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With Google finally winning approval to acquire video technology company On2 from the company's shareholders last week, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) on Friday published an open letter to Google asking it to free the Web from Flash and H.264 video.
The FSF supports software that is free of licensing restrictions and is open source. Because both Flash and H.264 are proprietary technologies, the FSF wants to see an alternative video encoding technology become the Web standard. Google now controls just such a technology, On2's VP8 codec.
"With your purchase of On2, you now own both the world's largest video site (YouTube) and all the patents behind a new high performance video codec -- VP8," the FSF says in its letter to Google. "Just think what you can achieve by releasing the VP8 codec under an irrevocable royalty-free license and pushing it out to users on YouTube? You can end the Web's dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software (Flash)."
Google has taken a step in that direction by adding HTML5 video as an alternative to Flash video on YouTube. But Google's HTML5 implementation relies on the H.264 video codec, so it's not really any better from an open source perspective. It's this reason that Mozilla's implementation of HTML5 in Firefox 3.6 can't play YouTube video. Though Mozilla's position on proprietary video would seem to preclude supporting Flash too, the company gets around this by relying on a plug-in to render Flash video in Firefox.
The FSF wants Google to stream video using VP8 on YouTube and to offer users with obsolete browsers a plug-in or a new browser that supports video using that format.
It also notes that Apple has opposed Flash for the wrong reasons and asks Google to do the right thing.
"Apple has had the mettle to ditch Flash on the iPhone and the iPad -- albeit for suspect reasons and using abhorrent methods (DRM) -- and this has pushed Web developers to make Flash-free alternatives of their pages," the letter says. "You could do the same with YouTube, for better reasons, and it would be a death-blow to Flash's dominance in Web video."
Adobe blogger John Dowdell, who works in customer relations at the company, finds fault with the FSF's dismissal of Flash. "[The] Free Software Foundation seems ignorant that Flash ubiquity led to YouTube (not vice-versa)...," he said via Twitter.
Google meanwhile isn't ready to comment on its plans for On2's technology. "While we're looking forward to working with the On2 Technologies team to continue to improve high quality online video, I can't provide more information about our plans right now," a company spokesperson said via e-mail.
Check back during the Google IO developer conference in May, a likely time for Google to elaborate on its plans for On2's technology.