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New Firefox to boost open-source video

Mozilla close to adopting common codec

Mozilla is edging closer to releasing a new version of Firefox that could increase the use of open-source video software.

Firefox 3.1, the next major release due by early next year, will likely include support for a new HTML tag specifically for embedding video in web pages. Firefox 3.1 will also support royalty-free video codec Ogg Theora.

Firefox developers at a summit last week in Whistler, British Columbia, said they had started working on native Theora support, and test builds of the browser incorporating the new feature are available.

The code committed so far is a work in progress, wrote Chris Double, a Mozilla engineer who has been handling the project, "but it's a start towards using a common codec across all platforms and will improve as we get towards the 3.1 release".

Firefox 3.0 review

When the upgrade is finalised, Firefox users won't have to download a plug-in to play Theora content. Another cited advantage is that web developers can just use a tag to mark content, rather than needing JavaScript to launch a video.

Video on the web these days is a jumble of different software formats and products, with major ones including Apple's QuickTime, Microsoft's Windows Media, Adobe's Flash and RealNetworks' RealPlayer multimedia players. The plug-ins are free. The companies make money by selling streaming servers and encoding software.

Some see that commercial interest as potentially harmful to the internet, since content locked up in a particular format could become inaccessible due to a change in a vendor's product development plans.

Videos in formats such as .AVI can be converted to Theora using VLC, an open-source streaming media server, video player and converter from the VideoLAN Project. Another open-source converter is ffmpeg2theora.

Firefox's work will streamline the delivery of video to users, wrote a user by the name of J5 on his blog.

"That to me is freedom - to allow for those who prefer open formats the ability to deliver their content without any barriers between them and their end users," J5 wrote.

Opera Software, which makes a browser by the same name, has also implemented the video HTML tag. The company said last month that it has released versions of its latest browser that support Ogg Theora for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X operating systems.

"It's such an obvious improvement over the previous state of affairs of dealing with online video that it really makes you wonder why it took so long," wrote Ben McIlwain, an IT consultant, on his blog. "We're several years into the online video revolution now (led by such giants as YouTube), so it's only fair that we finally get native browser support for videos."

The moves by Mozilla and Opera can be seen as a strike against Microsoft, which dominates the browser market. Figures from Net Applications from last month show Internet Explorer with a 73 per cent market share, compared to Firefox at 19 per cent and Opera at 0.69 per cent.

Ogg Theora isn't supported in Internet Explorer 7. It is an older compression specification compared to Adobe's Flash 9, which uses the latest H.264 technology and is used on prominent websites such as Google's YouTube.

However, the Wikimedia Commons is using Ogg Theora for video.


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