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a blog by ken pardue

On Ending Combat Operations in Iraq

President Obama, in an address to the nation yesterday evening from the Oval Office, announced that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended, celebrating the close of American combat operations in Iraq.  The war with Iraq was, in my opinion, one of the most misguided decisions of the Bush administration.  It was a preemptive attack against a nation under the guise of being retribution for the September 11, 2001 attack by Al Qaeda.  The justifications for war were that the country was creating weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States and that it was harboring and training Al Qaeda terrorists.  Weapons of mass destruction were never found (a fact later lampooned by President Bush himself), and in fact the evidence for their existence was later revealed to be largely fabricated.  Nor was there any substantial evidence of Al Qaeda in Iraq until after the United States began military operations there.  The war began on March 20, 2003 and has plagued both of our nations since then.

I’m still not sure what the real reasons were for war.  The first Gulf War took place only in the air; there was no ground invasion.  Iraq pulled out of territory that it had illegally occupied and the war ended.  However, at some point Saddam Hussein ordered an assassination attempt on Mr. H. W. Bush.  Some speculate that Mr. Bush, the younger, wanted some degree of vengeance for the assassination attempt on his father.  It’s also possible that the United States sought to build a pro-West democracy from which it could have better access to oil reserves.

Whatever the reasons, real or perceived, it marked a real change in how the world perceived the United States, or, certainly how I perceived the United States.  We shifted away from being a nation of peace and principles; we were no longer the “good guy.”  To my knowledge, we had never been a nation of preemptive attacks, other than participating in international peacekeeping forces.  However, not only did we go to war against Iraq without having been attacked or threatened by the nation, but we did so without the approval from the United Nations.  When a resolution was brought forth for United Nations approval of U.S. military action in Iraq, it was denied.  Said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the U.N. Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”  It seemed as though the United States had become so self-important that the principles of the United Nations–which the United States in large part created following World War II–didn’t really apply to us.  This sentiment was publicly stated by John Bolton on February 3, 1994, who angrily declared in a statement that “the United States makes the U.N. work when it wants to work.  And that is exactly the way it should be because the only question–the only question–for the United States is what is in our national interests.  And if you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that is the fact.”  Bolton was Mr. Bush’s short-lived nominee for ambassador to the U.N.  Fortunately he was not confirmed by Congress, but that men with such views were being put in such key positions disturbed me.

It felt as though America was going down a dangerous path: that of resting on the laurels of the international superiority we enjoyed post-World War II while all other nations, particularly China, were rising in economic strength.  Without recognizing the growing necessity to participate in a global economy, our math and science competitiveness and quality of life would simply decline comparative to the rest of the world–and we wouldn’t even realize it.  Iraq felt like an expression of that attitude: burning bridges we might one day need to cross by flailing our if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-with-the-terrorists “exclusive rightness” around without recognizing that the rest of the world isn’t necessarily on “America time” any longer, or that there’s much more to international relations than military might.

I’d like to think that there’s been real progress to restore America to her principles over the last few years.  Ending combat operations in Iraq is a responsible step to making that happen.  I’m also pleased that the United States has agreed to continue its investment in Iraq.  With luck, such investment will avoid a similar power vacuum that led to extremist rule in Afghanistan following the Soviet war during the 1980’s.  But on a more humanistic note, the war ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and nearly turned a third world country into a fourth world country.  We owe the people of Iraq the responsibility of supporting it in rebuilding its infrastructure.

I hope that we don’t take two steps backward in the coming midterm elections.  But even if that pendulum does swing back the other direction for a time, I take comfort in the fact that all countries across the globe, including the United States, are in general moving in a prosperous direction, and that such unifying tools as the Internet and better education are shrinking and in some cases eliminating the intolerance that comes from arrogance and ignorance.  On the whole, those who are pushing ahead to create a better world are winning over those who seek to hold things back, clinging desperately to greed and obsolete ideals.

My Biggest Problem with the Republican Mindset

My biggest problem with the GOP mindset is one of a simple, failed logic.  The Republican ideal is to blame social programs, the poor, and political correctness for all of the woes and decline of our society, while seemingly not realizing that 85% of the United States’ wealth is owned by 15% of its population… while the rest of us are left clawing at the remaining 15%.  People with a lot of money pay clever politicians, FoxNews anchors, and Talk Radio hosts to convince the middle class that it’s poor folks’ and Mr. Rogers’ fault.  Conveniently, the only politicians cast as evil-doers are the ones trying to even out that ridiculous 17:3 ratio.  I’ll give the GOP one thing: it’s got a heck of a PR team.  It’s offensive to me that more people don’t realize that the vast pay gap between the owners of companies and its employees putting their blood, sweat, and tears into making product ridiculously offsets the figure that the indigent consume.

Spread the wealth?  You bet.

Photograph of the MPEG-LA Boardroom

Photograph of the MPEG-LA Boardroom, taken earlier today.

Google, Mozilla, and Opera have announced a new video codec for the web, WebM, based on VP8 video and Vorbis audio, available as an open source project with no royalty on use.  There are already nightlies of Chrome, Firefox, and Opera availalable with WebM support, Adobe has announced that they will be bundling support for WebM into the Flash platform, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Microsoft has posted on their IEBlog that they will support WebM playback if the user has the VP8 codec installed.  Software isn’t the only huge news: Google has announced a massive list of who’s who in the hardware industry, including ARM, NVidia, and AMD.

I have never in my life seen such a rapid and definite industry coalition form behind anything in the technology industry, especially with regards to web standards.   I’m sure many of the hardware vendors were already there since before On2 was acquired by Google, but the rapid movement of software vendors is truly amazing.

Now the real challenge begins: building in hardware support to begin entrenching WebM into the industry, and staving off patent risks.  The former seems very doable, given that there’s a potential dark cloud 5 years out with H.264 when its licensing fees are up for debate again, and 5 years is a long time to implement, perfect, and transition to a royalty-free codec.  The latter would seem to be the biggest challenge.  The lead developer of x264, an open source H.264 implementation, has cited numerous areas where VP8 essentially copies the very patented H.264 spec.  It’s very telling that Microsoft very careful in their blog post to point out that the patent and security issues behind WebM aren’t clear, and that it will only support it in IE9 <video> if the user takes it upon him/herself to install the codec onto their computers.

It seems all but certain that, as referenced by the above photograph, MPEG-LA is wasting no time in preparing the patent lawyers for deployment.  There are some big pockets lining up behind WebM, and a lot of profit to be lost if H.264 loses the dominance that MPEG-LA  has spent a decade building up.

Through all the announcement hoopla, I find it frustrating that people are singling out Apple with the sentiment of, “How about it Apple, open standards or control of the web?”  People tend to think of Apple as the evil manipulator of H.264 simply because it was one of H.264’s earliest supporters.  In fact, Apple only has one of the 900-odd patents involved with H.264.  Microsoft, who holds nine, I believe, has stated that they pay much more than they gain because they license H.264 for their users.  I can only imagine that is even more true for Apple.  Apple is, however, very adept at patent law, and realizes the size of its own pockets.  Apple doesn’t want to be sued for supporting a patent-encumbered codec.  Where Apple can be faulted, however, is that they’re far too happy being on the suing end, noting the current phone industry chaos.

The Video Plot Thickens. Again.

Anyone who likes plot twists would do well to follow the current quest for a video codec acceptable to be used natively in web browsers to replace Adobe’s laggard Flash plugin.  First, Opera proposes the <video> tag to do plugin-less video based on Ogg Theora.  Then Apple implements the proposed spec into Safari based on its Quicktime library (with a focus on using the H.264 codec in an MP4 container).  Firefox introduces its own implementation based on Theora.  Late to the party, Google introduces <video> into Chrome which supports both H.264 and Theora (but neither very well).  Opera finally releases its own Theora-capable browser, and Internet Explorer, the behemoth of browser behemoths, does what no one else thought thinkable only a short time ago and announces support for <video>… based on H.264.  Web browsers aren’t the only place where there’s been an ideological tug of war.  Dailymotion and Wikipedia were both early adopters of HTML5 <video>, proponents of Theora (but also supporting H.264 in the case of the former).  Not to be outdone, within a week of one another, Vimeo and Google’s own Youtube announce HTML5 H.264 support.  And since the iPad’s release, CNN, Reuters, New York Times, Time, ESPN, NPR, the White House, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, TED, CBS, and Spin have all debuted HTML5 video enabled websites, all based on H.264.

But, just as all but the funeral procession had taken place for Theora, the game changes again.  Google purchased On2 (the original developers of Theora) some weeks ago, leading to speculation that they would open source the much higher-quality VP8, but amidst that speculation, just this week announced that they were funding an ARM-optimized port of Theora that would play back optimally on mobile devices without the need for a dedicated hardware decoder.  What?  Now, the actual announcement isn’t that significant, as Android (the most obvious place that Google could apply this) is yet a fledgling platform.  An ARM port pales in the significance of Microsoft sanctioning H.264 for Internet Explorer 9.  But what is significant is that Google is very publicly stating its support for Theora and declared that it is, in fact, a patent free codec: “The overwhelming feature that makes it stand out from its rivals is the fact it’s free. Really free. Not just ‘free to use in decoders,’ or ‘free to use if you agree to this complicated license agreement,’ but really, honestly, genuinely, 100% free.”.  This, from the same company who had a representative declare on the official WHAT-WG mailing list developing HTML5 that if they were to convert the videos on Youtube to Theora and “maintain even a semblance of the current youtube quality it would take up most available bandwidth across the internet.”

The virtues of both H.264 and Theora are well known.  H.264 has greater tool and workflow support, it’s higher quality, and it’s already an industry standard from the professional videographer right down to Bluray and on to consumer camcorders.  Theora is, well, none of those things.  It’s virtually unknown, and certainly of lower quality.  In fact, the only actual advantage that Theora does have is that it’s free.  And that argument doesn’t really mean a lot to consumers who are looking for quality, bandwidth, and time to encode as factors.  Especially since they load up OS X or Windows 7 or Silverlight or Flash and find that they already have an H.264 decoder warm and ready for them.  I really wish there was an open, royalty- and license-free codec that did an excellent job across the board with video, but even with the tradeoffs, H.264 seems like the solution that makes the most sense right now.

One thing is certain, the title of Google’s blog post is correct.   These indeed are “interesting times for video on the web.”

New Blog Theme

I’ve replaced the tired old theme that my website has used for over four years now, and replaced it with a theme more appropriate for the times: lighter colors, optimized for 1024×768, and advantage taken of HTML5 features.   Furthermore, I’ve fully replaced the old site (which was little used and redundant) with the WordPress blog.  I’ve even added a trendy 404 page.

Check it out and let me know what you think:  Anyone subscribing to this blog (though I doubt there are any), update your RSS readers to

An Open Letter to President Barack H. Obama

March 23, 2010

Dear President Obama,

Well done, sir.

Sincerely Yours,
Theodore Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon
James E. Carter
William J. Clinton

cc: William H. Taft
Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert C. Hoover
Gerald R. Ford
Ronald W. Reagan
George H.W. Bush
George W. Bush

God Bless the United States of America!

Giving credit, this was a comment on Digg.

Pins and Needles

Those who know me know that I am a supporter of reforming the healthcare industry and support the current reform bill to do so.  While there are some parts of the bill that I think could be improved, I see it as being the best option for the first steps in fixing a broken system that we’ve seen in the near-century since Theodore Roosevelt began trying to reform the system in the 1910’s.  There are those, not least of which are for-profit health insurance companies, that don’t like to recognize that the world is changing.  It is becoming a more humanistic place where we as a species don’t have to subscribe to the Darwinian philosophy that only the fittest survive; we fully have the resources, technology, and means to lift up those around us.  That’s what the rest of the world is doing, and it is a social responsibility for us to do the same.  I am only as good as the rest of us, and I am who I am because of who we all are.

I firmly believe that in a modern society affordable healthcare should be a right.  After all, we have the right to public education, the right to public police and fire services, and the right to public libraries.  I believe, though it is unfortunately not a part of the current legislation, that we should also have public healthcare.  It’s ridiculous that a fire truck will come to my home and put out a fire and I can have my belongings replaced by (required) home insurance, but I cannot be guaranteed that an ambulance will come to my house and save me from having a heart attack without financial ruin.  It’s kind of silly that health insurance is so predicated upon one’s employment.  That system arose almost by accident during the World War II years where employers were limited on how much they could offer new workers for salaries.  In lieu of the ability to offer workers financial incentive, they offered them healthcare incentives.  That practice has somehow stuck around and been perverted into what we have today.  There’s got to be a better way.  I’m hopeful that the legislation will pass and that in time there will be room for universal healthcare and a requirement that health insurance companies and hospitals be not for profit.

That said, the whole process of developing healthcare legislation has frustrated me.  It’s remarkable how the Republicans have utterly deadlocked Congress over the past year, using the filibuster twice as many times as the Democrats did when they were the minority.  It’s remarkable how they can rally their entire party to subscribe to a single, unwavering position rather than encouraging their party members to think for themselves and make their own decisions for the legislation.  I suppose that it’s easier to do that when your party is, to a considerable degree, payrolled by the health insurance industry.  It’s remarkable how the Right has taken every opportunity to hatefully associate buzzwords with the legislation without either addressing the bigger picture or acknowledging that the Republican party itself has used the very same techniques to pass its own quasi-controversial issues.  Republicans fired the parliamentarian in 2001 to pass the Bush tax-cuts; it was used by Republicans in 1996 to pass the welfare reform bill (which was incidentally considered to be major systemic reform).  While I’m not saying that the legislative process doesn’t need to change, don’t call a technique dirty, evil, and anti-American when you yourself used the same technique and praised its virtues just a few short years ago to pass legislation.  It is the pot calling the kettle black on an epic scale.  It just as improper for Republicans to completely deadlock the United States government  using the filibuster.  It was never intended to be used to that extreme degree.

The healthcare industry needs reform.  It has been demonstrably shown that since it was deregulated under Reagan in the 1980’s it has not only not become nimble and competitive, but has led to a decline in quality of healthcare compared to the rest of the world while increasing costs.  Capitalism, which not only promotes but rewards unbridled ambition and the crushing of others through fair or unfair means, makes for a terrible steward of such services.  I would also maintain in this respect that it’s Unchristian-like.  I cannot imagine Christ chanting, “no more handouts,” to the underprivileged or using a person’s pre-existing condition as justification to maintain profit while that person’s health continues to decline.  It’s time to play catch up with the rest of the world.  It’s time to regulate and improve the industry.  It’s time to offer something besides profit as the motivating factor for healthcare insurance companies to function.

Crowdsourced Mapping: A Historical Perspective

As an open source advocate, I generally find it worth my time to donate time or money to Free (as in speech) projects and services.  Anything that serves for the benefit of the common good is worthwhile in my eyes.  Unfortunately, for the most part I can’t contribute programming skills to projects for the lack of free time on my part, but there is one project that requires low mental investment and delivers instant gratification to boot: OpenStreetmap.  Basically, OpenStreetmap is a wikipedia of maps.  Anyone can sign up for an account and edit a collective map that is instantly rolled out to millions of users.  Since OpenStreetmap only uses information in the public domain, data from commercial mapping services like Navteq cannot be used.  However, years ago the developers did a massive import from the TIGER dataset released by the U. S. Government.  In many places it was outdated, in most others it was innacurately placed.  Fortunately, Yahoo! released a set of satellite maps into the public domain that the OpenStreetmap developers quickly placed in their editing application

One can spend a near-infinite amount of time going through the locale and lining up the roads (ways) up with the satellite image, adding special use data, or tracing out uploaded GPS tracks to form brand new roads and subdivisions.  As a result of the work I’ve put into the Alexandria/Pineville area, the local area (at least in parts) is far more accurate than Google Maps or Bing Maps.

Some recent additions I’ve made to the area include adding the taxiways, aprons, and gates to Alexandria International Airport reflecting the layout of the new terminal and tower.  I’ve also added the golf resort at AEX.  I’ve also done the same for Pineville Municipal airport at Buhlow Lake.  Another thing that I’ve added is accurate railways for the area.  Instead of stopping at a single mainline headed through Alexandria, I’ve actually traced in all 21 tracks from the rail yard in Alexandria, making the map more complete than Google’s or Bing’s portrayal of the railroad system.  While a friend pointed out that this will only be a marvelous tool if he’s ever driving down the railroad tracks or if the train gets lost and needs GPS directions, I find it a source of pride to know that our Alexandria now has more complete crowdsourced maps than it once had.

I would highly encourage anyone who has even a small amount of spare time to get involved with the OpenStreetmap project.  As illustrated above, the scope of OSM isn’t just on roadways, though that is the most practical application, but also points of interest, hiking trails, locations of public facilities such as fire and police departments, libraries, and schools.  The list could go on indefinitely.

One side interest that my recent work with OSM has piqued, however, is that of local history.  I was looking through the old Camp Livingston area at how little remains of the original encampment since it was deactivated in 1945.  65 years of neglect has erased most everything of the original roadways, even though 500,000 troops trained their over the facility’s commission.  It’s almost something worth filming for an episode of Life After People.  It’s interesting to note that one of the very first Japanese prisoners of war, one of the men inhabiting a midget submarine that went aground at Pearl Harbor, were kept at Camp Livingston, and that there was a P.O.W. cemetery at Camp Livingston; the headstones were moved to a different location long ago, but the bodies remain in the graves, unmarked.

I find it intriguing to look at aerial photography, such as that provided by Microsoft’s Bing Maps, to look over the area and survey such remnants.  One thing that I found fascinating was the level of rail traffic that once came through Alexandria.  The Missouri Pacific Railroad expanded into Alexandria in 1892.  At some point, the path of the railway was changed through to a more indirect route into the city, roughly paralleling I49.  However, the original path of the railway can still be seen.  Most of it is overgrown with grass, though the path of the track is still uncovered by trees.  The rails still appear visible in many areas.  Other areas have seen the rails paved or redeveloped over.  Some parts of the original Missouri-Pacific rails still remained in the old TIGER data.  I’ve completed the missing segments of the railway from the Alexandria levee to west of Willow Glen where it would have joined with the still-used railway, and marked this area appropriately as abandoned rail.  What other interesting historical elements could be added to the map?

The main point is that it’s fascinating to see towns reinvent themselves, even small ones such as Alexandria.  In fact, I suspect it’s even more fascinating in said small towns, because small-scale reinvention often leaves behind visible evidence of the town’s history and the times and industries that it suffered through.

I find a sadly small amount of information about such things on the Internet.  I’m sure that Alexandria Daily Town Talk has much of these events in its archive.  It’s a shame that the paper, in its losing struggle to remain profitable in a New Media era, will likely never invest in digitizing its historical catalog.  If such a thing were to become a volunteer effort, I would gladly spend time transcribing the microfilm copies of the newspaper, which actually goes back to about 20 years after the Civil War, for online consumption.

My Autumn Apple Predictions

So I’m reading my own goosebumps and tea leaves, here’s what my purely-conjecture product announcements for the holiday season will be:

In September Apple will announce an update to the Apple TV that will make it a full-fledged media server, available in the same 1TB / 2TB combos that we now see for Time Capsule, along with content agreements with Big Media to bring more television shows to the iTunes store.  Apple will position itself as Cable 2.0.  This would also be where we see a Netflix app debuted, if there is to be one.

To coincide with an Apple Media Server, the iTunes program and store will be rebranded to reflect the ubiquity of what iTunes does nowadays.  It’s so far away from music now, playing movies, syncing mobile devices, managing and distributing Apps from the App store… it should have been renamed a long time ago.  I don’t know what that would be, but I can’t see Apple releasing an iTunes Media Server.

The artist-formerly-known-as-iTunes will get a makeover to interoperate better with multiple devices in the home.  It’ll be more optimized for server/client operations.  Mac computers would get instant access across wifi to the AppleTV Media Server, with the option to sync selectively or entirely to the computer (essentially turning the Mac into a giant iPod) or, if the user is a Mobile Me member, access the media across the Internet.

Updates to the iMac lines in October maybe to bring them up to speed with i5 processors and Unibody enclosures.

The iTablet will surface, being powerful enough to run a suite of productivity apps, including iWork, as well as have carrier-neutral 3G Internet access, a stylus to allow the user to take notes on the device, be optimized to display textual content (eBooks), and play true HD video.  It may re-invent the brand by being labeled “iBook.”  Probably not, though, since Apple tends to look forward and not backward.  It’ll run iPhone apps and will heavily focus on developers tying the device into third party hardware.  Apple will use an app developer that has been secretly working on a home automation system to showcase the environment in a demo on stage.  The highlight will be pressing a button to turn down the lights in the house, kick the air conditioning up a notch, turn on the television, and, using the Tablet as a glorified remote, begin a movie playing.  Plus lots of other industry-redefining stuff that Apple tends to do and nobody sees coming.

MobileMe will get a significant capacity bump and will gain the ability to sync only the changed parts of a file, rather than the entire file.  It’ll be promoted heavily with the iTablet/iBook/Tablet Mac as a solution to keep one’s computing environment consistent across the entire spectrum from the living room to the office.

Early next year, Apple will introduce updated notebooks with 3G internet connectivity to catch them up with the Tablet, and add more powerful i5 processors.

Sometime between April and June, updated iLife and iWork editions will emerge and fully 64 bit solutions that take advantage of the Snow Leopard features.  Seeking to increase the validity of iWork in a mixed office environment, Apple will either make OOXML the default format (as much as I’d like them to go ODF instead, it wouldn’t make much market sense for them to do that) or will release a version of iWork for Windows.  The gauntlet will fully be thrown against the costlier Microsoft Office on Microsoft’s home turf.

Finally, in 2012 Apple will reveal what it’s been working on with the billions it’s had in the coffers: a spherical space station the size of a small moon, called the iBall, that it will use to quash the rebel alliance once and for all.  It will destroy the earth on December 21 of that year.

Back on Open Video

It seems as though most of the initial furor surrounding Ogg Theora has died down quite a bit since the release of Firefox 3.5, which includes Theora support along with a heaping spoonful of political grandstanding in Theora’s favor, out of the box.  Some things have helped to derail the Theora momentum.  Microsoft has announced Silverlight 3 which will play superior-competing-standard H.264 out of the box, Adobe has open sourced the media framework surrounding its Flash player, and, most significantly, Apple has submitted a new standard for MPEG4/H.264 HTTP Live Streaming to the W3C which will provide huge benefits to video viewers, especially on a mobile network.  Lastly, the author and maintainer of the HTML5 spec that defines the <video> tag itself has capitulated and said that there will be no official codec in HTML5 for video for the foreseeable future.

So why does this interest me?  I’m a pretty big advocate of open source software, after all.  And I agree with the two biggest points that open source folks are using to triumph Theora’s benefits (that it’s “good enough” to be used at Youtube quality on the Internet, and that it’s patent- and royalty-free).  But I’m also a fan of reality, and the reality is that Ogg Theora isn’t better than H.264.  Being better, not being good enough, is what ultimately drives adoption.  Internet Explorer began losing ground to Firefox for the fact that Firefox was demonstrably better.  There was a benefit for people to use Firefox instead.  Not so with Theora.

What I don’t understand, and what irks me so badly, is why H.264 is demonized so badly by the FLOSS community.  It’s not a single-vendor solution trying to lock in a particular market to a particular player.  It’s a very good video codec with massive market adoption and widespread implementations created by a collaboration of some 250 academic institutions that have invested a lot of money into it.  And yet, FLOSS advocates, particularly those from Mozilla, are saying that H.264 is extremely expensive, that it locks away innovation, and that it puts control of the web into the hands of a minority.  The expense argument is what irritates me the most.  I won’t use the argument that it’s free until 2011, but I will use the argument that MPEG-LA hasn’t even decided on the pricing for the licensing.  Nobody knows how expensive it will be, or who will have to pay the cost.  MPEG-LA has a lot of big players in the form of Apple and Google who stand to gain from HTML5’s acceptance likely lobbying them at this very moment to make licensing reasonable for H.264, lest we delve into another GIF fiasco.  But even where things are currently headed, I think the cost to stream video is free up until something like 100,000 views, which is pretty generous in most cases.  And the expense of an encoder for the bleeding hearts and the artists?  It’s like half the price of that PS3 game they went out and bought last weekend.  Let’s talk about innovation.  Well, I’ll let the web explain that one for me, which has also been proposed to the W3C for inclusion in HTML5.  Come on people, get with the program.

I won’t really say anything that hasn’t been said about the risk of patents on Theora, other than to note that while yes, H.264 does suffer from a degree of patent risk, it is much more complete and better documented, from my understanding, making it easier to find such risks.

Mozilla is fighting a massive uphill battle by trying to convince users that H.264 carries with great licensing burden when the codec already ships for free with most operating systems or is freely downloadable in the form of Flash or Silverlight.  And fight they are: Mozilla is engaging in political grandstanding to get its own dark horse to win the race by attempting to force Ogg into the HTML5 spec instead of letting the market decide.  This serves to create an unstable, unwanted variable in getting everybody on board behind a common set of codecs.  What’s more, we’re dealing with hardware.  A hardware industry that for a decade now has been getting behind H.264 as the next-generation video standard. There’s no incentive for hardware makers to build support for a 10 year old, obsolete codec onto their chips when they can just pay the minimal per-decoder fee to have H.264 installed.  The result of which will not be a win for Mozilla, open source, or HTML5, but for Flash, Quicktime, and Silverlight.

It’s frustrating.  Somehow I think even Mozilla realizes this, stating that they’d have to “make compromises” should the web adopt H.264 instead of its dark horse, which is probably closer than anyone realizes considering that Google is playing with using H.264 videos (that they’ve already invested in) in an HTML5 video implementation.

What I think will actually happen is that there will not be a base codec specified for HTML5, nor should there be… after all, we didn’t need base image formats and we don’t need them for video.  The market will decide which one is actually better–which I believe will be H.264–and the world will move on.  I’m sure that Theora and H.264 will coexist for different purposes just as JPEG and PNG do.  But Mozilla will eventually be forced to capitulate and either use some of that Google money to license the decoder or build in backend support to play what’s allowed on the host platform.  Everybody else is already on board with H.264, folks just have to wait out Mozilla’s grandstanding.