Wow. Good Job Cisco.
I hereby take back 3/4 of the bad things I've said about them.
Networking titan Cisco Systems says it will open source its implementation of the H.264 video codec and release it as a free binary download. This could make it easier for open-source projects to incorporate real-time streaming video into their software as the company has promised to cover the codec's patent-licensing fees. " …
...more free codecs means more video downloads sells more cisco routers.
I was speaking to a RedHat employee t'other night. He said open sourcing nearly all the work they did was entirely in their commercial interest.
It got debugged for them and thoroughly tested by the community, and what came back from the open source community worked with everyone else developments too.
If it is only free to use the binary version, then it isn't a free open source H.264 is it?
Rather misleading really.
I for one don't want any binary blobs on my nice open source system, and this doesn't change a thing. just Cisco trying to get some good PR while throwing around "open source" and "free license", except not at the same time.
So linux distributions can't include it, because Cisco pays the license for the binary downloads, which of course means they need to know how many downloads there are, and it only applies to the binaries they offer, not any others built from their source.
It's sort of free :-/ It's free until Cisco stops the paying the bill. It is a BSD license, and from what I read the distribution of source is just as free as the binary. I gather that each build for each platform will be subject to royalty, not each individual download.
But, it's a nice intermediate solution, to a hopefully not-so-long problem.
The only one being misleading is you - they said their implementation will be open-source, and the binary will be free as they'll pay associated licensing costs.
They never said 'free open source' - you did.
Also, what more could they do? They've released their source and will even pay when people use their binary.
How you expect Cisco to magically remove all patents owned by others is beyond me.
As for binary blobs, do you install everything from source after reviewing all the source code?
Attitudes like that give the rest of us in the open-source world a bad reputation.
So your nice open source system doesn't have one jot of binary/proprietary software/technology? You have an open source BIOS, your CPU doesn't use microcode, and your HDD/SDDs don't have any firmware whatsoever. You probably also have the full logic of all ASICs and FPGAs on your motherboard and peripherals pinned up on your wank wall, don't you?
Does your nose resent being bitten off to spite your face?
The problem is that, with this - Cisco have effectively halted all development on alternate codec and allowed a patent encumbered one to be widely adopted as a standard.
All because it's free - for now, or until they change their mind, or another patent holder objects, or that part of Cisco get sold to somebody else.
Suppose sun had offered free downloads of solaris-x86 in the early 90s. Then we wouldn't have needed linux and today the world would be owned by Larry "blofeld" Ellison
It's free as in beer, not free as in you can use it freely.
While I think Stallman's approach is communistic, he is at least logically consistent*. So long as people are willing to freely donate to his communistic GNU project I have no objection to him advancing his ideas. I only object when there is an insistence that his approach is best and therefor everyone will be compelled to comply with his ideas.
*I also think given the current state of IP law we need an alternative. I don't particularly like Stallman's alternative, but I don't see a practical way to implement an alternative I'd prefer. Until a large quantity of politicians come to their senses, his approach seems the only practical alternative. And I expect Hell will not only be serving ice water but a full selection of frozen girlie drinks before we get a large quantity of politicians coming to their senses.
This boils down to Cisco offering source code to their implementation of H.264, and somehow tracking every time someone builds it into a binary blob so that they can pay MPEG-LA. Otherwise, the lawyers at MPEG-LA would be gearing up for a licensing fight with Cisco, surely?
With my tinfoil hat on, it occurs to me that making Cisco's implementation of H.264 the defacto standard across a bazillion devices is probably rather good business for Cisco.
H.264 is getting on a bit and if the MPEG formats remain the industry standards then the MPEG members are more likely to make some serious money on HEVC/H.265.
Cisco makes a lot of money from telepresence equipment, including software and the physical stuff you kit out your boardroom out with. If it's automatically compatible with Android and iOS and everything else that comes with a browser but has no plug-in architecture at all or for which it would be a major hassle to maintain a plug-in then that's a big plus.
I doubt they will adopt the liability of having to track downloads for such a widespread component. That would be too painful for everyone and could give rise to too many disputes.
More likely they will seek to negotiate with MPEG-LA some statistical measures of use, or may even just agree some flat-rate compensation. With the widespread use of h264 there is probably already a statistical model for compensation in use, and on the non-discriminatory component of MPEG-LA's FRAND terms, they have probably already determined they can use that.
Of course if past behaviour is a guide there is nothing to stop Motorola and Samsung from coming forwards (assuming they have patents in the MPEG-LA pool) and saying "forget it, though we committed our patents to the MPEG-LA pool, we reserve the right to make up new terms outside of the pool agreement and will seek an injunction against anyone who isn't prepared to pay for whatever surprise ambush scenario we make up, thereby rendering the very concept if a patent pool a vehicle we can hijack and use for our own ends rather than for reaching that destination we jointly agreed when we joined it.".
Sorry, I couldn't resist the opportunity this example presents to make that point ! In general, due to the bad feeling around perceived trollish behaviour by certain opponents (one fruity firm in particular), much of the tech community simply hasn't been prepared take any time to grok why Samsung and Motorola's behaviour re: their patents they committed to patent pools, has been unconscionable (and therefore quite why it is they have attracted anti-trust investigations on this point in multiple jurisdictions).
I don't expect MPEG-LA will level the lawsuit against Cisco. I expect they'll level it against whoever other than Cisco builds the blob. Which is why some people are rightly objecting to this stop-gap solution. It's a bit like Clay's 1850 Grand Compromise on slavery. It might hold the machine together for a little while longer, but it doesn't address the root problem.
Of course wver individual build need to be tracked. For the following reasons
1) so that the MPAA/MPEG-LA/Whoever can sue the people who used it into bankrupcy when CISCO stop paying the bills.
2) So that the NSA can keep tabs of what pron you are watching and all those FB videos of beheading.
Get real. This is nowt more than a publicity stunt by CISCO. The MPEG-LA Lawyers will be telling CISCO the error of their ways very shortly.
We are open-sourcing Cisco’s H.264 codec. That code will then be made available on an ongoing basis as a binary downloadable. We will pay the royalties to MPEGLA for it. This effectively makes it free for any browser (or other app) to include it. The source code will be open source and distributed with a BSD lIcense. The binary module is separate and when the users software downloads it from Cisco, that is when we are responsible for paying the MPEG LA royalties.
By releasing the source code to an H.264 codec under the BSD license, there is an argument to be made to consider that Open Source because the source code is under a BSD license. All kinds of people have released code under the BSD licenses and there may or may not be patents that apply to it but it is widely acknowledged to be open source.
Nadee Gunasena, Cisco PR
If I'm reading NadeeG's comment correctly, it means the following:
If you download the compiled binaries from Cisco, your royalties are paid for by Cisco.
If you download the BSD licensed source from Cisco and compile your own binaries, you're on your own for MPEG LA royalties.
If you download the BSD licensed source from Cisco and use the code in another project, you're also on your own for MPEG LA royalties.
So basically the open source side of this is not that interesting, it's just another implementation of H.264 to consider alongside x264 and the others. The interesting part is the offer of a paid-for plugin for your browser and that's pretty much it.
On the one hand, I am driven to spontaneous admiration and respect for Cisco. On the, I'm still pretty sure there's no such thing as a free lunch. I suppose the question is: what do Cisco gain from this move? More specifically, how will they recoup the costs and from whom?
On the face of it, this move seems magnanimous enough to warrant great praise, but then experience with reality would suggest at least some caution.
What do they sale? Networking gear. Everyone all the sudden being able to use video technologie for free is going to, they hope, get someone to make a real killer video app that will force ISPs to upgrade a shitload of kit because 800kbit/sec upload from the client just won't cut it anymore.
I guess that's what they are thinking anyway.
OK, so I applaud Cisco for this gesture. However, ultimately Cisco is purely in the business of making money, so its motives are not altruistic. I assume this is either a way of promoting a specific bit of Cisco kit or is simply a general PR exercise - another way of drumming-up business, but either way it's not altruism. Cisco is not a charity, so don't be fooled by the hype.
But that's fine, I have no objection to that. I have no objection to Cisco selling hardware or services, or even promoting that hardware or services with freebies, as long as they don't pretend it's anything more noble than that.
What I object to, in this instance, is the MPEG-LA racketeering operation benefitting from my use of Cisco's software, even though it's not my money being siphoned into the MPEG-LA's greasy palms. By using Cisco's royalty-paid software, I'm legitimising something I find profoundly unethical - the intellectual monopolisation of mathematics, and the belligerent extortion of protection money, whilst indirectly helping to fund the extortionist.
If I'm going to use patent-infected software at all, I want to make sure the vendor isn't legitimising and funding racketeers like the MPEG-LA. That's why I'd much rather use software like ffmpeg, which has a contemptuous disregard for the whole patent fiasco, much as I do.
Broadcom's Eben Upton's Raspberry Pi Fundation(sic), which does something similar.
So cisco is paying a site license for unlimited use on the h264 codec for the whole world? That would have to be one hell of a license fee. Something doesnt smell right. There will have to be limitations, or else the fee will have to be so large that mpeg la are happy to never accept a cent from anyone else.
I can see the license being restricted to use in FF and/or other browsers would work. But I bet I cant write my own unrelated video conferencing application and distribute it then say "cisco will pay up for that part".
Let me see if I can clarify for Cisco ... we will select licensing terms that allow for this code to be used in commercial products as well as open source projects. In order for Cisco to be responsible for the MPEG LA licensing royalties for the module, Cisco must provide the packaging and distribution of this code in a binary module format (think of it like a plug-in, but not using the same APIs as existing plugins), in addition to several other constraints. This gives the community the best of all worlds – a team can choose to use the source code, in which case the team is responsible for paying all applicable license fees, or the team can use the binary module distributed by Cisco, in which case Cisco will cover the MPEG LA licensing fees. - Nadee Gunasena, Cisco PR
In return for h264 become the new web standard ( as opposed to flash, or some open source codec) I'm sure the MPEG-LA looked favourably on the licensing cost.
Just like MP3 offering free license to open source decoders. How popular would ogg be if the MP3 license holders tracked down every non-Apple user of an MP3 ?
As noted above, I can see this is good for Cisco in the long run as having a widely available standard * video decoder library available is good for interoperability with their video conferencing, and as video is moving (aka being pushed by suppliers) into more mainstream systems then not having to provide bespoke plugins for every damn device is a good thing. The side effect is that it opens up the usage for other players, but IMHO that only strengthens the technology in this case.
Also, don't forget - this seems to apply to the decoder... encoding is likely a different licence altogether.
* standard in this case is commonly used / available, not necessarily an agreed upon open standard - just something that is available almost everywhere and works almost everywhere. Such as Flash or PDF (ignore the details and problems of these two, but the concept is the same - you can produce a PDF document and generally expect somebody else to be able to read it)
ooooh... El Reg... I like. An "Edit" button for posts. Just had to try it! :)
In the mean time the hot issue in the broadcast world is HEVC a.k.a. ITU-T H.265
or MPEG-H Part 2 (ISO/IEC 23008-2). See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/11/feature_wtf_is_h265_hevc/
and/or google "H.265-HEVC-Overview.pdf".
This codec will supersede H.264 in a few years time, just like H.264 superseded MPEG-2.
Cisco is one of about thirty H.264 licensors.
Most of them global industrial giants like LG, Mitsubishi, Philips and Samsung.
There is an enterprise cap on H,264 royalties. Currently $6.5 million/yr. Cisco's revenues are about $49 billion/yr.
The video compression codec is about the perception of color, depth, motion and detail. In both video and sound, It is not a simple problem ----
which is why even Google can come up short.
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Why are browser developers making H.264 and WebM playback so special, what's wrong with getting the browser to load up the codec installed in the OS? If H.264 is there (as it will be on anything post-XP) it'll play it and if not it'll display an error like 'No H.264 codec found. Please install one. Click here for help installing one' which will take you to a list of well-known codecs. Just like audio playback. Job done.
Post XP?? Thats about 2% of windows installs and fuck all of the handheld community's devices which now make up the majority of devices.
Not that they need H.264 - If people think its better for compression and that that is important can they just send me the text of their video first so I know not to bother downloading the shit in the first place.
Whilst that might have been true a few years back, now in most cases you can leverage the OS to playback H.264, even on mobiles and tablets. Mozilla, Opera, and so on don't really need to get involved, unless there's some odd licensing thing happening which makes them responsible for using a H.264 codec installed on the OS, which I really doubt.
From what I've gleaned from the mozilla blog post and the phoronix forums:
1. Supposedly Cisco is already paying close to upper limit of rowalties, as they are capped anually (this year was $6.5M).
2. Cisco is covering the royalties for copies of the binary module downloaded from their site.
3. Cisco has said that they will be releasing not only the source code, but also the makefiles (flags, configurations, etc) used for compiling, so their binary is independently reproducible.
4. Mozilla has said that the procedure with firefox will be: download the binary module, check its checksum with the "known good version" and if it matches, use it. The checksum of the "known good version" is the checksum of the software compiled from sources.
5. Cisco has said that they will provide binaries for all platforms/architectures that can be reasonably supported.
So it is a useful stopgap, although not as nice as using a patent-free/royalty-free codec.
"This situation has been a stumbling block for WebRTC, the Worldwide Web Consortium's new standard for two-way real-time audio and video communications, because obviously getting two browsers to talk to each other requires them both to speak the same language."
Unless Cisco's offering includes an encoder as well, it's not going to do much for two-way communication!
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