Dear Mozilla and Opera,

Get with the <video> programme! Ogg Theora has lost the HTML5 video format war.

The evidence is all in front of us. The battle seems to have been won with the final move by Microsoft, who have announced that they will support the H.264 and MPEG-4 formats for Internet Explorer 9, completely ignoring the OGG video and audio formats.

In contrast, both Firefox and Opera only support the Ogg video, which is a free open source video format that is not covered by any known patents.

H.264 on the other hand, is covered by patents which are administered by the MPEG LA organisation. This means that all browsers that include H.264 support would need to pay a licensing fee for each browser download or sold, putting tremendous strain on developers such as Mozilla and Firefox who release their browsers for free.

Not all hope is lost however, with MPEG LA announcing in early February 2010 that H.264 for web videos would remain royalty free until at least 2015. But Mozilla’s Chief Executive John Lilly still remains cautious, tweeting “regarding that MPEG-LA announce: it’s good they did it, but they sort of had to. But it’s like 5 more years of free to lock you in 4ever”.

Apple have already decided which side of the fence they are sitting on, with Safari supporting H.264/MPEG-4 format, which is the same format used for videos from its iTunes store, and format supported on its ‘i’ products, while Google’s Chrome supports both Ogg and H.264 formats.

So this leaves us with the following:

Ogg Support H.264/MPEG-4 Support Market Share
Internet Explorer No Yes 61.58%
Firefox Yes No 24.23%
Chrome Yes Yes 5.61%
Safari No Yes 4.45%
Opera Yes No 2.35%

Based on current market share data, 71.64% of browsers would be able to view video’s that are encoded using the H.264/MPEG-4 format, while only 32.19% of browsers would be able to view video’s that are encoded using the Ogg format.

Popular websites also appear to be choosing sides, with YouTube and Vimeo experimenting with H.264 video.

All this fuss is caused due to there being no specified video format in the draft HTML5 spec, which leaves browser developers open to supporting any video formats they like. While the <video> tag isn’t likely to overtake the use of Adobe’s Flash for video in the near future, the <video> tag will become more important as mobile internet usage increases, on devices that have no support for Flash.

And while I agree with Opera’s and Firefox’s stance to using an open and royalty free video format, it appears they are fighting a battle that has already been lost.

Its clear that with both YouTube and Internet Explorer choosing the H.264 format, there is no more debate to be had. While they might not like it, Mozilla and Opera will need to support the H.264/MPEG-4 format or face loosing users. It seems like Goliath has beaten David this time.

The ball is now in both your courts Mozilla and Opera.

Tags: , , , Categories: Browser Watch
2 Responses
  1. Avatar

    Basically, this is a full out war between browsers. And here’s why I think Firefox should NOT support MP4:

    – It has the advantage in terms of market share: Chrome is certainly growing, but it, together with Safari and IE9, will take a long, long while before they overtake Firefox 3.6+. I know YouTube being Google is a big disadvantage, but I find it very hard to believe that any significant number of people would change from their Firefox to Google or Safari just to watch videos on YouTube on a relatively buggy mode. Because, after all, as it stands, Flash YouTube is better.

    – MP4 is not free. And that’s it. To implement MP4 decoders in Firefox would be a huge strike to the principals that brought it to where it stands today. I would not stop using Firefox if it suddenly had non-free software, but I would completely stop promoting in every way I can, as I do now and have done for a long while. It would be completely unforgivable, and I’m pretty certain you’d loose developer support in the process. Because, remember: Firefox isn’t about market share: it’s about the quality of an experience. And that quality can only be achieved by developer support, by nursing the contributors community. Market share, if anything, only drops that quality, because there will be more attacks and security issues and whatnot.

    And that’s about it. There is no reason why other browsers won’t support OGG. Firefox has to make a stand, as it has made all this time for multiple things.


    P.S.: A supported post-install add-on is totally ok with me, though. Although I don’t see any reason why Mozilla should put resources in developing it… I also understand if pressure is put on whoever holds the rights for MP4 to let go of said rights.

  2. Avatar

    Nice reply Tiago, but I still feel OGG has lost the war, as much as I wish it hadn’t. This is very similar to the Blu-ray vs. HDDVD and VHS vs Betamax wars, and we really don’t need it happening again. It only slows the adoption rate of the new technologies.

    I also have to point out MP4 is free for use in browser until 2015. Who knows what will happen after then, but MPEG LA would be stupid to start charging royalties for it if all browser makers supported the format, as it might stab themselves in the foot.

    Also, don’t forget Firefox has become very profitable for Mozilla, with the integrated Google search in the browser generating Mozilla millions each year. Opera is in a similar boat with deals it makes with mobile networks for its Mini browser. These companies could easily afford any royalties (within reason), and still offer the browsers for free.