Lawrence Lessig recently posted
a summary on the fsfe-uk list about problems that were
blocking Theora adoption. Here's a rebuttal, for what it's
His first point, that Theora isn't technically
competitive with the lastest batch of encoders for the
encumbered MPEG codecs, is entirely true. From Xiph's point
of view is that that's a little like saying there's no point
in using Linux because it doesn't work as well as Windows,
but the technical disparity does need to be addressed.
Monty and Derf have been working on a new encoder the past
few months, but there's nothing to show yet. We believe the
Theora format has scope to offer similar compression
efficiency to h.263 with less complexity. Beyond that, we
look to the BBC's Dirac. But in the
absence of software to prove the capabilities of the format,
one has to take our word, as well as being interested in
long term planning, for that to be a meaningful argument.
His second point, about people believing Theora is patented
is just FUD as far as I know. We're not aware of any
patents. The original developer of the VP3 format which
became theora grants
rights to any patents they might have on the
implementation. Submarine patents are of course always
possible, but they affect MPEG and Microsoft codecs just as
much as independent designs.
I've heard this argument from two different directions.
First from corporations who have already bet on one of the
MPEG codecs and want to dissuade any competition, and second
from Free Software people, who don't understand how patents
work, shrug, say it's all equally bad, and then get behind
the proprietary technology.
What happened with the html5 flame fest was that some
corporations said they didn't feel the current demand for
web content in royalty-free formats justified the additional
exposure implementing them would create. That's true so far
as it goes, but a very specific statement about their own
interests and hardly a reason for anyone else to eschew
royalty free formats.
There was a lot of talk at the recent
FOMS meeting about how
to address the FUD issue and educate the free community
about patents. Hopefully some public documentation
will come of it. It's been quite difficult to find legal
counsel who understands the FLOSS development model well
enough to toss ALL the traditional wisdom about patent risk
out the window: namely to never do or say anything at all.
All that said, I completely agree with the recommendation
that we get people talking. It can only help. Free software
can't compete with the installed base of flash video at this
point, but we should all be working to offer an alternative
for those who can use it, and prepare the toolchain so we
can provide the greatest support for software and creative
freedom in the next round of web video.