Slashdot linked this weekend to a Nokia position paper on the use of Ogg in the HTML5 proposal for the media elements. For those of us who have followed the HTML5 discussion for some time there is little new in the position paper, he is simply regurgitating the same arguments that Apple Safari people came up with.
Let me start by saying that I know that Nokia is a big organisation and that the opinions expressed by Stephan Wenger in the linked position paper do not reflect the opinion of everyone at Nokia. So unlike the Slashdot crowd I am not putting this position paper at the feet of everyone at Nokia. I would point out that Stephan Wenger’s job at Nokia seems to consist of traveling the world attending MPEG meetings eating canap’es, so there is probably a lot of self interest in that position paper also :)
That said I do feel it correct to address some of the concerns/claims made in that document and by some Slashdot commenters.
To start with the Slashdot headline, the definition of proprietary in this context I guess could be open to debate, I have myself referred to technologies as proprietary if they are mostly a one group/company effort myself, even if the code is available. If that description would fit Ogg, Vorbis and Theora is another matter, but I will for the sake of argument allow that the what makes something proprietary in the context of software is open to some discussion.
What I felt was the biggest red herring in the paper was actually the musing about DRM. There is nothing stopping you from DRM protecting Ogg,Vorbis and Theora content and thus his arguments about the need for DRM support seemed rather misplaced. Sure you can not play back a DRM protected file on a system only supporting the normal playback but that is true for any format. You can not play back a Windows Media DRM’ed file on a non-DRM supporting Windows Media stack either. Same for playing back a Fairplay protected AAC file on a system with no Fairplay support. And unless he wanted to also standardize on a specific DRM system in HTML5 it doesn’t matter what format you use cause if people use different DRM systems you don’t get better interoperability anyway. An OMA DRM protected AAC file do not work with a Fairplay enabled AAC playback system and vica versa.
He also spent a some time nagging about what are the currently popular formats on the net and what terms they are commonly available under. The cutest argument however was how he managed to try to say that if the W3C accepted a royalty bearing set of codecs for this specification it could at the same time try to push for more royalty free stuff through MPEG and ITU-T…..yes….sounds brilliant……no better way to convince organizations creating royalty bearing standards that they need to do royalty free standards than to start paying money to use their standards…..errrrr NOT.
His section on Alternative ways forward is also quite hilarious. Proposal 1. Leave it up to the market forces. Dude, standardizing on Vorbis/Theora is part of creating market forces. And for the claim that the market had quickly chosen something at earlier points in other non-related markets was also quite hilarious. If he instead had looked at the Web of today there is a big mix of stuff being used like Windows Media, Quicktime, Flash Video, DivX, Real Media and more. And its been like that for a long time. The only way the HTML5 media tags have any hope of causing consolidation is of course to propose specific codecs for HTML5. If not there will be zero motivation for anyone to move away from their current Windows Media or Quicktime or Flash or whatever solution.
His second option was to adopt some ancient standards which where sure to be out of patent. One would have hoped a position paper from a world leading organisation like Nokia would be held at a higher professional standard than being based on a random authors ‘author’s personal experience‘ to quote the article. That said Theora as it is could be better and it is in the process of getting a lot better due to Monty’s ongoing work.
His last proposal is of course the oldest most true and tested way of trying to derail an effort: propose to set up a committee to investigate the issue…
Hopefully the next time Nokia want to write a position paper on something they will choose someone to write it who wants to be part of the solution and not the problem.