Firefox Wraps Tail Around Ogg Video Format

Mozilla is making a move toward open Web standards with its upcoming Firefox 3.1 release. The software — now available in test builds — will support the Ogg Theora video codec, the company revealed at its summit in British Columbia last week.

The inclusion of the Ogg Theora codec means users will no longer have to download plug-ins or use JavaScript to play Theora video content. The platform, though, is far from ubiquitous: While it is used on sites such as Wikimedia Commons, other sites utilizing more popular video solutions such as Adobe’s Flash still require proprietary software to operate.

Work in Progress

Mozilla follows Opera with the Ogg Theora integration. While a small step, its developers see it as a long overdue move in the right direction when it comes to open source.

“This original commit is a work in progress,” Mozilla engineer Chris Double writes on his blog. “There are unimplemented bits, bugs, etc. that need to be sorted out. But it’s a start towards using a common codec across all platforms and will improve as we get towards the 3.1 release,” he says.

Because of the integration, HTML (hypertext markup language) tags will allow developers to directly embed Ogg content, as can be seen on the Wikimedia Commons video archive. The open source community is already rooting for the change.

“The Web has faced fragmented video standards for over a decade now,” Ben McIlwain, an IT consultant and free software project contributor, told LinuxInsider. “Imagine if image standards had been this poorly supported.”

The biggest impact, McIlwain suspects, will be simple: Things will finally start to work.

“Everyone’s experienced broken video support, whether it be a Flash plug-in that crashes [or] an unsupported browser,” he said. “If these things were to just work, that would be a huge improvement in the browsing experience. We will have the same user experience with videos and other multimedia that we currently have with images.”

The Start of Change

The idea of an industry video standard is still far from becoming a reality. The adoption of Ogg, however, may signify the start of change.

“There’s the official standards, then the kind of force-of-nature standards,” Navica CEO Bernard Golden told LinuxInsider. “You get this tipping point — [a] ‘most people use it, so I want to use it’ kind of thing.”

Industry giants such as Apple may not want to move away from their own proprietary formats, but the open source community, Golden theorizes, could have more power than it realizes.

“Eventually, [the platform] represents a significant point — and then, all of a sudden, stuff that’s proprietary looks kind of stranded and obsolete,” Golden commented. “It’s not like some magic is going to happen. These kind of things tend to move over time, kind of like the [adoption of the] Firefox browser itself,” he added.

Microsoft, McIlwain predicts, may be the first to consider the change — because of its history with the Ogg format.

“It’s not like Microsoft hasn’t used Ogg in the past. The ‘Halo’ games for PC used Ogg Vorbis for all of their music, for instance,” McIlwain noted.

“It’s Apple and Nokia who stand to lose the most. They make money every time a proprietary codec is used,” he added.

End User Impact

As for end users, the best change may be no change at all — at least, from an average person’s perspective.

“One would hope they wouldn’t see a change,” Navica’s Golden told LinuxInsider. “It would just be present and work and they wouldn’t have to fuss about it. That’s the end goal for open source,” he said.

The other goal, of course, is total transparency — and the ability for developers to add to the experience.

“Any time you put something that’s open, it offers the opportunity for more people to do more interesting innovative things with it,” Golden concluded.

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