On to the plan for On2

Wondering why Google bought On2, the Clifton Park company that makes video compression software? NewTeeVee reports that Google plans to open-source a key video codec (a method for compressing video) developed by On2. The codec could be used to play video on the web without Flash (when you use YouTube, you're using Flash). Also, guess which device doesn't support Flash? The iPad. [via Waxy]


Lost in this discussion in Vorbis, a patent-unencumbered audio codec that's the equal of MP3 in every way. Everybody listens to MP3-encoded audio all the time, but they don't know that MP3 is only free-to-listen because the Fraunhofer Society has so far chosen not to charge for decode (decode == listening). On the day it chooses otherwise, maybe tomorrow, you'll owe a royalty to play your MP3s. On that day, you'll wish your songs were in Vorbis.

Fraunhofer's strategy not to charge consumers -- only producers, and then only rich ones -- is not altruism nor accident: it proliferated the format to ubiquity, as planned, by design. And there was no need. Vorbis was available all along. But that's how things happened.

There's a lesson in there somewhere.


My know-it-all friends (the best kind to have, actually) remind me to make clear that MP3 decode is not unlicensed. Plenty of MP3 decode (playback) licenses are purchased every day -- just not by consumers, not directly.

I should have said that there's an end-user (that's you) perception that purchased MP3s (or those ripped from a purchased CD, or purely created by you) are yours to consume as you like, period. It's true that you own the files. But because they're MP3 encoded, you may only play them on a licensed device.

Example: Apple pays $X per unit so that you can play MP3s on your iPod, and obviously the iPod purchase price underwrites this. If you choose to play them on another device or in a completely different way, Apple's not involved in that, and it's up to you to ensure that you have the right to do so. Your license to decode MP3 data attaches to the iPod, not to you, and not to your files.

All this nonsense goes away with Vorbis. As we proliferate more kinds of media, it's important to weight the costs and benefits of allowing a patent-encumbered format to dominate.

Point here is that folks already think their audio data is "... living in a nice, long-lived, non-proprietary data format that isn’t anyone's competitive weapon." With MP3, they're wrong.


ps. Copyright on content is a different, unrelated subject. Still have to pay the band.

Done. Google announced WebM, which includes VP8, now open-sourced (BSD, thank god) and Vorbis.

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