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Mozilla and Opera call for Google open codec in HTML5 spec

As Google dubs Open Source Initiative 'closed'

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One week after Google open sourced its $124.6m VP8 video codec, Mozilla and Opera have called for its inclusion in the still-gestating HTML5 specification.

As it stands, the HTML5 spec does not specify a video codec. Browser makers are free to use any codec they like, and the big names are split between the patent-backed H.264 and the open source Ogg Theora. In open sourcing VP8 and rolling it into larger media format known as WebM, Google is hoping to create a single open and royalty-free standard for video compression on the web, and though it hasn't specifically called for VP8's inclusion in the HTML5 spec, Mozilla and Opera see no reason to wait.

On Thursday, Mozilla CEO John Lilly told Cnet that Mozilla "hopes" to incorporate VP8 in HTML5, and Opera tells The Reg it welcomes the news. "Opera proposed HTML's video element in 2007 and have since worked towards having a common format," says Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie. "WebM is a great format and we support its inclusion in HTML5."

Asked to comment, Google did not address the HTML5 spec in particular. "We're excited by the community's response to the WebM project, and we support efforts to standardize the technology," a company spokesman said.

Though Cnet says that Mozilla is working to incorporate VP8 into HTML5, the organization tells us that John Lilly was "discussing the ideal scenario for VP8, not what Mozilla is currently doing."

The current HTML5 spec lacks a video codec because the big-name browser makers couldn't agree on one. Last June, with a post to the open WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) email list, Google’s Ian Hickson announced that he had “reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship.” And he removed the two subsections of the spec where codecs were required.

Mozilla, Opera, and Google had backed Ogg, but Apple stood firm on H.264, while Microsoft didn't even join the discussion. Hickson said that Apple had refused Ogg due to scant hardware support and an “uncertain patent landscape," and this was recently echoed by Apple boss Steve Jobs when he claimed that a patent pool was being put together to "go after" Ogg Theora.

Google says it's "very confident" that VP8 will stand up to attack from outside patent holders, but Jobs isn't likely to embrace the codec, and MPEG-LA is "looking into" a patent pool that will license VP8, a move that would challenge Google's efforts to make the codec royalty-free.

Apple, it's worth noting, is part of the existing MPEG-LA patent pool that licensees H.264.

Microsoft is also part of that H.264 patent pool, but it seems to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. It still plans to include H.264 in Internet Explorer 9, but it recently said it's not opposed to users decoding with VP8 — as long as the install it on their machines themselves.

In an earlier interview with Cnet, Ian Hickson indicated real world codec use will determine what the HTML5 video spec says. "What the spec says will depend entirely on what implementations (in particular browser vendors) decide to support," he explained. Mozilla, Opera, and Google have already included VP8 in developer builds of their browsers, but we're a long way from the codec in Safari — if not IE.

And all this only begins to describe the drama surrounding VP8. As the MPEG-LA questions Google's claim that the codec is royalty-free, others are questioning Google's claim that it's open source.

Google released VP8 under a new open source license that includes some language meant to fend off patent attacks, but it has yet to submit the license to the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Earlier this week, OSI board member Simon Phipps told the world that without OSI approval, VP8 can't be considered source, and he called on the company to submit the license for review.

Asked for a response, Google open source guru Chris DiBona told us that the company intends to approach the OSI "in the coming weeks." But DiBona now indicates that Google won't actually submit the license unless the OSI is willing to change the way it operates.

On Tuesday, a third party submitted Google's license to the OSI on Google's behalf, and on a public email list, DiBona reiterated that the company preferred to wait, while appearing to say that it may not actually submit the license.

For years, Google and DiBona have spoken out against the proliferation of open source licenses, and well, the new WebM license proliferates open source licenses. DiBona indicated he wants to ensure that the WebM license is only used for WebM - this would seem be an effort to minimize the proliferation issue — but he also accused the Open Source Initiative of being too closed.

"Please hold off on submitting this while we determine certain compatibility issues internally at google," he said. "We'll engage with osi in a couple of weeks, likely as not. I would also point out that we're uncomfortable with make license proliferation worse and in the event we do submit it, we will want a couple of changes to how OSI does licenses."

He added that Google "will likely want a label explicitly deterring the use of the license" and that it "will want the bod list archives open for any discussions of webm. We are not comfortable with OSI being closed." Then he added: "This might sound strident, but I think that OSI needs to be more open about its workings to retain credibility in the space."

Phipps responded by saying that the OSI offers a category for non-reusable licenses, and he defended the OSI's behavior, while taking a dig at Google's. "Most others engage with OSI before they publish a new license and declare it open source," he said. ®

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