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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