Firefox gets multimedia plugin

A tool launched in Australia will let Firefox users search audio and video files

Australia's CSIRO research organisation has developed a Firefox plug-in for Windows named Annodex that allows browsing through time-continuous media such as audio and video in the same way that HTML allows browsing through text.

The organisation said in a statement issued on Friday that "unlike other recently released video search tools, an Annodex search delivers actual video content. Tools such as Google's beta video search work by searching a programme's closed captioning text. The search results simply provide an excerpt from the text and a single still image from the programme".

"In contrast, an Annodex search provides the user with a detailed summary of the video content, an interactive list of video clips, and hyperlinks to additional material".

The CSIRO has dubbed the technology behind Annodex Continuous Media Markup Language, or CMML. According to the organisation, "CMML does for time-continuous media what HTML does for text. It allows the user to search, access, navigate and query".

Project leader Dr Silvia Pfeiffer told ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet Australia on Friday morning that the reason the organisation chose Firefox as a development platform over Internet Explorer (IE) was the fact that Firefox’s plug-in architecture was easier to work with and the browser was supported across several platforms. The CSIRO had initially tried to develop Annodex for IE, but found that Microsoft’s browser had numerous security holes.

Currently the software only supports playback of media webs that are encoded using the open source Ogg Theora (for video) and Ogg Vorbis (for audio) codecs. Pfeiffer said that the choice to use the Ogg codecs was based on the need for Annodex to be royalty-free and available to all users. In contrast, formats such as MPEG2 or MPEG4 have licences that "have to be paid for". In addition, according to Pfeiffer, while Theora does not have as high a compression ration as MPEG4, it is "quality wise as good as the MPEG2 format," and only "one level of quality behind the top-level compression codecs".

Pfeiffer said it was important to use open source technology as the CSIRO planned for "people to be able to generate [video and audio] media webs at home as they currently do Web pages".

According to Pfeiffer, Annodex has been in development for around four-and-a-half years, and is now ready for commercial use. The project started off with only two staff members, but now is supported by four, in addition to "some good support" from the open source community who have contributed python and pico bindings for the software. In addition, Annodex is currently being distributed as part of Debian GNU/Linux.

The project chose to triple-licence the software under the Mozilla Public Licence, the GNU General Public Licence and the Lesser General Public Licence due to the licensing requirements of the libraries that the project utilised. This means that all source code for Annodex is available from the organisation's Web site. In addition, at the site users can download the Firefox plug-in and a video demonstration of the technology. Several sample media webs are also available for testing.

Renai Lemay reported from Sydney for ZDNet Australia. For more ZDNet Australia stories, click here.