THE LIST, WITH a few notable exceptions, is a roster of some of the biggest names in tech: Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix are teaming up to revamp the way video works over the Internet.
The companies have joined together as the Alliance for Open Media to create a new open source video format. The organization includes all three major web browser makers and some of the biggest players in online video (Cisco, don’t forget, makes WebEx, one of the most popular business teleconferencing tools in the world). Apple, which develops its own Safari web browser, and Facebook are conspicuously absent from the group.
The new format, which has yet to be named, could make it easier for web giants to move away from Adobe Flash, which, despite recent calls for its death, has stubbornly endured. It will be designed specifically for delivering streaming video over the web with the aim of making it suitable for low-powered devices. It will also support copy protection, a must for companies like Netflix.
The new format will be royalty free, meaning any company can build software for creating or converting video in the format without paying a fee. According to a blog post from Mozilla today, the plan is to release the standard under the Apache License 2.0—perhaps the most permissive open source license available, since it specifically includes the use of all relevant patents and allows code covered by the license to be used within commercial and proprietary projects.
A Better, Cheaper Light Bulb
The new alliance is a great example of the way that open source organizations are taking on the role that standards bodies once did. As Jim Zemlin, the director of the Linux Foundation told us last year: “Providing a huge standards document to a light bulb manufacturer won’t help it make better, cheaper bulbs. But if you hand them the open source code, then they can just start doing it.”
The danger is that the alliance could create confusion by creating yet another standard. Google already created a format called VP10; Mozilla has one called Daala; and Cisco recently released one called Thor. But bringing all the major players together reduces the chances of redundancies and makes it more likely that they will all settle on one standard instead of working in isolation on independent standards. Engineers from both Cisco and Google have contributed to Daala in the past, so there’s precedent for collaboration among these groups.
“As resolutions and framerates increase, the need for more advanced codecs with ever-better compression ratios will only grow,” Mozilla platform engineer lead David Bryant writes. “We believe that Daala, Cisco’s Thor, and Google’s VP10 combine to form an excellent basis for a truly world-class royalty-free codec.”
The big question is whether the alliance can get Apple on board to make the format available in Safari on iPhones and iPads. The company is rumored to be working on its own Netflix competitor and has long preferred its own QuickTime format to other open source options.