Microsoft fires back at critics of its HTML5 strategy

Microsoft fires back at critics of its HTML5 strategy

Summary: Last week, both Apple and Microsoft issued manifestos announcing their support for the H.264 standard in HTML5. Microsoft's post drew an overwhelming response, and now the company's executive in charge of IE8 has fired back. Why H.264? Are other codecs locked out? And who is this mysterious MPEG LA organization? I've got the answers.

TOPICS: Apple, Legal, Microsoft

Apple and Microsoft are at it again. This time, though, the two archrivals find themselves on the same side (more or less) of a tremendously contentious issue: Which video format will be adopted as the standard for the Internet over the next five (or more) years?

The answer from both companies is H.264. Coincidentally, both Apple and Microsoft issued manifestos announcing that support last week. But how they continued that discussion with developers, partners, and customers is a very different story indeed.

Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash was published on Thursday morning, April 29, although the signature beneath the post simply reads “April, 2010.” It’s mostly a double-barreled blast at Adobe in general and Flash in particular, but references to HTML5 and H.264 are sprinkled throughout the 1681-word post. It’s abundantly clear that Jobs and Apple have placed their bets on H.264: it’s a “more modern format,” and H.264 videos “play perfectly” in Apple’s browser and “look great” on Apple hardware.

On Thursday afternoon, almost lost in the media frenzy over Jobs’ remarks, Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager of the Internet Explorer division, hit the publish button on a post titled HTML5 Video. At a mere 364 words, Hachamovitch’s remarks got straight to the point:

The future of the web is HTML5. … The HTML5 specification describes video support without specifying a particular video format. We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only.

Despite the similar content, there was one dramatic difference between the two posts. Jobs’ remarks did not include an option for feedback. Hachamovitch’s post did. And as of Sunday evening, roughly 72 hours after the original post was published, it had attracted nearly 200 comments, some of them downright scathing. In addition, tech news sites and blogs offered all sorts of reactions to the post, many of them wildly wrong. So Hachamovitch did something almost unheard of: he published a new post, Follow Up on HTML5 Video in IE9, addressing many of those comments in detail. (When I asked Hachamovitch last night why he took the time to prepare such a detailed response, he told me: “At the end of the day, we’re building a browser for the Windows customer. Listening to that customer, in whatever form that takes, is not just important, it defines what we’re here to do.”)

I’ve been researching this issue for several weeks now, so I was especially interested in what both companies have to say—and equally interested in the parts they leave out of the discussion. Here’s a summary of some of the key issues in this very controversial discussion. (And if you're wondering just who the mysterious MPEG LA organization is and why they control the "patent pool" for the H.264 standard, jump to page 3, where I explain.)

Why H.264?

Microsoft delivers software on a scale that is breathtaking. A billion PCs running Windows means a billion copies of one version or another of Internet Explorer. Making architectural decisions for a platform of that size isn’t something that’s done lightly. Apple’s installed base is considerably smaller, but it’s still large, especially when you factor in devices like iPhones and iPads, and its influence among the tech elite is much larger than its market share. For both companies, the decision to embrace H.264 is down to the same two reasons:

First, as Hachamovitch points out, it works—and works well:

[W]e think it is the best available video codec today for HTML5 for our customers. Relative to alternatives, H.264 maintains strong hardware support in PCs and mobile devices as well as a breadth of implementation in consumer electronics devices around the world, excellent video quality, scale of existing usage, availability of tools and content authoring systems

That performance edge isn’t just from software, either. Just about every modern graphic processing unit (GPU) now has H.264 decoding built into the silicon, and IE9 is going to take advantage of hardware acceleration for graphics and text. Jobs cited performance tests showing that hardware-accelerated H.264 video doubled battery life compared on an iPad compared to the same video not using hardware acceleration.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the H.264 format has undeniable momentum. Hachamovitch pointed to one recent study from, which estimates that 66 percent of all videos on the web are now available in H.264 formats, up from 31 percent a year ago.

Next: What about those other codecs? -->

<-- Previous page

Does native support mean other codecs are locked out?

Short answer: No. Longer answer: Microsoft is huge, but its resources aren’t unlimited. In building IE9, Microsoft’s developers have to decide which codecs get native support and which are going to be supported via plugins. The same is true at Apple. That leads to some confusion, like this analysis from my ZDNet colleague Dana Blankenhorn, who concludes “Microsoft will only support H.264.”

That’s not completely accurate. At least for IE9, the decision to support H.264 natively in the browser doesn’t preclude third parties from adding their own codecs and plugins. And it doesn't prevent Microsoft from adding support for other codecs in the future. As Hachamovitch explains:

To be clear, users can install other codecs for use in Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. For web browsers, developers can continue to offer plug-ins (using NPAPI or ActiveX; they are effectively equivalent in this scenario) so that webpages can play video using these codecs on Windows. For example, webpages will still be able to play VC-1 (Microsoft WMV) files in IE9.

And, of course, the Windows platform supports other browsers besides Internet Explorer. Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and a half-dozen smaller alternatives are available for Windows, each offering support for all sorts of alternative media formats. None of those will be blocked or disabled when IE9 is released.

So what about Ogg Theora?

Ogg Theora is an open-source video codec developed by the nonprofit foundation. Open-source advocates are lobbying aggresively for standards bodies to include Theora in the HTML5 standard, with only limited success. One insider told me, with an air of exasperation, “Ogg is a religion, not a codec.” The debate plays heavily on the confusion between open standards and open source. It also relies on fusion between “free” standards and open standards. As Apple’s most articulate outside advocate, John Gruber, points out: “Not all open standards are free.”

But even without official inclusion in the HTML5 standard, Theora isn’t being locked out, at least by Windows. As I explain in a companion post (see Ogg versus the world: don’t fall for open-source FUD), Mozilla has implemented Ogg Theora support natively in Firefox, and Google has done the same in current versions of Chrome. The Java VM supports Theora playback in Internet Explorer and Safari. The free VLC player, which was developed with help from Microsoft, supports the format, and a set of downloadable DirectShow filters add support for all Ogg formats to Windows Media Player.

The subject is obviously a minefield for Microsoft. Hachamovitch’s posts talk delicately around the controversy over Ogg Theora, never mentioning it by name but linking to articles that discuss the issue in great detail. So why won’t it be natively supported in IE9? Legal issues, mostly, which I’ll address on the next page, when I talk about the patents behind the AVC/H.264 standard.

Is Flash dead? And what about Silverlight?

I read one story last week from a reporter who skimmed over Hachamovitch’s original post and concluded, wrongly: “Microsoft has confirmed that its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser will not support Flash.” When I asked a Microsoft insider for an off-the-record reaction, It took a minute or two for the laughter to die down. No, I was told, Microsoft is not going to block Flash. “That would be insane, and we would never do that to our customers.”

In fact, it would be almost impossible for Microsoft to eliminate Flash or Silverlight, even if it wanted to do so. Corporate customers and third-party developers rely on third-party add-ins. It’s a key part of Internet Explorer and it’s not going away. There’s plenty of legacy content that uses Flash-based video players, and Silverlight will continue to have scenarios where it makes sense as a video playback engine—for subscription-based content for example, as in the recent Winter Olympics. And both Flash and Silverlight are application platforms as well, not just video players.

So no, neither one is going away anytime soon. Silverlight in particular has a bright future.

Next: Who is MPEG LA, and why do they control H.264? -->

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Who is MPEG LA, and why do they control H.264?

Let’s start with a truism: Software patents are complicated, even for lawyers. And despite the most fervent wishes of the anti-patent crowd, they're not going away any time soon. The consequences of infringing on someone else’s software patent can be catastrophic, as Microsoft found out recently with an expensive loss to a small company called i4i. If the judgment survives the appeal process, Microsoft will have to write a check to i4i for roughly $290 million. Ouch.

So who holds the patents for the AVC/H.264 standard? Those are administered by an independent group called the MPEG Licensing Administrator (MPEG LA). As it turns out, both Apple and Microsoft are part of the patent pool for the H.264 standard, which naturally leads to conspiracy theories. Given the inherent distrust of both companies, I’ve read speculation that MPEG LA is a clever conspiracy to freeze out small companies, including open-source developers, and ultimately allow only big players with big bankrolls to play in the online media game.

That’s an interesting line of speculation, but here’s what you haven’t heard about MPEG LA from any of those conspiracy theorists.

First, a little history: MPEG LA is no newcomer. It was founded in the 1990s as a consortium to administer a group of “essential patents” related to the MPEG-2 standard. The original members (as listed in a 1997 article not available online) were Columbia University, Fujitsu, General Instrument, Lucent Technologies, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Philips, Scientific-Atlanta, and Sony. All of those groups own patents related to the MPEG-2 standard; if consumer electronics companies and software makers had to negotiate separate license deals with each one, the complexity would be overwhelming. So the individual organizations turned over their patents to the pool managed by MPEG LA, which gave potential licensees a single point of contact for negotiation and payment of royalties.

Over the years, MPEG LA has expanded its charter significantly and now manages multiple patent pools. A July 2003 press release revealed the lineup for the “[p]arties with patents or patent applications determined by MPEG LA’s patent experts to be essential to the H.264/AVC standard”: Columbia University, Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute of Korea (ETRI), France Télécom, Fujitsu, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Polycom, Robert Bosch GmbH, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Thomson, Toshiba, and Victor Company of Japan (JVC).

The AVC/H.264 patent pool as it exists today has 26 members, including Apple and Microsoft and a slew of consumer electronics manufacturers. You can see the entire list here. But when it comes to the actual pool of patents, neither company is a big player. I downloaded the complete list of patents managed by the AVC/H.264 patent pool. The PDF document goes on for 47 pages. By my count, it encompasses 1,137 patents. Only one of those patents is from Apple, and another 65 patents are from Microsoft (less than 6% of the total).

With those facts in place, a different picture becomes apparent. If the MPEG LA patent pool didn’t exist, Microsoft and Apple would have to negotiate with 25 separate companies to license patents for modern, hardware-accelerated video playback. They’d also have to sit on the other side of the bargaining table from every consumer electronics company that wanted to build a device that used any of their patents. Pooling the patents eliminates the hassle of those negotiations and also adds some confidence that a single patent holder isn’t going to come out of the woodwork with a potentially devastating challenge.

That gigantic collection of patents is also, ultimately, a cudgel that can be used against the developers of Ogg Theora. As I noted in my other post, the CEO of MPEG LA, Larry Horn, has done his part to strike some fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the hearts of the open-source community with this statement:

[N]o one in the market should be under the misimpression that other codecs such as Theora are patent-free. Virtually all codecs are based on patented technology, and many of the essential patents may be the same as those that are essential to AVC/H.264. Therefore, users should be aware that a license and payment of applicable royalties is likely required to use these technologies developed by others, too.

The Free Software Foundation insists that the Ogg formats are “designed to be completely free of patents.” But as my UK-based colleague Mary Branscombe pointed out in a comment on that post, “If only confident claims that patents don't apply were enough to ensure that patents don't apply...”

And if you think this is a money-grab on Microsoft’s part, Hachamovitch argues that the opposite is true:

Several comments speculated about Microsoft’s financial interest in the codec. (Microsoft participates in MPEG-LA with many other companies.) Microsoft pays into MPEG-LA about twice as much as it receives back for rights to H.264. Much of what Microsoft pays in royalties is so that people who buy Windows (on a new PC from an OEM or as a packaged product) can just play H.264 video or DVD movies. Microsoft receives back from MPEG-LA less than half the amount for the patent rights that it contributes because there are many other companies that provide the licensed functionality in content and products that sell in high volume. Microsoft pledged its patent rights to this neutral organization in order to make its rights broadly available under clear terms, not because it thought this might be a good revenue stream. We do not foresee this patent pool ever producing a material revenue stream, and revenue plays no part in our decision here.

The most disquieting clause in the MPEG LA agreement is the time limit. The current agreement expires on December 31, 2010, at which time it will be renewed for another five years. The fear among those who don’t trust Apple, Microsoft, or MPEG LA is that after five years of low royalty payments, the consortium will spring a trap in 2016, jacking rates sky-high and forcing licensees to pay or stop playing. Could that happen? Sure, it could. Is it likely? Here’s what Hachamovitch had to say on the subject:

The majority of H.264 video content on the web today is royalty-free.   MPEG has said that individuals can create video files in the H.264 format and distribute them and play them over the internet for non-commercial purposes without further obligation on licensed platforms like Windows. We are aware that this commitment is set to expire in 2016, but fully expect to commit to supporting the extension of this license and associated terms beyond that date. In general, distributing encoders or decoders or offering sophisticated pay-for-video requires a license from MPEG-LA.  Third-party applications that simply make calls to the H.264 code in Windows (and which do not incorporate any H.264 code directly) are covered by Microsoft’s license of H.264. 

In other words, it’s in Microsoft’s interests to keep license fees at or near their current levels. And given the business model of MPEG LA, it’s not in their interest to suddenly raise licensing fees. But ultimately, that requires a level of trust that some people simply aren’t willing to give.

Update: The H.264 license terms have been updated to extend for another five years, through 2015, with substantially the same terms as the previous agreement. On August 26, 2010, MPEG LA announced that it would "continue not to charge royalties for Internet Video that is free to end users (known as “Internet Broadcast AVC Video”) during the entire life of this License." For details, see the press release (PDF).

Update 2: In January 2011, Google announced that it was removing support for the H.264 codec from future versions of the Chrome browser in favor of its WebM technologies (which I discuss on page 2 of this post). For a detailed discussion of the economics behind Google's decision, see By dropping H.264, is Google avoiding a trap or walking into one?

Topics: Apple, Legal, Microsoft

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  • Interesting piece

    Thanks Ed.

    I am a big user of open and free software and standards, where they make sense. There are some places, where it doesn't.

    H.264 is one of those, for me. As you stated, with hardware acceleration built into nearly all video chipsets on sale today, it makes sense to support this standard as the default (or one of the defaults).

    For me, one of the biggest problems with Ogg Theora is the lack of hardware support. Also, if H.264 is used on my streaming media devices, why should I need a second format for the Internet?

    There are some problems with H.264, in its "freeness" as opposed to its openness. But that I can use one format for my Windows, OS X, BluRay and streaming media client and Apple TV mean that I don't have to worry about it.

    For my girlfriend, and people like her, it means they switch it on and it works. She has problems understanding how an Apple TV works - it is too complex. For such people, the whole discussion is pretty pointless. Either they can watch videos automatically, or the device doesn't support video. If they need to find an alternate codec or an alternate browser, the site doing the streaming is "broken" and doesn't work.

    That it "could be made to work" by searching for the relevant codec is irrelevant. A "missing codec" error means the device or site is irreparably broken.

    Unless the hardware manufacturers of media devices (as opposed to computer operating systems) suddenly jump on board with Ogg Theora, I don't see it making enough headway.
    • When you have options you have freedom

      What is so hard on supporting multiple formats? Everything is done on those formats already, they are working.
      • Until someone finds a vuln and exploits it

        Software is NEVER done.

        New advances in GPU hardware require codecs to be modified in order to offload decoding work to the GPU, freeing up the CPU for more useful tasks.

        Improvements in decoding and encoding efficiency and performance require changes.

        And vulns that are exploited by a$$hole hackers need to be patched.

        If doesn't matter what OS you're on - you have plenty of choices. Want to implement your own codec for Windows, Linux or OSX? Go ahead - many others have.
        • Forever cat and mouse

          It will never end. Code is code, and all of it can be manipulated one way or another. There is no such thing as "secure", only ignored.
      • Because computing is moving to mobile ...

        ... which means video rendering has to be done in hardware, not
        software anymore. Doing video in software drains batteries too quickly.
        As the article states H.264 hardware acceleration is widespread already
        in both desktop GPUs and mobile devices. In the new cross-platform,
        world, vendors standardizing on H.264 is a good thing because that
        leads to freedom of choice of viewing platform, which is where we really
        want and need the freedom to be.

        Codec, shmodec. I want all my stuff on my phone, my Mac, my PC, and
        my TV, whenever I want it.
        • Unfortunately....

's not that simple.

          H.264 has been plague with controversy ever since it started brewing with DVD's.

          Just remember that originally the were called Digital Video Discs and Sony said the wanted nothing to do with them. Later the name was changed to Digital Versatile Disc and most of it had to do with codecs and encryption.

          Long gone are the royalty free times of VHS. Every one wants a piece of the digital video money and that has essentially stalled the market rather than pushing ahead.

          In real terms, this story reminds us of the GIF controversy of the 90's and the PNG fiasco. Ironically, today most browsers support GIF, JPEGs (the equivalent of H.264) and PNGs.

          Why should video be any different? If HTML5 backers want to replace Flash video, they need to learn from them and support several alternatives and not just one (just as we have Flash Video and H.264).

          Let's get real and don't let HTML5 video go the way of Real Video, whomever remembers that anyway.
          • You're missing the point ...

            Browsers can easily support multiple graphics formats because they are
            rendered in software and take relatively few resources to do so, even in
            the mobile context.

            Now, remember back to the mid-90s where you might turn off
            graphics altogether over dial-up because of the bandwidth scarcity.
            Web graphics compression was a dark art, because every byte saved
            really mattered in a metered pay-per-byte ISP plan.

            Likewise today, every processor cycle and every joule of energy counts
            in the mobile context. H.264 is being handled efficiently by dedicated
            co-processors. Handling multiple video codecs in hardware will require
            either multiple co-processors (bad for cost, heat and power) or
            multiple codecs on the same chip in firmware (bad for cost, heat,
            power and efficiency).

            Until we see H.264 + VP7 co-processing on the same efficient chip,
            then Flash video on mobile is a non-starter. Unless you don't mind
            charging your phone two or three times a day.
      • Too many options

        There are just too many options for codecs.

        This is a great to spread malware. People have become so used to downloading yet another codec, many don't even question it anymore.

        Then my phone rings and someone wants to know how to clean up the mess.
      • The World is Changing

        Options don't necessarily mean freedom. In many cases they typically
        just equate to confusion and insecurity.

        Computers and operating systems aren't being built for you any more.
        They are being built for the average consumer who has a job that
        doesn't involve sitting in front of a computer all day and whose home
        life doesn't involve doing more of the same all night. Those people
        want things to just work. They don't want to have to know about things
        like which video CODEC is the best, they expect the manufacturer to
        make that determination for them and build it into the system. This is
        what both Apple and Microsoft have realized. It's not about some
        proprietary lock in that benefits them in some cryptic manner (does it
        even make any sense that they need to resort to that kind of thing?
        they have enough lock in mechanisms already that are far more
        effective than this). It's about building more secure, bullet-proof,
        easier-to-use systems. In practically any engineering problem, the
        simpler you can make the solution, the more reliable and stable it will
        be. What's simpler, supporting one CODEC off-the-shelf or a plethora?
        • while i agree..

          ..with your comment on the importance of simplicity, you've clearly overlooked the flip-side of the coin (as it were):

          [i]"...It's about building more secure, bullet-proof, easier-to-use systems. "[/i]

          No brainer.

          [i]"...In practically any engineering problem, the simpler you can make the solution, the more reliable and stable it will be."[/i]

          While that's correct, those changes and technical adjustments in a product's development cycle [i]aren't made out of altruism[/i] - they're made by organizations / developers that *expect* a return on their investment of time, invention and product development. So, again, you're obviously overlooking alot in your comments.

          [i]"...What's simpler, supporting one CODEC off-the-shelf or a plethora?"[/i]

          And there its is! Right there: the Million dollar question. Well, if you paid attention to what Ed mentioned later in his write-up, you'd have noticed he mentioned the time-limit for the existing MPEG LA group of patents. Since you clearly didn't pay attention well enough, i'll reiterate what it [i]could potentially mean[/i] for any self-respecting user of the Internet - post-2016 (granted, speculatory - but still highly possible):

          * If Apple and MS hold sway over the other signatories / patent holders under MPEG LA, we could all be held to ransom with a [i]pay-to-play[/i] type scenario becoming the license model.

          * If the OGG working groups are locked out now, that could effectively kill off any - and all - other prospective open source codec developers trying to get a foot in the door with HTML5 video content compatibility.

          SYNOPSIS: The long and the short of it is, no one knows for certain if the worse case scenario will play out. But heaven help us if it does, because it will effectively mean end-users will have a 'double-whammy' as far as internet usage fees go: to both ISP and video-content providers.

          This is definitely not the time for absolutism.
      • But now the mouse is in the trap ...

        ... of the bis players and this is what these big software companies are aiming at since years. Now they are big enough and have a good coverage of the market. And if they play together (i.e. M$ & Apple), they can reduce the number of options for the consumer and kill indirectly all those smaller competitors. And the consumer has to pay for it: Copyrights for every little piece of software will raise the prices.
        My solution: More support for Linux and the Open Source community !
    • RE: Interesting piece

      > "For my girlfriend, and people like her, it means they switch it on and it works. She has problems understanding how an Apple TV works - it is too complex. For such people, the whole discussion is pretty pointless. Either they can watch videos automatically, or the device doesn't support video. If they need to find an alternate codec or an alternate browser, the site doing the streaming is 'broken' and doesn't work.

      "That it 'could be made to work' by searching for the relevant codec is irrelevant. A 'missing codec' error means the device or site is irreparably broken."


      Either it works out of the box- they can watch it automatically -or they can't. If they can't, then it needs to be fixed. Imagine buying a car and then finding certain features only work after you have an ad-on installed?

      (BTW, this is also what hinders linux from becoming more widespread among the masses.)
      • It's the very crux of what computing is to the masses!

        This kind of point is being well made in that what many who work and practically live in the IT world all too often forget the majority of the world want in a computer.

        Although most of the world has probably come to a reasonably firm grasp that a computer, or computer driven device is not a simple appliance like a toaster, they still cannot understand why something can only work in certain instances on one computer and perhaps more or less instances on a different computer. The focus on video is a great example because its something that large numbers of average people are interested in viewing on their computer.

        What they don't want is to see a copy of a great video on their friends computer only to find that when they go to show the same video on their own computer it dosnt work. The reaction is something along the lines of "What the...?? I don't get ran on Jim's computer runs is it that I cant seem to get this one to go???"

        It gives the user the impression that their computer is second rate when all they likely need is a free codec. But its a common kind of problem and its one the public has a low tolerance for.

        It would do many in the IT world to look at this situation to remind themselves that whatever they personally think about this OS or that OS, or this software or that software, the public dosnt give a damn about what anyone "thinks" is the best. What the public wants more then anything in a computing system is by far in a way 2 primary things. They want whatever has worked in the past for them to continue to work just as good on anything new they get in the future. Although that dosnt appear to have to go on forever, but people expect that in most cases the software should have become antiquated and largely fallen out of use before the newer platforms reject it. Secondly, the public fully expects new things, as in applications and other kinds of software and hardware, to work on what they just purchased.

        This is what the public wants first and foremost. For it to work. IT types are often more worried about security for example, because they can usually get things to otherwise work, or at least preemptively know what will and will not work and why that is the case. Much of the confusion and frustration dosnt surface the same way about this issue for people in IT so its often not seen as such an important issue and instead they exclaim the virtues of better security over backwards and forewords compatibility as well as cross platform compatibility. But thats not how the public sees it.

        The fact is that for many who work in IT, looking at broken machines is what they do all day long so it really comes across as a high flying issue, but the fact is that for the most part even Windows based PC's are secure enough that they keep the world running just fine.

        Push button simplicity is what the public wants and until things get to a point with security that the Apple Guy commercials actually make sense because PC's are actually filling up with thousands of viruses daily and endless lockups and BSOD's then things might be different because nothing will be working at that point.

        Right now in this world there are not nearly a significant enough number of computers in the sad dilapidated state that the Apple Guy commercials like to pretend exist so dont expect the publics opinion on whats important in a computer or what makes a computer great or not to change for some time.
        • You were doing just fine until...

 got to the "Apple guy" dig. You just had to throw that in, huh?

          Couldn't help yourself, right?
          ubiquitous one
      • I can download any streaming video and save it for

        playback. If I don't have that codex, I just convert it do the format I want. Right now I am converting my Library over to OGG. Microsoft will change the format in the future anyway, given MS and Apple's history, they won't be backward compatible, either. This software has is pattented for a reason, they will either change to something non compatible or will be willing to keep it going for a price. Because it is not open source, you can't do much about anything you really wanted to keep for the future.
        • And you missed the point totally...

          For the average person, "codec" is a non-word.

          YOU might be able to change convert the format, find the right codec etc. But the average user won't have a clue.
      • RE: Microsoft fires back at critics of its HTML5 strategy

        "given MS and Apple's history, they won't be backward compatible, either"
        I lol'd.
        Joshua Issac
  • They could solve the trust issue.

    They could solve the trust issue by legally promising to continue to only charge reasonable prices for reasonable things forever, instead of only for a few years.

    (Obviously "reasonable" would have to be defined, but if the licence cost was linked to inflation + some maximum percent, or whatever, that'd work.)

    If the MPEG-LA did that then they'd stop looking like crack dealers giving out the first hit for free.

    It reminds me of (UK) politicians bringing in draconian laws and verbally promising that they won't abuse the laws, yet refusing to make those promises part of the conditions of the laws. (Guess what, the laws got abused; in fact almost all uses of them were abuse.)

    If they really plan to be reasonable (and they may well do) then they should have no problem putting that in the contract.

    Another point, you say:

    "If the MPEG LA patent pool didn?t exist, Microsoft and Apple would have to negotiate with 25 separate companies to license patents for modern, hardware-accelerated video playback."

    While that may be true, people on the other side have pointed out that an effect of the MPEG-LA process is that companies try to get their patents into the pool so that they get discounts on licensing the pool. According to those claims, the process encourages more patents to be used where they may not be required. That seems perverse and may mean, if the MPEG-LA did not exist, that it would be far fewer companies/patents which had to be negotiated with.

    Of course, Theora isn't as good as H.264 and does not enjoy the same level of support in commercial hardware and software, almost certainly because fewer organisations want to invest R&D in a technology which they cannot charge fees for, so there is some truth on both sides.

    The MPEG-LA process probably does increase the number of patents involved, but it may also make possible something which would not happen otherwise.

    Anyway, I have no problem with paying for R&D, paying for software, etc., provided it is a reasonable fee and that there is no danger of being trapped with a technology that suddenly costs the earth. If the MPEG-LA could just guarantee that they won't do anything unreasonable in the future, I think many people's problems would go away.

    (There would still be issue for FOSS browsers wanting to include video playback out-of-the-box, but those browsers seem to play Flash well enough via plugins so I see no real problem with doing the same for HTML5 H.264. Then again, I don't use or particularly care about Linux etc. so I may be blind to the issues on that platform wrt anyone being bothered (or having the money) to write a good H.264 plugin for those platforms.)

    EDIT: Typo'd "H.265" in one place.
    • The reason companies don't want to invest in Ogg is ...

      ... that they're not willing to carry the legal and financial liabilities it may expose them to.

      If a commercial software vendor adds an Ogg encoder to its product and Ogg is later found to violate one or more patents, then that vendor will be legally and financially liable and may incur significant fines ... or worse.
      • One more reason to eliminate software patents

        Until software patents disappear, open source projects always have the potential to be at the mercy of some patent holder. Even if the patent holder's claims are not valid, a patent can be a means of scaring companies away from open formats.

        Good video codecs are going to be developed with or without the existence of software patents. The patent regulations do nothing good here.

        Europe may lead the way for open source projects/formats of the future because they don't have software patents.
        K B