The HTML 5 Wars (and why you should avoid them)

As some of you may be aware, the WHATWG has dropped the recommendation for Theora and Vorbis in the video/audio section of the HTML 5 specification. Many believe it’s due to pressure from Nokia and Apple and, while that may be correct, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

There’s much that can be done to revert this situation, but the flood of comments on the WHATWG list of “revert the change!” and “DON’T KILL THE OGGS” is not one of them. Their decision wasn’t an easy one and the problem is more complicated than it seems. What you should do if you want to “SAVE THE OGGS” is do something else entirely, which is to actually go ahead and prove that Theora is a popular good format with good quality. That’s the only way the companies will ever bother to support it, because — and face it — the recommendation for Theora/Vorbis may have stayed there and changed little of the outcome. The companies were never forced to support them in the first place.

So, how do you make Theora and Vorbis popular? Why, by the very same process that made MP3 so ubiquitous: by using it and by sharing it. Only by advocating the formats will you see interest from the corporations. There is no other way around it. Let me write that one more time: there is no other way around it. Backup your films in Theora. Backup your music in Vorbis. Share podcasts and videocasts in these formats. And do not wait for tomorrow; do it now. And by now, I mean yesterday.

There’s a lot of companies out there who do not wish to see Theora and Vorbis succeed, and they don’t even have to make much of an effort to affect them. The masses out there with their expensive iPod toys don’t care about Vorbis or Theora. Most of them don’t even know what they are.

If you want Ogg to be taken seriously, you need to help change that mentality, one person at a time. If you think the problem lies in the tools, then either create them or pay someone to do it for you. If you think the problem lies in the lack of content out there, then share it. That’s the only way to get there.

Now on to dispel some myths:

  • Theora may not be state of the art right now (that will change), and H.264 may look better, but Theora has a balance between size, simplicity, quality, and performance which make it ideal for the Web. It is that good
  • Theora CAN do HD content. Who said it can’t?
  • Theora is not patent-free, it’s royalty-free. On2 claims to own a patent on it, but they have donated it to the public, granting eternal access so that anyone may use the patent (and thus Theora) for any possible reason
  • Vorbis, on the other hand, is patent-free. The Xiph.Org Foundation was very careful during the planing stages to only use compression techniques whose patents had already expired, and they still managed to create a state of the art format for general audio compression
  • Submarine patents may still exist, however. They may always exist. It’s a valid concern that affects many other formats. To tell you the truth, though, considering the old algorithms in Theora if a patent-troll decides to pop its ugly head out of its hideout, time will likely take care of it and expire whatever patent they may hold
  • Ian Hickson of the WHATWG was not bribed. Yes, this needed to be said
  • And yes, Apple owns a patent on MPEG-4. If this mess is an attempt to cash-in on that is a completely speculative matter, but I’m inclined to say no… for now
  • The W3C accepts comments from non-members, and they may likely revise HTML 5 if many people request, but keep in mind that recommending to support Vorbis and Theora does not mean that companies will do so
  • However, HTML 4 has never mandated support for JPEG and PNG. Whoever tells you otherwise is lying
  • And finally, Ogg, Vorbis, and Theora are not alone. Big projects like OLPC, Jabber, and Wikimedia Foundation are supporting it. They are not the ones with the big bucks, but nonetheless their support is vital and shows that those formats are a viable, good choice for multimedia.

Keep spreading those files.

14 Responses to “The HTML 5 Wars (and why you should avoid them)”

  1. 1 Rudd-O

    Yours is a very sensible position. I disagree, however, with you on matters of how to evangelize. A consumer can’t use his content if the technology doesn’t let him, and technology companies and standards are crucial in that regard.

    Thanks for your intervention :-)

  2. 2 rektide

    hixie (ian)’s irc log is hilarious, and the reason he removed ogg is suprisingly quality:

    i’m not to worried. it seems like nokia’s gone poking in the beehive, and after the silly immediate kamikaze sting attacks i think the nest will settle down and rebuild for the better.

  3. 3 R007

    One idea: we can ask Firefox developers to insert native support to the browser.And then widely use ogg\theora content.This may force others to count with technology, just like flash did once.

  4. 4 she

    They took out a free implementation because of alleged patent issues, under pressure (notice) by a few corporations.
    There is no real dispute necessary about it - there is NO court involved at all.

    “Good will” alone by the single most important consortium about the www is simply not enough. We all know that there will be NO replacement about this section, and if we do not critisize it NOW, when would be the time? When HTML 5 is finished and widely implemented?

    PS: There is another issue, and that is that HTML 5 will probably do too many changes. I hope the committee reconsiders and not overcomplicate it…. too many times they issued hugely complex formats. Just take CSS3 and the implementation - hardly anyone can fulfill this
    Then it would be too late.

  5. 5 Ivo


    This is what is going on already. Firefox 3 will have Theora support. If that’s what you were waiting for, you may start spreading Ogg files like about now.

  6. 6 Razee Marikar

    OGG may have to be removed by why OGG VORBIS? I heard that OGG has some proprietary formats included which my cause problems, but what’s wrong with ogg vorbis? I don’t know much about Theora, but if it is royalty free, and if it is good enough for web apps and there is no other royalty free standard(s) which can be used as a substitute, then removing Theora support would be a VERY BAD IDEA.

  7. 7 yason

    I’m all for Ogg Vorbis and Theora, but I fail to see why should certain media formats be part of a markup language specification. Any SGML application like HTML should be format-agnostic; it should define the semantics of the language and the right place to tout better file formats should be in the software, i.e. closer to execution. Like someone posted, JPEG and PNG were never required in HTML. tag simply takes an URL.

  8. 8 Nickolay Ponomarev

    “Firefox 3 will have Theora support”

    Unlikely. Firefox 3 is way past Gecko feature freeze and I haven’t seen any announcements that the release will be delayed just for the video support.

    Do you have a link to a recently updated announcement/planning page that says it will?

  9. 9 Alejandro Rivero

    The specification could ask VIDEO to support html anchors inside it, to and from. Kind of the thing AREA or MAP. Plus anchors to jump to specifically tagged points, or even arbitrary seconds in the VIDEO track.

  10. 10 Matthew Flaschen

    I agree. Standards advocacy is one thing, but voting with your feet is just as important. All my music is stored in Ogg Vorbis and I use open formats whenever possible.

  11. 11 Marghanita

    Pity, I didn’t know about your site a week earlier.

    I created a number of clips with Kino in Ogg format and the three that were uploaded to Youtube were converted during the upload. See

  12. 12 arnuld

    I agree with that you on that sharing content in Ogg and Theora will make it popular but trust me that idea does not work. I have myself blooged about such sharing idea. Practially, people never do that, they just care about whether they have gootton an iPod or whether they have a Blu-Ray DVD writer or not. They don’t care whether its free or proprietary format. People don’t want to know this. Tell me how many Computer Programmers like RMS’s speech and philosophy, well many but how many follow his philosophy (less than 10% ?) . I myself have all the audio songs on my HDD in ogg format. I stopped using mp3 around 2 years ago when I found Ogg Vorbis. I put my old Celeron 600 MHz onto work whole night for I converted every mp3 song into an ogg song. I share all of those songs in ogg format, I force my friedns to use ogg because they don’t find any mp3 on my HDD.

    I don’t know how much it has affected the world but my friends don’t give a damn about Free World and same way they don’t give a damn about the format my songs are in as long as they can play it on Winamp. I don’t know of the other way to spread free formats. I don’t rip any DVDs, when I will rip, I will rip then into theora. This one requires chane on the part of every individual which is not possible at a level where people love to boot Windows.

  1. 1 » The Top Ten Best Things About HTML 5
  2. 2 Metavid Blog » Blog Archive » The Attack Against Ogg Theora or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Proprietary Web

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