CyberTech Rambler

January 13, 2011

Google dropping H.264 from Chrome Browser

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:38 pm

Who would had thought Google dropping H.264 from Chrome Browser would generate so much virtual column inches; And I am adding to more column inches with this post!

Exactly why did Google did it? We probably would not know for certain. Do I believe Google when it says it is for sake of openness? I take it with a pinch of salt. Part of the decision is to promote WebM, the format Google is championing for the web.

This time, whatever reason Google’s decision is based on, I felt that it is to the advantage of ensuring openness in the future web. The more browser we can get not to support H.264 out of the box whether via the video tag or otherwise, the better is it for openness of the web. Brian Profitt sees it as vaccination for openness, I would not go that far. At the minimum it implies that a closed web is a certain future which I think it do not think it is very likely.

Is the decision to remove H.264 but keep flash in hypocritical (or not)? I wiill simply say it is commercial decision for Google. It is one for Google to make.

Opponent thinks that it is a step backward. However, they appear to say so because they do not like to have to take extra step to download codecs for H.264. It is a very weak argument at beast. The worst criticism I seen so far is this Ars Technica article, which gone into the realm of lamblasting WebM to support its argument that WebM is not open. I am afraid it achieve exactly the opposite: It shows why exactly WebM is open: (1) designed to avoid existing patents (With exception of Patents  held by Google as a result of its purchase of On2 which created the technology in the first place) , (2) royalty-free implementation and (3) With respect to the patents Google has on WebM, there is a promise to keep it open. It is true that WebM is not ISO (or worse, ECMA certified). However, those organization are not flag holder for openness. Being ISO/ECMA sanctioned does not say anything about openness. Don’t believe me? Look at OOXML. One other thing: WebM is a bit too new to even start the ISO or ECMA process. Surely we don’t want to follow the OOXML example of ramming though a lousy and badly written standard certification process at record time.

For those whoe complain that they cannot use H.264 without putting in a tiny amount of work to get Chrome Browser H.364 compatible, all I can say is tough luck. You can do what Adrian Kingsley-Hughes did, complain that Google ruining Chrome Browser and threatening to quit using Chrome. Google has every right to ruin Chrome Browser because it created it. It probably already factor in some defection (including yours) when it made the decision so your defection might not carry the weight you think it will.


January 10, 2011

PJ, please carry on with Groklaw

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:20 pm

Year end soul searching for PJ: Wondering what to do with Groklaw.

Brian Profitt’s excellent analysis is here. All I have is a bit of advice to PJ.

Groklaw, as Profitt said, is no longer an anti-SCO site. In the years, it had grown/morph/(insert your favourite adjective here) into a pro-Free softwarre site, and one that specialize in the legal aspect of Free Software. This is Groklaw’s unique selling point. The strength in Groklaw is its ability to galvanize and act as the center of gravity for collective work to defend Free Software. Unlike Software Freedom Law Center, which concentrate on professional lawyering, Groklaw’s informal way of ‘lawyering’ makes it more approachable.

I don’t like the idea of turning Groklaw into a community-run site. I think PJ should remain the central point of focus. PJ’s ability to dissect legalese into something a lay person like me can understand is what kept us coming back for more. This cannot be easily translate into a community-run site. Personally, I doubt we  can find the equivalent of PJ. Andy Updegrove comes close. At times, he is better than PJ for his more unbiased view. However, his professional commitment means he can speak less freely than PJ, and that is a severe handicap.

In one aspect PJ should wake up and smell the coffee. I can understand her frustration in seeing Novell signing a patent agreement with CPTN after spending years of her life helping it fight SCO. I think she shouldn’t feel frustrated. She should instead, concentrate on her ‘mission’, providing legal analysis for Free Software related lawsuit and galvanize support for Free Software activism on legal issue threatening Free Software. Treat Novell (or any other companies) just like another entity to deal with. Deal with them on a per-issue basis: Sides with it when cooperating with it brings benefit to Free Software, and do not hesitate to take the other side when they work  against the interest of Free Software.

VLC taking a stance on iOS

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:52 pm

As a potential user, I don’t like the fact that I download VLC on iOS App Store anymore. However,  I believe VLC is making the right decision.

Personally, as a programmer, VLC copyrights holders have the same rights as everyone to dictate how their software is to be used. The same way I cannot use proprietary software without paying, they can stop Apple from distributing VLC using iOS if Apple doesn’t agree to play by certain rules. Fair and square.

Second, and the most important in the long run, is the fight against device lock down. We do not yet know who will win this fight, but it is important to stay in this fight. My original thought on the VLC GPL saga is that the wrapper, i.e. Apple License Agreement is not really an important one because fundamentally and functionally, once the user downloaded the software,  they can get the source code. Originally I was actually of the opinion that this is no different (in practice) from holding the full app in a BitTorrent server buffer during transmission. However, after closer examination, I decided the correct way is to challenge the Apple License Agreement by not agreeing to it.

VLC is in a unique position to challenge Apple. For most Free and Open Source Software, we have proprietary equivalent that is at least as good as the FOSS version, some even match FOSS’s $$$ proposition. However, compared to proprietary media players, including QuickTime and Windows Media Player,  including taking into account that QuickTime give better image quality compared to VLC when you extend the window to full screen on my Mac, VLC is clearly superior as one can play almost every possible media type. That is an important advantage. In fact, I do not think there is any competition for VLC when it comes to media player.

It is my believe that Apple knows it. While I can see an overworked Apple employee rubberstamp the VLC application for approval, I cannot see the management layer that makes strategic decision about the iOS not knowing it. Apple is known to rigorously defend Apple’s own interest on App Store. including its fight with Adobe. Do you really think a team as competent as Apple’s will overlook the fact that VLC might be in direct competition with Apple’s media-type-crippled QuickTime? Why would Apple even think about tolerating VLC if it can force or nudge people to use QuickTime format?

I think Denis-Courmont, the person whose is ‘responsible’  for Apple withdrawing the app, is right to draw the line in the sand and use this advantage to fight for Free Software. Believe me, like the majority of pragmatic Free Software advocates, it is a difficult decision not to complain that Denis-Courmont was too rigid on principle and should let the focus on the practical reality: End users wants VLC on iOS and will still have access to the full source code. However, the risk that we might actually contributing to the loss of channels to distribute free software as all channels are locked down because we had allowed free software to be distrbuted on locked down channel is too big to contemplate.

This confrontation with Apple  is a good education for users and developers in the short run. In the long run, it s a pawn to fight against the lock down of devices. Failure to defend VLC now can have implications.While iPhone is one that generates the biggest headlines, I can see rampant copying of VLC code in other devices, such as media center devices where the will definitely be less headlines. That is, if we get any headline at all. Not reacting against the VLC application for iOS means VLC creators weaken their case against these and other  vendors, as they will use this app as defense in any lawsuit.

Brian Profitt’s excellent analysis makes a point which I think is extremely important: We must teach developer freedom from want. I think we should aim higher: Teach users freedom from want. It is perhaps impossible, but we should aim high.

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