FSF to Google: Free the On2 Video Codec

In an open letter to Google, the Free Software Foundation has urged Google to open source a video codec that it acquired in its purchase of On2, completed Monday.

The FSF letter states that by open sourcing the current version of the codec, VP8, Google can provide the Web with an open production-ready standard for high-definition video, as well as a free alternative to the almost universally used Adobe Flash.

"Because patent-encumbered formats were costly to incorporate into browsers, a bloated, ill-suited piece of proprietary software (Flash) became the de facto standard for online video," the letter states. "Until we move to free formats, the threat of patent lawsuits and licensing fees hangs over every software developer, video creator, hardware maker, web site and corporation -- including you."

In its efforts to develop the next generation of the Hypertext Markup Language, HTML 5, The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is including support for running video directly within browsers without the help of third-party plug-ins, such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight.

Browser makers and providers of Internet video services, however, seem divided on which compression technique, or codec, to use.

While Google Chrome and Apple Safari natively support H.264, neither Opera nor Firefox support this high-definition M-PEG video format. Both organizations behind these browsers have expressed concerns they will eventually have to pay patent fees for using the technology.

Firefox developers have put their efforts behind supporting the open-source codec Ogg Theora, though both Apple and Google have been reluctant to support Ogg Theora in their browsers and video-rendering software, citing performance concerns.

VP8 could provide another free alternative, one both technically capable and potentially free of requiring royalty payments from users, tool vendors and video providers, the FSF letter stated.

Internet video sites such as Hulu, Vimeo, Yahoo use On2's compression technology, according to the company.

Google has not responded to inquiries, however, executives have indicated that purchasing On2 will help the company improve "video quality on the [W]eb," according to a blog entry announcing the acquisition last August.

Google certainly seems interested in supporting HTML 5 as well. The company recently announced that it is phasing out its Gears browser plug-in in favor of adopting HTML 5 standards to execute the same tasks. The company also runs an experimental version of YouTube running on HTML 5.

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