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.
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