Firefox gets Ogg

Great news, Free Software fans! As of last night, out-of-the-box support for the Ogg Theora (video) and Ogg Vorbis (audio) open format codecs was enabled on the mainline Firefox development branch. Here’s the exact diff. These two codecs work in conjunction with the new <video> and <audio> tags, which will be supported in the next major release of Firefox, 3.1. If you’re feeling impatient, you can download the nightly 3.1 release which already includes the brand new Ogg codec support.

But what is the advantage of native browser support for the new tags, you may be wondering? The HTML 5 spec has lots of details, but what it boils down to is no longer having to rely on kludgy proprietary plugins like Flash or Quicktime (which often don’t work well cross-platform, I might add) to display multimedia content. The new tags work just like the current <img> tag does: feed them the URL to the appropriate media resource and they display it, just as simply as one might include a JPG image in a webpage. 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. 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.

It’s important to point out that not only are the Ogg codecs free (as in both speech and beer) and unencumbered by patents, but that Ogg Theora’s performance has recently been significantly improved. It’s not quite as good as H.264, but it is better than many of the previous generation’s proprietary codecs, and it’s currently the best video codec around that is compatible with the Free Software philosophy. That’s why the Mozilla Foundation chose it to provide out-of-the-box video support in Firefox — all of the alternatives currently widely used for web video, such as flv, H.264, or DivX, are copyright and patent-encumbered, and thus could not be included in Firefox. It’s worth pointing out that Ogg Theora is also the only video codec allowed on all Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia.

Not too long from now, after Firefox 3.1 is released, a significant double digit percentage of the web will have Ogg-enabled browsers. That will be a huge achievement for the Xiph.Org Foundation. Expect to see a lot more online video in the Free Software world, and hopefully a migration away from Flash video players, which I still can’t for the life of me get to work reliably in GNU/Linux. Once the <video> tag does start cropping up in a large number of places, will the competing browsers like Internet Explorer and Safari have any choice but to support it as well? Since all of the Ogg codecs are released under BSD-style — not GPL-style — licenses, there’s nothing stopping them!

13 Responses to “Firefox gets Ogg

  1. Some Guy Says:

    “will the competing browsers like Internet Explorer and Safari have any choice but to support it as well?”

    Since Apple proposed the video tag and implemented it first, I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue for Safari users.

  2. Greg Maxwell Says:

    This is a really important step forward for anyone who produces or uses video information on the web. Proprietary formats are dead weights on innovation: they prevent compatibility, reduce choices, and effectively create an unjust tax on the exchange of knowledge.

    Of course, the companies who own the patents on the proprietary codecs aren’t foolish: they manage the pricing, often providing “the first hit” at no cost, and they modulate their enforcement so that the cost for a single organization to switch to a free format is greater than the cost of paying the piper. But the long-term costs to the public as a whole, both directly from licensing costs and indirectly from incompatibility, are enormous. So we really should applaud the Mozilla Foundation for taking this bold step.

    It’s an especially important problem for people making freely-licensed content and free software: they can’t afford the tax, and often their purpose precludes leaving the people who use their content subject to paying the fees instead. So this move is really important to projects like Wikipedia.

    If you’re grabbing a Firefox nightly, be sure to grab a 3.1a2pre nightly, the older a1 doesn’t have the Ogg support.

    It should also be noted that the recent improvements to Theora haven’t yet made it into the mainline Theora encoder. They are part of a work-in-progress rewrite of the Theora encoder called Thusnelda. Thusnelda is a major improvement on the Theora encoder, which already out-performed prior generation video encoders fairly well, and it’s still getting better.

  3. Greg Maxwell Says:

    Ah, also worth mentioning that “a significant double digit percentage of the web” can already view Ogg/Theora, in fact, a pretty good majority can: There is an implementation of Theora and Vorbis in Java called cortado. Java isn’t as trendy today as it used to be, but it’s still widely supported.

    Through some crafty javascript you can autodetect the playback methods a client supports and then use the “best” available, using native support if it’s there and falling back to other plugins or Java if it’s not. The OggHandler extension for MediaWiki does this.

    But getting the detection and selection right is tricky. A lot of web developers won’t do it. … and then there are Java’s performance problems, and the fact that while Java is still widely supported it’s probably on a decline. But most importantly, slipping in Theora support via Java doesn’t do so much to set the de facto standard in the right direction. The web need Video that Just Works. The web needs it to be royalty-free and unencumbered. .. and it needs to perform fairly well and be well integrated. To get there we need native support.

    But it’s good to know that tools like Cortado exist that help us bridge the gap while we wait for all the clients to catch up.

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    Some Guy: Apple has their own proprietary video codecs to pimp (QuickTime comes to mind). They’re definitely going to be reluctant to include any sort of Free Software codec in their browser. If you don’t believe me, just look at iTunes and the iPod. Neither of them support any Free Software codecs, despite them having many years to add support them had they actually wanted to.

  5. Chris Double Says:

    Some Guy: It was actually Opera that originally proposed it and demonstrated a proof of concept. Apple joined in with a more extensive specification and the result in WHATWG is based upon the collaboration of various groups. Safari have a video implementation in their 3.1 release. It uses QuickTime and supports Theora if you install the plugin. Opera have an experimental build with Theora support also.

  6. T2A` Says:

    Don’t forget the ‘canvas’ tag. I haven’t really paid attention to what it is or is supposed to be, but it might be helpful in ridding the interbutts of Flash. Apparently FF3.1 will support that as well.

  7. Firefox closer to supporting open source video codec | InfoWorld | News | 2008-08-01 | By Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service Says:

    [...] 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 [...]

  8. zahadum Says:


    as usual, the FUD-meisters cant even get the most basic facts correct!

    (1) quicktime is NOT a codec! … it is a container format (and a media architecture).

    (2) the quicktime MOV container format is not ‘proprietary’: it is the official basis for the mpeg4 file format.

    (3) quicktime does/can/will support any & every codec on the planet that ISV’s want to implement – apple plays no favorites – third-parties are free to create plugins for any almost every aspect of the quicktime architecture without any licenses or royalties.

    (4) apple does not ship its own proprietary codecs with quicktime for web streaming (and therefore has no axe to grind ‘blocking’ foss codecs being deployed in its browsers) … it is 100% committed to h.264 (which is from ITU).

    it always amazes me to see which side – the mediocrities from microsoft or the fooltards from foss – is more technically inept when it comes to discussions of anything apple-related.

    ps: and just for the record, apple’s web browser platform (webkit) is not only based on opensource (khtml) … it is now the de facto ‘industry standard’ for mobiles: webkit powers the iphone, all nokia (going forward), the google android … as well as dominating desktop RIA like adobe’s flex/air. The combination of the #1 mobile browser (based on opensource) and a freely extensible media architecture (which uses the official h264 codec) make apple the paragon defender of the open web, not some scheming corporate dastard scheming a way to impede the progress of open video on the web.

    note: by comparison with apple’s web browser, Ffox (which only barely double apple’s desktop browser share) is planning to have a mobile browser some day; Opera has a (sweet) mobile browser but doesnt have much distribution; palm is DOA; winmob is MIA; and blackberry doesnt have its own browser technology, so it is not a long-term contender for web/media.

  9. This Mozilla/Ogg thing could end up being really important | Cyde Weys Musings Says:

    [...] just starting to sink in for me how important the recent inclusion of the Free Software Ogg codecs in Mozilla Firefox 3.1 will turn out to be, especially concerning the Ogg Theora video codec. This will be the first [...]

  10. Brion Says:

    @zahadum — please try to be polite. :)

    I will certainly say I like that Apple and many other players *are* standardizing on AVC (H.264) and AAC, which are published standards and darn good codecs. That’s a *huge* improvement from the old days where everybody was pushing a different proprietary codec-of-the-day. But the patent issues remain, so unless the patent pool holders release the licensing in an open-source-friendly way (or software patents are struck down in relevant jurisdictions) it’s still not free enough to be The One Base Standard that works everywhere.

    H.264 decoders and encoders can’t be cleanly shipped with free-software desktops, and minor content producers and software developers can get hit with nasty surprises if and when someone actually comes to collect. (Yes, there’s widespread “civil disobedience”, but that doesn’t mean people won’t get caught at it.)

    Vorbis and Theora (especially when that new encoder’s ready!) are both “good enough” and “free enough” to at least serve as a minimum baseline. The main boogeyman Apple and others trot out to not support them is potential legal liability from submarine patents — a risk that exists for AVC/AAC too but is mitigated by already having a large patent-holder pool sitting on it ready for the mutually-assured-destruction battle.

    Hopefully something’ll give on this eventually; I’m certainly *very* happy to see Mozilla throwing in for Ogg being safe to ship by default, but Mozilla being Mozilla that’s not a total surprise ;)

  11. William Lacy Says:

    OGGTV.COM and other sites using OGG/THEORA, are very rare now. Firefox 3.1 browser playback, will help Windows and Mac users play OGG multimedia (like linux), and open more possibilities.

  12. Hampton Says:

    @zahadum: There is no place for hostile and slanted comments like yours in informed discussions. Hoping yours gets deleted. Yes, Quicktime and H.264 are proprietary and restricted by license agreements and Mpeg Consortium patent enforcement.

    Wanted to mention – that allows hosting, uploading, and downloading of files encoded with Ogg/Vorbis and Ogg/Theora. (Funny, blip may refer to the Max Headroom’s blipverts, coincidently the same show where the term Theora originates.) Also, the wiki has long lists of examples where there is Ogg media content online. I linked to the wiki above.

  13. Cyde Weys Says:

    Hampton: I’m not going to delete them, just let them stand as is. The blatant ad hominem at the front of his comment doesn’t help advance his point of view; if anything, it discredits it. Why resort to ad hominem, after all, if your facts are actually good?