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Microsoft defends death of free video in IE 9

Pity us, for losing money on H.264

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Updated Microsoft has gone on the defensive over its decision to exclude free video from the next version of Internet Explorer.

With a blog post, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch dismissed claims that IE 9 will only play HTML5 video built using the patented H.264 codec because Microsoft makes money from licensing H.264.

H.264 licensees include PC makers, Linux companies, network equipment manufactures, service providers, and companies that build consumer devices.

Hachamovitch claimed that Microsoft is actually losing money on H.264 - which it helped build with Apple and others - because it puts twice as much cash into the body that administers the codec - MPEG LA - than it gets in return.

While painting H.264 as safe and reliable from a licensing perspective - and ubiquitous in today's market - Hachamovitch stumbled on the key issue of licensing.

He claimed that the "majority of H.264 video content on the web today is royalty-free" but conceded that could change by 2016, when it would seem that the MPEG LA - meaning Microsoft, Apple and others who helped build H.264 - will review the license.

Hachamovitch also said that IE 9 would support Flash. Last week, in his blog on H.264 in IE 9, Hachamovitch joined Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs in bashing Flash, saying it has "some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance."

Hachamovitch's latest blog post came after developers laid into him for Microsoft's decision to champion H.264 over open and free alternatives and for calling H.264 an industry standard. Comments ridiculed Microsoft for backing a closed and patent-encumbered codec that the company can charge people to use.

It was a world away from the general outflow of goodwill that poured Microsoft's way in March when it said IE 9 would become standards compliant and support HTML 5. The HTML 5 spec does not specify a video codex, thanks to heavy politicking by Microsoft and Apple. That means those using HTML5 are implementing any playback codec they want.

And talk about timing. Hachamovitch unloaded the news as Jobs warned that patent holders are forming a pool to take down the open-source codec Hachamovitch so diligently avoided naming in his blog posts: Ogg Theora.

Jobs did not say whether Apple is a member of the patent pool, but MPEG LA has echoed both Jobs and Hachamovitch by claiming Theora contains patents. Asked separately by The Reg if patents exist in Theora and whether patent holders have discussed how to enforce them, MPEG LA chief executive Larry Hold told us he had no comment "at this time."

One of those reacting to Jobs was open-source advocate Florian Mueller. In an email comment to us, he pointed out that Apple is creating instability and uncertainty around Theora.

"Should Apple be a contributor to the patent pool Steve Jobs mentioned, that would be very bad news because then the objective may very well be to prevent any commercial use and distribution of Ogg Theora and other open-source video codecs," Mueller warned.

A commentor on Hachamovitch's follow-up blog, meanwhile, took issue with the claim that using H.264 would guarantee video online, because of H.264's growing ubiquity in all kinds of devices from phones and devices to PCs. The commentor said the decision would "delay and hinder" the arrival of web-video for anther two to three years because IE 9 is not yet here and Safari has just under five per cent market share. Firefox and Opera, which support Theora, have a quarter of the browsing market.

"For users and developers there's no single sure way of supporting video in 100 per cent of web video capable browsers regardless of other risks and uncertainties either H.264 or Ogg-Theora represents and regardless of their technical merits or drawbacks," he wrote. ®

This article has been updated to distinguish between comments made by Florian Mueller and a commenter on Hachamovitch's blog.

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