Up until now, those who wanted to watch HTML5 video in the Firefox browser were unable to access content that was encoded the H.264 format. But that could soon change, as a new Wild Fox project, recently started by Dutch developer Maya Posch, seeks to remedy this by marrying H.264 video codec to Mozilla’s Firefox browser.
The fact that the HTML5 specification doesn’t name a particular codec for video playback has caused a divide between browser vendors over which format to choose. On the one side, Apple (s AAPL) and Microsoft (s MSFT) have lined up behind H.264 codec support, while Opera and Mozilla’s Firefox have thrown their weight behind the open source codecs Ogg Theora, as well as Google’s recently released VP8 codec. Google (s GOOG), meanwhile, has hedged its bets by providing support for all three codecs in its Chrome browser.
While many publishers have standardized on H.264 encoding due to its relative ubiquity and hardware support in mobile and other devices, not all browser creators are as keen on providing support for it. Due to software patents and licensing issues associated with the codec, Mozilla and others have sworn off adding support for it in their browsers. Wild Fox could soon change that.
So far Posch has enlisted two other developers — as well as the help of a Mozilla employee — to work on the project. With their help, she said an early version of Wild Fox could be ready in just a few weeks. Since Mozilla didn’t hardcode Theora codec support into its mobile browser, Posch believes she can apply a decoder library such as Libavcodec or a generic codec framework like GStreamer to the source code, compile it and hopefully have a working alpha version running soon.
While many might see adding H.264 support to Firefox as a fairly pragmatic goal, Posch said her main motivation for the project is to take a stand against software patents like those that encumber H.264. Noting that the codec’s intellectual property only apply in certain areas like the U.S., she said that Wild Fox could make the technology more widely available in markets that aren’t subject to those patents.
“With HTML5 video, it’s just crazy that Firefox only allows you to view certain videos in a certain codec. These software patents don’t even apply where I live,” Posch said in a phone interview. “Software patents can be applied to everything. They’re so universal, but in a negative way… This is a very good time to show to the world, to the U.S., and to the U.S. courts, that software patents do not promote progress or innovation, but they hinder progress.”
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