Wednesday 5 May 2010

h264 shenanigans

Engadget has an excellent article that attempts to clarify the muddy waters of licensing and patents surrounding the h264 video codec. One of the snippets from the article, important enough that they list it in a side-box, is "using H.264 to distribute free internet video to end users doesn't cost a thing, and won't cost anything until at least 2015. After that, it's up in the air, and that's a bridge we'll have to cross when we come to it — there's a chance the MPEG-LA could start charging a royalty for free video in five years."

Two parts of that sentence should cause any sane person cause for concern:

...won't cost anything until at least 2015.

That's only five years away. Just enough time to generate an awful lot of content that would take a lot of effort to get away from.

After that, it's up in the air...

That's not exactly something to be happy about. There's no point making extensive use on h264 and then hoping that it'll turn out ok, especially when there are perfectly workable alternatives.

The article does do a good job of dispelling a lot of the scaremongering that's been going on, but what's left is still distinctly unpleasant.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Labour Promote Political Sabotage

Now that it's blindingly obvious that the UK Labour Party is going to lose the General Election later this week, they've resorted to abusing the voting system in order to prevent their long term rivals, the Conservatives, from winning a complete victory. In areas where the Liberal Democrats are a larger threat to the Tories than Labour themselves, the advice is to vote Lib Dem in order to prevent them gaining the seat.

Does anyone else think that the system is broken?

Sunday 2 May 2010

Apple's vision of an 'open' web

Apple are certainly 'thinking different' when it comes to the definition of 'open'. In their spat with Adobe regarding Flash on Apple's mobile products, Steve Jobs responded almost convincingly about why Flash isn't on the Apple mobile product line. The primary reason? Openness. Flash is a closed platform, whereas JavaScript, CSS and HTML 5 are all open.

The 'but' here comes from the HTML 5 part, which includes a <video> tag that essentially renders Flash video obsolete, with decode and render available natively in the browser, rather than through a plugin. The standards committee overseeing HTML 5 still hasn't agreed on what format that video should be delivered in. The de-facto standard of h264, a high-quality, industry-driven standard that's nevertheless mired in patent and licensing issues that are really sticky. Or Xiph's Theora, which has been designed to avoid using techniques covered by patents, and is available royalty-free (which most of us think of when we think 'free').

When it comes to browser support, the big three unsurprisingly lend their weight to h264. Mozilla's Firefox—distinct from the others in being the only organisation that's an actual browser company and also non-profit—throws its weight behind Theora, with that crazy idea that participating in the web shouldn't involve licensing fees just to access it.

Of the corporations, Google has interestingly promised to open source the VP8 codec and, since they own YouTube, could theoretically swing the balance by offering VP8 support in Chrome and VP8 YouTube videos, especially if Firefox supported the same.

But, back to Apple.

Steve Jobs reckons that there's no such thing as a free video codec. Furthermore, he issues a threat to Xiph over Theora (without including useful specifics, which relegates it to FUD).

So Steve: get a grip. The i-whatever ecosystem is locked down tight, and you're free to do that to whatever extent your customers are willing to put up with, but don't hide behind a wall of righteousness when dissing other technologies. Your 'open' arguments are empty with a platform and environment that is increasingly developer hostile.

As for me, I've owned a G4 PowerBook and am typing this on a two year old Macbook Pro. With each statement from Jobs regarding criticism of his closed platform, I find it increasingly unlikely that I'll buy a third. So hey, Apple marketing-types: your CEO's statements are costing you a £1500 sale, and most likely not just from me.


Apparently Apple once believed in a royalty-free Web, too. However, despite the original having lived here on for years, it's recently been pulled.

Thankfully, George Orwell's Memory Holes are a difficult thing to accomplish with an open Web.

Hat-tip to ZeroGravitas on Hacker News for the info (and to Create on the comments page for the Memory Hole reference).