Call for Google to free web from Flash

The Free Software Foundation is urging Google to offer the VP8 video codec, picked up in its acquisition of On2, royalty-free to developers

The Free Software Foundation has called on Google to cast a "death-blow" to the dominance of Flash in web video, by making its newly acquired VP8 codec royalty-free and promoting it on YouTube.

Google picked up the high-performance video codec through its $124.6m (£80.5m) acquisition of video-compression company On2 Technologies, which it completed on Friday after raising its offer and winning over reluctant shareholders.

In an open letter to Google on Friday, the FSF asked the company to consider releasing On2's VP8 codec under an irrevocable royalty-free licence.

"The world would have a new free format unencumbered by software patents. Viewers, video creators, free software developers, hardware makers — everyone — would have another way to distribute video without patents, fees and restrictions," the FSF's campaigns manager Holmes Wilson wrote in the letter.

The FSF suggested that Google then could offer the free VP8 as an option alongside the proprietary Flash and H.264 codecs for videos on YouTube, which Google owns.

"You have the leverage to make such free formats a global standard. YouTube is the world's largest video site, home to nearly every digital video ever made. If YouTube merely offered a free format as an option, that alone would bring support from a slew of device makers and applications," Wilson wrote.

Google could also go one step further and replace Flash on YouTube with free formats and HTML, and provide people using older browsers with a plug-in so they could view the video.

The FSF pointed to Apple's decision not to include Flash on the iPhone and iPad, and the resulting development of Flash-free versions of web pages, as evidence that developers can be encouraged to use open standards. "You could do the same with YouTube, for better reasons, and it would be a death-blow to Flash's dominance in web video," Wilson wrote.

Google has talked highly of On2's intellectual property, describing its engineering talent and technology as an "incredible asset".

In August 2009, when the On2 deal was first announced, Google's vice president of product management Sundar Pichal said: "We believe high-quality video compression technology should be part of the web platform. We are committed to innovation in video quality on the web, and we believe that On2's team and technology will help us further that goal."

Google initially offered to pay $106.5m for the company, a 57 percent premium on its closing price the day before the transaction was announced. It raised its offer to $124.6m in January.

On2 has said that VP8 improves video-compression performance by over 20 percent compared with H.264. This is particularly important in improving the quality of viewing of web-based video. The company has also said that VP8 is less compute-intensive than proprietary technologies.