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Summary:

Turns out we’re not the only ones speculating about what Google might do with ON2 Technologies, the video encoding company it finally acquired late last week after months of negotiations with shareholders. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published an open letter to Google this weekend, […]

killflash

Turns out we’re not the only ones speculating about what Google might do with ON2 Technologies, the video encoding company it finally acquired late last week after months of negotiations with shareholders. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published an open letter to Google this weekend, suggesting that the search giant should open source ON2’s VP8 video codec and push for its mainstream adoption by making it the default codec for YouTube videos. “You can end the web’s dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software,” the letter reads. In other words: The FSF wants Google to kill Adobe’s Flash.

This idea doesn’t sound as crazy as it was just a few months ago. Google recently started to experiment with HTML5 on YouTube. The FSF now wants to encourage Google to take the next step and commit to open codecs in addition to open standards to deliver what the letter calls “a death-blow to Flash’s dominance in web video.”

Google rolled out limited support for HTML5 on YouTube a month ago, allowing users of current versions of Chrome or Safari to watch a number of videos without Flash after opting into the trial. But the video site still defaults to Flash for videos with ad overlays. The HTML5 videos also don’t play at all in Firefox because YouTube uses the H.264 codec for its trial — a move that has been criticized by open source advocates who have been pushing for using the open Ogg Theora codec instead.

Google’s Open Source Programs Manager Chris DiBona had previously argued that Ogg Theora would need codec quality and encoding efficiency improvements before a site as big as YouTube could use it as its default video codec. The FSF now writes in its letter that it never agreed with these positions, but that Google must have faith in VP8 being a better codec if it invested its money in it (Google spent a total of about $133 million on ON2).

The open source advocacy group apparently realized that Google wouldn’t switch codecs from one day to another, which is why it suggests a number of smaller steps to make VP8 mainstream. “You could interest users with HD videos in free formats, for example, or aggressively invite users to upgrade their browsers (instead of upgrading Flash),” the letter reads, adding that this would eventually lead to users not bothering to install Flash on their computers.

Of course, all of this would only make sense to the FSF if Google made VP8 open source. Without that step, VP8 would just be another codec, the letter reads, and Google would be short-sighted to use VP8 just for its own gains. “You owe it to the public and to the medium that made you successful to solve this problem, for all of us, forever,” it appeals.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Hoggarazzi.

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  1. Apple ditched Flash to prevent their locked in users spending money elsewhere. Flash is free and open already. There I was thinking the FSF had a clue.

    1. Please, don’t display your ignorance and act as if it is expertise. Flash won’t work with touch-screens period. Mouse and keyboard controls are totally incompatible with the finger, eh? You know so much, but you show so little.

      1. Just to clear up 2 things. 1) Flash Player is free, the software to write flash is not. 2) Flash compatibility with touch screens is there, (www.nuigroup.com has been using it for 2 or 3 years with their own touch screen apps.. Apple chose not to use it in iPad, but it works on any windows pc touch screen)

        I would dump flash in a heartbeat, but then i couldn’t play mafia wars. Don’t peg me as an Adobe supporter, i’m not.. I hate it actually.. But Apple won’t run anything that it can’t make money off of licensing wise, like apps, ringtones, books, etc. If they don’t get a percentage off of each sale, its not on there.

      2. Philos — That’s not an accurate assessment of the issues around Flash and touch screens. In short:

        • Hover events do work in Flash content on touch devices.

        • Any issues with mouse input on a touch device are not specific to Flash, but affect all content, including HTML based content. Specifically, content that relies on MIDDLE, RIGHT and / or SCROLL_WHEEL mouse events will need to be updated if you want users on touch devices to be able to use it. This applies just as much to HTML content as it does to Flash content.

        Mike Chambers has a blog post and video going into much more detail on this issue (including a demo video) here: http://www.mikechambers.com/blog/2010/02/22/flash-player-content-mouse-events-and-touch-input/

      3. Flash is free to develop.. FlashDevelop.org and Adobe’s own free SDK which can be used on Macs too for all you ‘special’ people out there with your lame macs which apparently never work properly with Flash or Video Games or anything with Lots of Rendering. Nevermind, Macs suck why am I even posting this…

      4. @DocNasty You obviously aren’t aware that it is entirely possible to create Flash content without any commercial software from Adobe or anyone else.

        Otherwise I completely agree. Apple doesn’t want it because it won’t make them money and I would dump it myself if I didn’t have a need for it.

    2. Lets see you build an Adobe Flash™ based website without paying Adobe,

      P.S. pirated cracked applications don’t count.

      1. I play Mafia Wars on an iPhone all the time, it works fine except for the recently added “Properties” tab in New York which is the first invasion of Adobe Flash™ into this game.

        I think the example you are looking for is Farmville.

      2. Sorry, hahaha, but you’re mistaken.

        One can quite easily build a Flash based application (eg a swf) without paying Adobe a penny. The Flex/Actionscript SDK and compilers are free (http://www.adobe.com/products/flex/), and there are various other options as far as generating graphics, all of which can be embedded into the swf using the compiler. It’s my preferred workflow, in fact, to avoid using the Flash IDE entirely. If you’re on a PC, you can use FlashDevelop, which is imho one of the best Actionscript editors out there. And there are various other options.

        No pirating needed.

      3. Here you go @hahah. Ming (http://www.libming.org/). An open source tool to create Flash files using C and various other languages, without any software from Adobe – cracked or otherwise.

        There are other tools out there. This is just one I know of.

  2. FSF Urges Google to Kill Flash – Newteevee.com | Review Google Cash Sniper Monday, February 22, 2010

    [...] Post By Google News Click Here For The Entire Article Review Google Cash [...]

  3. Best Free Stuff | The Web’s #1 Place for 100% FREE STUFF Monday, February 22, 2010

    [...] You could interest users with HD videos in free formats, for example, or aggressively invite users to upgrade their browsers (instead of upgrading Flash),” the letter reads, adding that this would eventually lead to users not bothering to install … Read Full Story [...]

  4. As Flash is already free, why?

  5. Mike Linksvayer Monday, February 22, 2010

    Ben and Scott,

    Flash, the browser plugin from Adobe, is gratis, but is proprietary software. This might not be a gating problem — though the flash format is not subject to any open standards group, making compatibility difficult for other implementers, eg gnash. However, Flash video is patent encumbered, making fully legal free/open source implementations not possible. Taken together, Flash video is very non-free/open.

    Side note: Calling the FSF a “open source advocacy group” is accurate for most people’s level of understanding, but still funny for those who know they dislike the term open source.

    1. Actually, Adobe has made the SWF file formats as well as FLV/F4V, MCD all open for creation of anything, including SWF clones. If there is a reason Gnash thinks they can’t use those docs, please talk to us about the concerns.

  6. @Ben and @Scott

    Flash is not ‘free software’, it is proprietary.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software

    1. And here you get to use the word “free” as a political statement?

      First, Flash is more than one product. Some are free (as in beer), feel free to use in its binary format. Some are not free (again as in beer). Some of them have parts that are readable (e.g. the SWF specification), some do not (the not-open RTMPE, not to be confused with the open RTMP).

      And free can still mean many things, just as open can. The decision to own the definition “Free software” versus Freeware is an indication of political ideals.

      Using the software for free makes it free software. Not to be confused with “Free Software”

  7. People keep talking about the end of Flash. But even if video moves away from Flash there will still be a niche for it; Flash can always return to its original mission of being a format for animated, scripted vector graphics, which can often be a more efficient way of presenting content than streamed video is.

  8. Mike Linksvayer Monday, February 22, 2010

    Mark,

    Flash is even more vulnerable for animated, scripted vector graphics, even if it has less problems with openness there. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canvas_element and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scalable_Vector_Graphics#Support_for_SVG_in_web_browsers

    1. Have you ever tried making an even remotely complex piece of animation in svg or canvas? Guess not!

  9. One of the reasons why Adobe did not open source the flash player yet is the video patent licenses they pay millions for each years. I think if google made VP8 and other on2 video formats open, then Adobe might just open source Flash as well.

  10. Colin Scroggins Monday, February 22, 2010

    It is complete flame baiting to interpret FSF’s open letter as a desire to “kill Flash.” Flash is a large-scale platform, encompassing more than just the video viewing subset that this addresses.

    Flash player utilizes an openly published SWF spec, but is not open-sourced due to the decoding it includes for h.264, VP8, and other patent encumbered codecs. FLV is just a wrapper for video files encoded in those codecs.

    The FSF letter is about creating an ecosystem that promotes open and patent unencumbered options. This is more about h.264 and other closed formats than it is about Flash.

    While Adobe could leverage an open-sourced VP8 codec (Flash player already supports it), it would be an irresponsible move to yank the carpet out from under customers who are using the current platform in good faith. Supporting open codecs (and dropping encoding support for closed ones) in Flash CS5 would allow Adobe to slowly wean users off closed video codecs, setting up the possibility for a completely open-sourced Flash player in the distant future. For the near future, Adobe has to support closed codecs until the creative producers and channels reach a tipping point where the transition is seamless to viewers.

    1. Colin, did you read the letter?

      Especially these passages?

      “You can end the web’s dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software (Flash).”

      “You could do the same with YouTube, for better reasons, and it would be a death-blow to Flash’s dominance in web video.”

      “Steps like these on YouTube would quickly push browser support for free formats to 50% and beyond, and they would slowly increase the number of people who never bother installing Flash.”

      The letter does call h.264 “non-free”, but that’s about it. This is first and foremost about killing Flash.

      1. “Steps like these on YouTube would quickly push browser support for free formats to 50% and beyond, and they would slowly increase the number of people who never bother installing Flash.”

        My favourite part I think.

        I’m particularly interested in just whose arse that 50% was pulled from?

        We’ll pretend for a moment that Flash however often it is awfully written, graces the majority of ISP homepages and is common place in many top ranking PC game UIs and IM clients…

    2. Actually, it is vp6 that is supported by Flash, not vp8. That’s two generations older.

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