it working.

      Instead of using libraries already installed on the system (or dynamically loading them), Mozilla has opted to bundle libvorbis and libtheora on their code. They have gone as far as setting the accepted media mimetypes on code, not someting to be loaded from an external source (on Firefox 3.6.3 source, it can be found at firefox-lorentz/content/html/content/src/nsHTMLMediaElement.cpp:1112 onwards).

      Some have said they have done this on purpose to avoid (or difficult) the creation of add-ons to add h264 (and other codecs) support and keep their so called mandated free software stance (as if Debian doesn't consider it as free software due to branding and image copyrights... pot'n'kettle maybe?).

      Maybe Moz rushed to add media support to Firefox and didn't implement GStreamer, DirectShow and QuickTime (yes, you have to add those three frameworks to support *nix, Windows and OSX) and just implemented Vorbis and Theora (plus WAV) due to easiness of integration. And they didn't integrated ffmpeg's libavcodec due to patents on software. But that's just me speculating.

    2. Mike Hawk
      Thumb Down

      Firefox Add-Ons

      Good idea but the problem is win 3.11 does not support long filenames.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While he's at it..

    ..Maybe he can ditch all the bloat that makes Firefox run like a slug on dope.

  5. Charles 9

    They say VP* could be in the same boat...

    ...but since Google now owns On2, they also own On2's patent pool. If Google releases VP8 open-source and royalty-free, they'd still have the On2 patent pool to defend against patent suits. And given the pedigree of both VP8 and VP3 (the basis for Theora), it may be tough to submarine them without causing collateral damage with MPEG-LA (IOW, submarining On2's patents may require submarining MPEG patents as well).

    1. karakalWitchOfTheWest

      And why should Google do that?

      Google is NOT your friend! google ist just a business entity as MS, Apple or Oracle and the only goal is to crush the enemy and earn more money for the owners...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I think...

        Google has to weigh in. With what is happening with You Tube, they would stand to be the most heavily stung should they have to switch to H.264 and pay a bleedin' fortune to Microple.

        I think that Google will be the first out with an alternative, Microple will have no option other than to attack them and once the patents Microple intend to use are out in the open, that'll clear the fog, if not clear the field, for other HTML5 codecs to follow.

        As the old saying goes, Google is the enemy of my enemy and is therefore my friend.

    2. Jared Earle

      unless …

      Unless, of course, the MPEG-LA are the ones doing the suing.

  6. salada2k
    Paris Hilton

    Chrome and market share

    All this says to me is that Chrome is about to get a hefty jump in market share.... At Firefox's and Operas expense.

    1. /\/\j17


      You think there are THAT many people who make their browser choice based on the video codecs it supports?!?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the title

        "You think there are THAT many people who make their browser choice based on the video codecs it supports?!?"

        If Firefox can't play Youtube, iPlayer, <insert any other video site> then quite a lot of people will probably abandon it, so the answer to your question is yes!

  7. MacroRodent
    Thumb Down

    software patents in Europe

    ""First of all, software patents are a rarity in the world and I think it's pointless to have everyone suffer because two or maybe three countries have software patents,""

    Sadly, this is a naive position. Although European countries in theory do not have software patents, patent offices, companies and courts act as if they do anyway. The interdiction against software patents can be interpreted so narrowly it is useless: You cannot patent a program as such, but a combination of it and a machine (like a plain old PC) is another thing...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ignorance is not bliss

      Totally agreed with MacroRodent: claiming that "two or maybe three countries have software patents" is at best ignorant. When you have organisations like Symbian claiming patents on software in the UK, and the continuous back-and-forth in the UK courts around whether programs are patentable, plus a European patent bureaucracy which acts like patents really do apply to software (even though they're supposed to adhere to rules which tell them otherwise) and which seeks to broaden patentability anyway, and when you have a bunch of companies lobbying for patents, often under the pretense that it's all about standards and making sure everyone implements them properly (when it's really about the standards cartel, erm, body making everyone else pay private taxes to them), anyone claiming that the threat of patents is not widespread would appear to advertise a level of remarkable ignorance on the topic.

      And shoving an encumbered technology whose patents are actively asserted into a supposedly open platform is wrong and misguided. If organisations believe that they can deploy H.264 content instead of doing the right thing because the "capability" is there, they will do so, thus diminishing the supply of, and thus the supposed demand for, open content. That many of these providers will find themselves with a bill from the cartel will probably only strike home later on, when such providers will then find that there's apparently no deployed capability to "consume" open formats any more.

      In short, shoving H.264 into Firefox is merely a pursuit of shiny new stuff to play with, without any consideration of the consequences.

  8. Flybert

    the patent game changes

    with a company like Google is defending VP8 and making deals with other patent holders

    so while it might be poor practice in general, the company with the most money and many cross complaint patents generally gets it way .. in this case it will be Apple and Microsoft getting the bad press, with Google benefiting at relatively small monetary cost relative to it's profit

    Google may be evil in it's own way, but it is way better at public relations as far as open standards and open software are concerned ..

    Linux is protected as well, but only because companies like IBM and Google will come to it's defense were MS and Apple *really* want to go at it, and just as much to spite them as anything else .. MS and Apple know this which is why they have not pushed the supposed infringement issues .. empty threats under the circumstances ..

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Apple/Microsoft dev?

    As clearly this undermines Firefox's stance on H.264 HTML5Video and strengthens Microsoft's/Apples

    It wouldn't surprised me in the least to learn that Microsoft or Apple were behind this move. It stinks of their dirty tricks.

    1. Jared Earle
      Black Helicopters

      No. No, it doesn't

      It would surprise me very much if this were "dirty tricks". I'd use Occam's Razor, if I were you. Most likely solution is not omgconspiracy.

      1. Jerome 0

        Conspiracy, or just a really odd decision?

        Whilst I agree that this is unlikely to be a deliberate action on the part of Microsoft / Apple, the end result is the same. If this version of Firefox were to take off in any big way (unlikely though that seems) it only strengthens the likelihood of H.264 becoming the de-facto standard for HTML5 video encoding.

        For a dev with such an anti-patent stance, this seems like a very odd cause to which to lend his support.

        1. Chad H.


          Unless the intention is to let this run rampant as a software-patent hurting insurgent. Is the average browser downloader seeing the "it's as good as firefox but also let's you access (favorite streaming site here) going to read (or abide by) the smallpriny which says "don't download if you live in..."

          if it did hit critical mass, and the devs effectively cover their backsides, it could be an anti patent fifth column, making it harder for software patent groups to collect.

  10. mhenriday
    Thumb Up

    I'm with Christoph here ;

    if this can be done via an add-on, that would be far preferable to branching the code base. Is that technically possible ? In any event, like Combat Wombat, I applaud Maya Posch's work - that users 'round the world must suffer due to the absurd patent practices of a few countries is an abomination well-worth combatting by users and developers alike....


    1. The BigYin

      It's all right Henri...

      ...once ACTA is pushed through, EVERYONE will have to suffer equally.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Patent free world?

    I realise this is probably an over-simplification, but I wonder how feasible it would be for key software producers to engineer their products to suit patent-free and patent-encumbered country usage? If those countries, where patents were not enforceable, showed real benefits in terms of productivity/customer satisfaction/etc. then perhaps the US and others might see the damage done by the patents system. Just my 2 cents.

  12. Frank Sattler

    This is...

    ...utterly stupid. If this takes off in any even halfways meaningful way, we're back in the middle of the browser wars, just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water.

    The supreme irony is that it's not "evil" Microsoft, but a Firefox developer who wants to push a certain technology to further their (personal ?) agenda, or simply feed their ego by trying to get their 15 minutes.

    Of course, it's a lot worse than the old "IE vs Firefox" issue, because this time 'round half of Firefox will play a video and the other half won't.

    One can only hope that this project dies a sudden and horrible death, because it doesn't bear contemplating what would happen if it succeded.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't a title

    I understand "software patents" are valid only in the US, Japan and South Korea. Why should the rest of the world suffer because three countries are controlled by MS/Apple, Sony and Samsung? Just bugger off already.

    I wish more software devs could do like Linux Mint: they have one version for normal countries with all the goodies included, and a version for patentards. This way when USans come to (continental) Europe they'll be amazed by our trains, health services AND software!

  14. Jamie Kitson

    Why Not...

    Why aren't they making it a plugin?

  15. Mage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    De-Facto Standard?

    But MPEG4 H.264 *IS* a world-wide established standard. All new Digital Broadcast is moving to it. The only TV Digital broadcast not using it is older MPEG2 systems.

    The other option is for EVERYONE to use H.264 in everything and not pay royalties. Apple can't sue everyone.

    1. Alex King

      Oh really?

      I don't think anyone's told Steve that.

      Flash, anyone?

    2. chr0m4t1c

      Apple probably wouldn't sue anyone

      H.264 is licensed by MPEG LA, an umbrella company representing 26 organisations - not all of them commercial - who have placed various patents in their care.

      As well as the usual computer/software guys (MS, Apple) you have a number of significant consumer electronics ones like Sony, Samsung, JVC and LG

      So Apple probably wouldn't sue everyone, but MPEG LA might.

      Mind you, given that they want the standard adopted, I can't see why they don't grant a license for free use of the decoder within a web browser - it's not as if MS and Apple make money directly from their browser anyway, but it could help them in any future anti-trust cases.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    A deep bow _O_ to show my respect.

    When this works it gives another argument to use when convincing IT illiterate people to be against software patents.

    Why should I be against software patents?

    Because otherwise you won't be able to view youtube freely and must pay for it by using an insecure browser that will allow crackers, pardon "hackers" (illiterate remember) to steal your credit card number.

  17. ThomH

    VP8 wouldn't solve performance problems

    At least, not on smaller devices — they've been shipping with H.264 decoding hardware since about 2007 and that's the sort of hardware that's now exceedingly cheap to build into things. The ship sailed on this a long time ago, we're now going to need a codec that's substantially better than H.264 to unseat it rather than one that's just roughly equivalent.

    To the billions of devices that can natively do H.264 and could be improved with a web browser or with the ability to stream from the net, like BluRay players, mobile phones, etc, a new codec doesn't cost less — the licence for H.264 is bought anyway and supporting a second codec means adding additional hardware. Even if it was either/or, I'll wager that the H.264 pool will drop the licence cost to prevent anyone ever getting as far as mass production of commodity VP8 decoding hardware by ensuring that the latter always remains the more expensive option.

    And by the time that hardware is general enough for it to be merely a software issue, I expect we'll be on next generation codecs.

  18. Rob Burke

    Mozilla's stance: Pointless?

    Well done Mozilla for the ethical stance. But if the big players (eg. YouTube) which use H.264 start to phase out Flash, surely more users will start to download Chrome since it will become known as the "can do it all" browser.

    Most people didn't switch from IE6 to Firefox because it was open source, but because it could do more. Maybe Mozilla should retain that stance. I mean, open source VLC doesn't just play open source codecs.

    If you support both codecs, give the choice to disable them and don't risk members having to flock to other browsers, then surely this if for the greater good?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Mozilla's stance: Pointless?

    "Well done Mozilla for the ethical stance. But if the big players (eg. YouTube) which use H.264 start to phase out Flash, surely more users will start to download Chrome since it will become known as the "can do it all" browser."

    For all we know, Google are waiting for the moment to deploy Theora or related codecs within YouTube. That Google are somehow absent from the patent litigation shark tank situation in the mobile business might have something to say about the willingness of patent trolls and cartels to drag Google into court.

    As for H.264, supporting it is just like going back to 1995 and advocating that browser developers just support GIF images and forget about providing or supporting an alternative.

  20. Tom 7

    How long now

    before a Greece* gets a low interest loan and all of a sudden we get software patents in Europe?

    * or any other EU country that puts business interests before that of its voters.

    1. Aristides


      I'm from Greece and we know it's not gonna happen...

      As for the whole .H264 thing...It is probably already over, The entire media\broadcast world as said before, has pretty much switched to .H264 as a deliverable and lately as a recording codec (AVCHD) on low end video cameras and SLR's with 24p or 25p 1080 recording.

      The world is quickly filling from H264 material. wmv 9 hd from evil Microsoft never really hit it.. Instead it is evil Apple now along with its friends. I guess everyone would prefer not to have to deal with patent and royalty issues, but in terms of industry and user adoption .H264 is the winner for this round, browsers are going to have to find a way to follow the trend, until something new and "exciting" changes the landscape.

    2. Aristides


      I'm from Greece and we know it's not gonna happen...

      As for the whole .H264 thing...It is probably already over, The entire media\broadcast world has pretty much switched to .H264 as a deliverable and lately as a recording codec (AVCHD) on low end video cameras and SLR's with 24p or 25p 1080 recording.

      The world is quickly filling from H264 material. wmv 9 hd from evil Microsoft never really hit it.. Instead it is evil Apple now along with its friends. I guess everyone would prefer not to have to deal with patent and royalty issues, but in terms of industry and user adoption .H264 is the winner for this round, browsers are going to have to find a way to follow how things are.

  21. MarkOne

    Microsoft backtracking on H.264 exclusivity..

    The company ruled out supporting open-source codecs like Ogg Theora for the time being, but Internet Explorer General Manager Dean Hachamovitch left open the possibility that it will change this position, saying that Microsoft “(will) be open to considering other codecs” once there is enough industry support for an H.264 alternative and any related legal uncertainties have been resolved.

    Seems Microsoft know something we don't. Perhaps it will allbecome clear in the next couple of days, post Google announcement...

  22. Anonymous Coward

    VP8 the way forwards.

    Google just OpenSourced it.

    Get your Opera builds here:

    YouTube is now VP8 enabled...

  23. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    gstreamer's the way to go

    "The idea is to start with the current stable version of the Firefox open source code - version 3.6.3 - and modify it with a new decoder. Posch tells us the project will include the open source GStreamer media framework, and this will likely handle H.264 decoding via the open GST ffmpeg codec."

    This is the way to go. This sidesteps the patent problem -- open media frameworks are not patented, H.264 is. And indeed, distros that want to be strict do in fact ship with gstreamer but without H.264, DVD crypto support, MP3 support, etc. It's then up to the user to 1) Decide they are in a patent-free country or say "F" you to software patents, and get these codecs from 3rd parties (like medibuntu for ubuntu) or 2) Buy them from Fluendo -- and yes, they are available as properly licensed codecs from them that plug directly into gstreamer. My Dell Mini 9 included Fluendo codecs.

    The other reason to use gstreamer, the ffmpeg implements many codecs (including vorbis and theora I think), and it's implementations seem to speed up with almost every release. So, you'll end up upgrading ffmpeg and having vlc, mplayer, and every other player *except* firefox speeding up if they throw the libs into the main executable.

  24. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Patent free world

    Creating a Patent free codec isn't that simple.

    You can look at the patents held by H.264 and avoid those, but you can't know if somebody has a patent on the concept of compressing video, or even the idea of showing video on a computer.

    Remember the one recently where somebody had patented storing values in a bitfield!

  25. mhenriday

    Thanks, The Big Yin ;

    I now feel reassured ! A reason for supporting ACTA I hadn't considered - all (with the exception of organisations like RIAA, MPAA, etc, and their bought-and-paid-for politicians, «regulators», and judges) will be privileged to suffer equally. Hurrah !....


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