Removal of Ogg Vorbis and Theora from HTML5: an outrageous disaster

published Dec 11, 2007, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Nokia and Apple have privately pushed to give Ogg the noose treatment (and so far succeeded) in HTML5. This destroyed all hope of having free (as in freedom) media embedded in HTML5 in an interoperable way.

I just sent this e-mail to the WHATWG discussion mailing list where HTML5 is being discussed:

From: Manuel Amador
To: whatwg@whatwg
Subject: Removal off Ogg technology: *preposterous*

Allow me to be the voice of the small Web developer -- which I consider to be
the foundation of the World Wide Web.

In reference to:

The recent removal of the mention of Ogg in HTML5 and the subsequent
replacement of its paragraph with the weasel-worded paragraph that would make
Minitrue bust their collective shirt buttons in pride:

It would be helpful for interoperability if all+ browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known+ codecs that satisfy all the current players: we need a codec that is+ known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing, that is+ compatible with the open source development model, that is of+ sufficient quality as to be usable, and that is not an additional+ submarine patent risk for large companies. This is an ongoing issue+ and this section will be updated once more information is+ available.

is a preposterous and gross mischaracterization of fact (dare I say lie). At the very least, it's FUD. It pains me to state what is and has always been public knowledge, and is being intentionally ignored just to "get the spec published": - The Xiph developers were extremely zealous and almost fiduciarily diligent in researching all possible patent threats to Vorbis technology, and for more than a year they found none -- they even did the research *before* beginning to code, explicitly to avoid submarine patents. I know, because I was subscribed to their mailing list and read status updates of this research, practically at the start of the project. I also know that big-name software houses and media players manufacture products with Vorbis technology, and none of them have been sued. It's been what, seven years now? - The Theora codec has had its patents practically relinquished by On3 with a perpetual royalty-free license. - Ogg and its audio/video codec technologies are the ONLY free software media technologies with implementations widely available on all consumer computing platforms -- from WM codecs to Linux DLLs, passing through the entire range of hardware (floating-point and fixed-point) and OSes. - Without guaranteed Ogg support (whose integration in user agents I think I already established to be sort of a weekend-level junior programmer project at NO COST, due to the ready availability of the technology in all platforms), authors *will be* forced to use patent-encumbered technology. Remember MP3? Well, with HTML5 it's 1997 all over again. Ian, revert. This compromise on basic values is unacceptable, *whatever* the practical reasons you have deemed to compromise for. If you don't revert, you will be giving us independent authors the shaft. And we will remember it forever.

Here's the position paper of the Xiph foundation, the makers of Ogg Vorbis and stewards of all Ogg technology. Let me quote a paragraph from them:

So, how do you make Theora and Vorbis popular? Why, by the very same process that made MP3 so ubiquitous: by using it and by sharing it. Only by advocating the formats will you see interest from the corporations. There is no other way around it. Let me write that one more time: there is no other way around it. Backup your films in Theora. Backup your music in Vorbis. Share podcasts and videocats in these formats. And do not wait for tomorrow; do it now. And by now, I mean yesterday.

There’s a lot of companies out there who do not wish to see Theora and Vorbis succeed, and they don’t even have to make much of an effort to affect them. The masses out there with their expensive iPod toys don’t care about Vorbis or Theora. Most of them don’t even know what they are.

Note that HTML5 in no way required Ogg (as denoted by the word "should" instead of "must" in the earlier draft). Adding this to the fact that there are widely available patent-free implementations of Ogg technology, there is really no excuse for Apple and Nokia to say that they couldn't in good faith implement HTML5 as previously formulated. Throw your own theory here: DRM, proprietary control, et cetera.

The WHATWG had an opportunity here to eliminate the plugin morass (so 90's) in favor of a baseline format that each browser could implement. Just as HTML specifiedhinted at baseline formats for images (GIF and PNG), this should have been an opportunity to suggest or even specify baseline free audio and video. And there's still a chance.

Please, please help this issue get more public scrutiny. But if you're going to exert pressure on the WHATWG, be reasonable -- read the archives first!. And don't let special interests kill computing for all -- now it's time to take a stand!

Update: the discussion at the WHATWG list is centering around the fact that Microsoft, Nokia and Apple disagree on having Ogg technology mentioned on the spec, due (I loosely quote them) to the potential threat that submarine patents may pose. My personal opinion is that you don't get any freer than Ogg, and there is no such patent threat because major hardware and software players (gaming companies and America Online / Winamp, for example) have already shipped at least Ogg Vorbis technology in the past. Until this conundrum is resolved, they're taking Ogg technology off the table because they don't want to implement it in their browsers.

Since moving forward with HTML5 is a consensus decision, the thing's just not moving forward until a viable alternative to Ogg is found (or, maybe they can be convinced?). Both Opera and Mozilla have preliminary implementations of in-browser VIDEO tags that play Ogg media. Read the mailing list archives to see the arguments espoused in favor of / against the idea, and read the comments below.

It really bothered me that Nokia referred earlier this week to Ogg as a *proprietary* technology, blatantly stating something so untrue. It also bothers me that Apple has expressed concern against Ogg. Both companies make great products -- my entire life I've only owned Nokia phones, I was thinking about the N800, and it's in no small part thanks to Apple that I have hassle-free Zeroconf networking at home -- but this clearly puts the small content producer at a disadvantage.

I just discovered the position paper that Mozilla, through Chris Double (the author of the VIDEO embedding tag in Mozilla software), will be presenting in a few hours on the W3C video workshop. Interesting read.