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Mozilla Firefox Gives in on Web Video Patents

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From the 'Open Web Video' files:

Mozilla's initial attempt to help enable an open web without the patent-encumbered H.264 video codecs has failed. In my opinion, this is a sad day for the open web and a terrible precedent for Mozilla to set.

Mozilla had tried to get around using H.264 by using and supporting open web video formats. The problem is that content providers haven't embraced the same model and more importantly, Google hasn't either (even though they champion WebM, H.264 still runs on Android).

According to Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich, H.264 is absolutely required right now to compete on mobile.

"I do not believe that we can reject H.264 content in Firefox on Android or in B2G and survive the shift to mobile," Eich wrote. "Losing a battle is a bitter experience. I won't sugar-coat this pill. But we must swallow it if we are to succeed in our mobile initiatives. Failure on mobile is too likely to consign Mozilla to decline and irrelevance."

What this means is that big content and tech vendors, notable Google, Microsoft and Apple are the ones still calling the shots in mobile. Though Mozilla has hundreds of millions of desktop users, it's still not enough (yet) to effect the open web video change they wanted. Unlike Apple, which was able to successfully exclude Flash from iOS, Mozilla is unwilling to take the same risk with H.264.

Though Mozilla is giving in now on H.264, that doesn't mean they have given up.

"Our first approach at bringing open codecs to the Web has ended up at an impasse on mobile, but we're not done yet," Mozilla Chief, Mitchell Baker blogged. "We shouldn't beat ourselves up for somehow failing to live up to Mozilla’s values. We'll find a way around this impasse."

The ultimate answer of course is likely to come only through scale. Mozilla will need to become successful enough on mobile such that they can set the terms of engagement (much as Apple has). That said, it is re-assuring that Mozilla's top people aren't happy with the H.264 situation and that there is a desire and commitment to make things better.

If there is one thing that the open source model does well, it's that it enables developers to scratch 'the itch' and H.264 sure is 'itchy' isn't it?

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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