Mozilla

Video, user experience and our mission

March 18th, 2012

Mozilla is on the cusp of changing our policy about our use of video codecs and making use of a format  known as “H.264.” We have tried to avoid this for a number of years, as H.264 is encumbered by patents.  The state of video on the Web today and in mobile devices in particular is pushing us to change our policy.  Brendan has written a post detailing why many of us have come to support this position.  I’d like to emphasize one point that’s implicit in Brendan’s post and which I think would be useful to call out more specifically.

One key value at Mozilla is giving our users a great experience.  We want to build products that people love and that build openness and user sovereignty into the Web.  “Products that people love”  is a key part of this sentence.  It’s not a throw away phrase.  It has meaning.  It is a demanding goal and it must drive us — just as the latter part about openness and user sovereignty drive us.

For the past few years we have focused our codec efforts on the latter part of this sentence.  We’ve declined to adopt a technology that improves user experience in the hopes this will bring greater user sovereignty.  Not many would try this strategy, but we did.  Brendan’s piece details why our current approach of not supporting encumbered codec formats hasn’t worked, and why today’s approach regarding existing encumbered formats is even less likely to work in the future.

Given this, it’s time to shift our weighting.  It’s time to focus on shipping products people can love now, and to work on developing a new tactic for bringing unencumbered technology to the world of audio and video codecs.  It always feels better when we can build exactly the product we want and people love it.  It’s possible to fall into the view that the only way to live up to Mozilla values is to ship the product we think people should want.  This aspect is one element, but it’s not the only one.  Another critical element is shipping products that work for people now so they can love them.  This makes our values something people can want, not medicine that one takes because one should.  This element is a key part of Mozilla’s mission.

Our first approach at bringing open codecs to the Web has ended up at an impasse on mobile, but we’re not done yet.  We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for somehow failing to live up to Mozilla’s values.  We’ll find a way around this impasse.  We have some of the world’s most creative and dedicated people working on open video and video technologies.  We’ll rebuild the maze if we have to.  We’ll  keep working hard to bring unencumbered codecs to the Web.  We’ll be more effective at building products people can love as we do this.  We should do so proudly.

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124 comments for “Video, user experience and our mission”

  1. 1

    Pingback from Video, user experience and our mission | The Mozilla Blog

    [...] Baker posted her thoughts about Web video and the Mozilla mission. Below is an excerpt from her blog post. One key value at Mozilla is giving our users a great experience.  We want to build products that [...]

  2. 2

    David Tenser said on March 19th, 2012 at 4:07 am:

    In my opinion, shipping products that actually work for people today is and has always been part of Mozilla’s DNA. Gecko’s “quirks mode” comes to mind, which was designed so that Mozilla could display web pages as they existed back then (as quirky as they were!), regardless of what we thought people /should/ want in a modern, standardized, and idealistic web rendering engine. We did this so that people could adopt our technologies and love our product, and as a result, we were able to change the entire web for the better.

    I fully embrace this new video codec policy and believe we’re just being pragmatic, like we’ve always been. We’ll soon change the web for the better again!

  3. 3

    Charles Severance said on March 19th, 2012 at 4:41 am:

    Mitchell, another great post. I agree completely. Sometimes in order to achieve the ultimate ends, pragmatism is needed in the short term. If we all play the “game” beyond when it should be played, the market might do something in the wrong direction. So at times it is better to go in the right direction and get closer even if you cannot jump to the ultimate destination in a single hop.

  4. 4

    Pingback from Firefox gobbles H.264 to serve up vids to mobes, slabs | Technology News

    [...] Foundation chair Mitchell Baker blogged her group’s policy of not supporting unencumbered codecs hasn’t [...]

  5. 5

    Epicanis said on March 19th, 2012 at 7:03 am:

    Will Mozilla foundation be “purchasing” a license for us to be able to encode h.264 video so that we can all participate, or is this merely giving up some of the former emphasis on participation by everyone in exchange for making it slightly easier to use Mozilla Firefox as a television on some platforms?

  6. 6

    Pingback from H.264 support coming to Firefox | Linux-Support.com

    [...] support coming to Firefox Posted: March 19, 2012 / in: Linux / Comments Off Mitchell Baker and Brendan Eich have both posted articles explaining the decision by the Mozilla project to add [...]

  7. 7

    Pingback from Mozilla to support H.264 on mobile • Mozilla Links

    [...] Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Foundation chairwoman, adds “Our first approach at bringing open codecs to the Web has ended up at an impasse on mobile, but we’re not done yet.  We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for somehow failing to live up to Mozilla’s values.  We’ll find a way around this impasse. “ No comments yet. [...]

  8. 8

    Asa Dotzler said on March 19th, 2012 at 1:09 pm:

    Epicanis, no. We will not be paying for the world’s 264 encoding.

    Because we support an unencumbered codec, though, you don’t need an h.264 license to put video on the Web. You can use WebM. It may not have the reach you’d like, but that’s no fault of ours. We fought harder and longer than anyone for broad adoption of unencumbered codecs but a couple of major browser vendors (and a major plug-in vendor) never came around. You have to take that problem up with Microsoft and Apple (and Adobe.) We did what we could.

    - A

  9. 9

    Epicanis said on March 19th, 2012 at 1:49 pm:

    Rereading my comment, I’m perhaps being prematurely harsh.

    I’m still assuming Mozilla actually cares about everyone being allowed to participate, which giving into the “lowest commercial denomination” undercuts here (more than “h.264″ implies, since I assume this will also apply to .mp3 and .aac files). What I should REALLY be asking is: how will Mozilla be approaching this goal, or have you really given up (as the “we did what we could” suggests) to focus on the “consumer” end of the web?

  10. 10

    Pingback from Mozilla caves, will support H.264 to avoid ‘irrelevance’ | Mobile Gadgets Reviews

    [...]  |  Mozilla Hacks, Mitchell’s Blog  | Email this | Comments Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a [...]

  11. 11

    Pingback from Mozilla caves, will support H.264 to avoid ‘irrelevance’ | Android News

    [...]  |  Mozilla Hacks, Mitchell’s Blog  | Email this | Comments Source: Engadget More Android News You Might EnjoyHTC [...]

  12. 12

    Pingback from Mozilla caves, will support H.264 to avoid ‘irrelevance’ | GizmoScoop

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  13. 13

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  14. 14

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  15. 15

    Asa Dotzler said on March 19th, 2012 at 2:27 pm:

    Epicanis, no one is giving up. We are still fighting for an open and participatory Web. In this one particular case at this one particular place in time, we’re saying that open codecs alone, to the exclusion of h.264/aac, are not the best path forward. We are still fighting for open codecs (see Brendan’s comments about WebRTC) and we still include open codecs in Firefox. But Mozilla should absolutely not die on this particular hill. There are far too many other battles to be fought for us to sacrifice the leverage we do have in desktop (and can have in mobile) for this one issue.

  16. 16

    earl cameron said on March 19th, 2012 at 2:32 pm:

    I am sorry but if firefox gives up on webm in favor on h.264 then I am just going to have to move to another browser

  17. 17

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  18. 18

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  19. 19

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  20. 20

    Pingback from Mozilla caves, will support H.264 to avoid ‘irrelevance’

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  21. 21

    LaughingAtTheLizzard said on March 19th, 2012 at 3:14 pm:

    http://www.mozilla.org says:

    “We Believe in an Open Web
    And we’re dedicated to keeping it free, open and accessible to all. ”

    Maybe you need to amend that to say something about “except when it comes to video, where we do what Apple/Google/MS wants”

  22. 22

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  23. 23

    Epicanis said on March 19th, 2012 at 4:16 pm:

    I’ve moved over to the “Brendan’s comments” post you mentioned, where I think I’ve better described my (and I *think* most of everyone else’s) concerns about this.

    Short version: we’re seeing a lot of “we HAVE to indirectly promote expensive codecs to survive”, but NOT seeing anything indicating any plan to actively and *effectively* promote legally free codecs (allowing them to be “consumed” is necessary but far from sufficient) that we can all use without paying a “poll tax” to be allowed to participate, and it’s that latter part that I think is bothering most people, and why people are accusing mozilla of giving up.

  24. 24

    Epicanis said on March 19th, 2012 at 4:24 pm:

    Actually – I hope you’ll forgive all these posts – but I do have ONE more question (an nice “pragmatic” one for you): will this decision apply to .mp3 as well?

    If I’ve read the licensing terms for mp3 correctly, it LOOKS like there are some loopholes that grudgingly allow its use for both decoding AND encoding, provided (in my cynical interpretation) you’re not doing anything too important with it (i.e. you aren’t someone who makes more than $100,000US per year and aren’t reaching too many people, and aren’t using it for anything interactive i.e. a “game”). Is .mp3 one of the formats that Firefox is allowing in as well?

  25. 25

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  26. 26

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  27. 27

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  31. 31

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  32. 32

    Pingback from Picking your battles

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  33. 33

    Pingback from Mozilla Signals Firefox Defeat Over H.264 Usage - Digital Video Forums

    [...] a new tactic for bringing unencumbered technology to the world of audio and video codecs," blogged Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker. "H.264 is absolutely required right now to compete on [...]

  34. 34

    Pingback from Video, fragmentation, and Firefox « A better world

    [...] Video, user experience and our mission by Mitchell Baker, Chair of Mozilla [...]

  35. 35

    Pingback from Mitchell Baker Says H.264 is About User Experience | PHP World

    [...] stance back a bit saying they were thinking about allowing the codec. Then today, Mitchell Baker posted an explanation of why the company will probably begin using it after [...]

  36. 36

    Denver Gingerich said on March 19th, 2012 at 8:36 pm:

    I’ve written some comments on this, in “Video, fragmentation, and Firefox”, which you can find on my blog: http://ossguy.com/?p=1137 I hope they are useful in the decision-making process. I’d be happy to engage in further discussion about this, either here or on my blog.

  37. 37

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  40. 40

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  41. 41

    Pingback from Mobile forces Mozilla’s hand on H.264

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  42. 42

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  43. 43

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  44. 44

    Pingback from Mobile moves Mozilla’s hand on H.264 » HD Network Technology Blog

    [...] “We’ve declined to adopt a technology that improves user experience in the hopes this will bring greater user sovereignty. Not many would try this strategy, but we did,” wrote Baker. [...]

  45. 45

    Pingback from Mozilla May Support H.264 Video Codec in Firefox to Compete on Mobile Phones | Got2.Me

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  48. 48

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    [...] a new tactic for bringing unencumbered technology to the world of audio and video codecs,” Mitchell Baker wrote in a blog post on [...]

  49. 49

    Joel said on March 20th, 2012 at 5:37 am:

    Oh, I hope this doesn’t happen. It would be a step backwards. Firefox is a popular browser. With Firefox support, there would be less incentive for video producers to avoid H.264. I am willing to make the sacrifice of not viewing certain videos offered only in non-free formats. In fact, I already make that sacrifice because I value having freedom from proprietary restrictions.

  50. 50

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  53. 53

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  64. 64

    Westside guy said on March 20th, 2012 at 11:29 am:

    Thank you, Mozilla, for making the pragmatic choice – even through it runs counter to your personal feelings. I think your new tack follows the correct course of action, and is in the best interest of your customers (like me).

    If you find a way to encourage WebM deployment – especially if WebM is improved to the point its on par with h.264 quality-wise (which is currently is not, by any stretch of the imagination) – it’ll be a win-win.

  65. 65

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  80. 80

    Adam said on March 21st, 2012 at 12:10 pm:

    I think this is a great decision that takes the long view toward their ultimate goal, keeping the web open and belonging to the users, by making this slight compromise in the short term. It seems very similar to the tack that the Linux community has taken toward non-free software. For example, Debian Linux has a social contract that while Debian is 100% free, and “non-free works are not a part of Debian, [they] support their use and provide infrastructure for non-free packages.” (Debian Social Contract) This pragmatism is the only way to gain a wide adoption by users, most of whom just want a product that works well. Users who only unknowingly reap the benefits of Mozilla’s efforts to make the web more open and free.

  81. 81

    Larry Peterson said on March 21st, 2012 at 3:27 pm:

    Explain sentence-What “we” think, users are “suppose” to “like.” An easier way to go: We are going to do this. Learn to like it-just go here, and pingback there-read Beth, read Mitchel. Maybe I liked the time when I was free to read what/who I wanted. Now,I will be doing things YOU want, and that is so wrong. Stop the scam. In 70 yrs. If I had a buck for everything that someone said,”We are doing this for you.” I’d be rich! You govern-I serve. I’ve heard that -this is what you will love- so much, this is meaningless. I don’t want an experience. I don’t want to twitter. For the last 3yrs.,I have learned to use just Firefox, but I can change-but don’t pretend this was my decision.

  82. 82

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  83. 83

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    Thomas said on March 22nd, 2012 at 1:55 pm:

    @Epicanis: yep, https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=737663 .

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    William Lacy said on March 23rd, 2012 at 3:47 pm:

    Once a Browser Company Exposes Everyone to a Potential Future “Cable-Bill”, it has played into the
    hands of, and Given the Keys of Linux on mobile x86 and ARM to a Private Patent Holding Group.

    Giving a Private Patent Group “Free-Reign” over Global Linux Initiatives on ARM and mobile x86
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    Firefox on ARM Linux can be in the BILLIONS, because of India, $10 ARM computers and the new
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    than H.264 “Winning”). India is not going to be placed in the Position of paying a “Cable-Bill”
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    Don’t play into the Profit “Chess-Game”, and place a Patent-Group in the position to collect Globally
    on Linux and Open-Source, Firefox Global use is not a “Cash-Register” for Privately Held Patents,
    and Mozilla will loose World-Wide respect and Programmers who believe in the “Original” Focus.

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    Rebentisch said on March 26th, 2012 at 4:56 am:

    This doesn’t sound good. Certainly Mozilla could do more to defend the open net.

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    Chris said on April 22nd, 2012 at 6:12 am:

    I don’t get why Google never really pushed WebM? Maybe all it wanted to do was buy it, release it and forget about it, just so there was an alternative to H.264? I mean WebM isn’t supported in Google Search, or video sitemaps, and YouTube still doesn’t have a full catalogue of WebM video! Oh well, good move I think for Mozilla to support H.264 if it can, considering how will it is supported and used.

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    Piotr said on August 29th, 2012 at 9:50 pm:

    I expected this feature for Firefox 15… when is this coming out? When will it be launched?

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    Hank said on November 14th, 2012 at 11:26 am:

    About damn time!

    Thank You Mozilla! Maybe I will start using Firefox again.

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    Daniel said on September 29th, 2013 at 6:15 am:

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