Feeds

Is Google spending $106.5m to open source a codec?

The price of web standards

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

After acquiring On2’s video compression codecs in a deal valued at approximately $106.5 million in stock, will Google simply turn around and open source them?

It certainly looks that way.

In both the press release and the blog post announcing the acquisition of On2, Google makes a point of saying that it believes “high-quality video compression technology should be a part of the web platform” — and that On2 is a means of achieving that goal.

As is typical of Googlespeak, this tells us close to nothing. But if you also consider the company's so far fruitless efforts to push through a video tag for HTML 5 — the still-gestating update to the web’s hypertext markup language — the On2 acquisition looks an awful lot like an effort to solve this browser-maker impasse.

When it comes to built-in video compression, Apple Safari uses H.264. Firefox and Opera use the open and license-free Ogg Theora. Google Chrome uses both. And Microsoft’s Internet Explorer uses, well, nothing, continuing to rely on plug-ins like Adobe Flash and its own Silverlight for video. All which makes for tough going when the browser makers sit down to discuss an HTML5 video tag (or — in the case of Microsoft — when they don’t sit down).

In late June, with a post to the open WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) email list, Google’s Ian Hickson announced he had “reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship”. As a result, he removed two subsections of the HTML where codecs were required, leaving the matter undefined — at least for the time being.

As the man who edits the HTML 5 spec, Hickson considered a Ogg Theora requirement, but eventually decided this was a non-starter. “It wouldn’t help get us true interoperabiliy, since the people who are willing to implement it are willing to do so regardless of the spec, and the people who aren’t are not going to be swayed by what the spec says,” he wrote.

Obviously, Mozilla, Opera, and Google have no objection to Ogg Theora as the standard codec. But according to Hickson — who joined Google from Opera — Apple refuses to use Ogg Theora in Quicktime and Safari because of scant hardware support and an “uncertain patent landscape”. Apparently, Apple is worried that the patent holders behind the Theora technology will come knocking with a lawsuit.

What’s more, Mozilla accuses Google of fouling up Ogg Theora’s chances of widespread adoption by continuing to use Flash and H.264 on YouTube. “I do not like the situation on the Web today, where to use all the content you need to have a license to Flash,” Mozilla director of ecosystem development Mike Shaver posted to WHATWG earlier in June.

“And I’m saddened that Google is choosing to use its considerable leverage — especially in the Web video space, where they could be a king-maker if ever there was one — to create a future in which one needs an H.264 patent license to view much of the video content on the Web.”

Microsoft? According to Hickson, they haven’t said a word about anything.

Pushing Microsoft to the side, Hickson said he would return Ogg Theora to the spec if one of two scenarios played out:

  • Ogg Theora encoders continue to improve. Off-the-shelf hardware Ogg Theora decoder chips become available. Google ships support for the codec for long enough without getting sued that Apple’s concern regarding submarine patents is reduced. → Theora becomes the de facto codec for the Web.
  • The remaining H.264 baseline patents owned by companies who are not willing to license them royalty-free expire, leading to H.264 support being available without license fees. → H.264 becomes the de facto codec for the Web.

But perhaps there’s a third option: Google acquiring On2 and promptly open sourcing its latest video codecs: VP6, VP7, and VP8.

On2’s VP3 codec is the actual basis for Ogg Theora. In 2001, On2 open sourced VP3 under an irrevocable free license through an agreement with The Xiph.org Foundation.

According to Google open source guru Chris DiBona, the company continues to avoid Ogg Theora on YouTube because it can’t match the performance of H.264. But if Google open sources a newer On2 codec and applies that to YouTube, this would ease Mozilla’s objections. Google has already mocked up a Flash-free YouTube. And with Google controlling On2’s patents, it would have that much more leverage in its efforts to convince Apple that it won’t be sued.

Microsoft? Micrsoft will play hard-to-get on the standards issue no matter what you do. So you might as well as spend your $106.5m and free some code. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.