Ever since it became clear that Google was not going to push WebM as hard as they should have, the day would come that Mozilla would be forced to abandon its ideals because the large technology companies don’t care about an open, unencumbered web. No decision has been made just yet, but Mozilla is taking its first strides to adding support for the native H.264 codecs installed on users’ mobile systems. See it as a thank you to Mozilla for all they’ve done for the web.
In a way, this saddens me greatly. It’s pretty clear that the Mozilla Foundation’s unrelenting loyalty to a true open and unencumbered web has been a driving force behind the web as we use it today. Without Mozilla’s insistence on openness and interoperability through its open source Firefox web browser, the web wouldn’t be in nearly as a good a state as it is in today.
Even though I’m no longer a Firefox user, I have the utmost respect for Mozilla’s work, its ethics, and the products it has been putting out. We’re enjoying a better web because of them. Without them, we’d still be stuck with Internet Explorer 6. Without them, Opera would still be for-pay or ad-supported. And without them, WebKit would not exist in the way that it does today, because a lower-quality web would not have forced Apple to fork khtml and turn it into the vastly superior WebKit.
We owe a great deal to the men and women at Mozilla.
And now, the rest of the technology industry, which owes so much to Mozilla, is going to force them to abandon their ideals. Heaven forbid we suffer a bit of inconvenience today for a better tomorrow. I find this tragically sad. We’re seeing the technology industry ruined by Apple, Microsoft, and others using their unethical software patents to stifle competition, but you know what, let’s inject another patent-encumbered, non-free technology into the web. What could possibly go wrong?
I do, however, understand Mozilla’s changing position. They simply have no choice. They want to remain relevant and be a part of the future web, and as such, they’ll have to support this patent-encumbered non-free technology. They’re debating it for mobile devices only right now, but with both Mac OS X and Windows turning into desktop versions of closed-off smartphone operating systems, they’ll have to capitulate there, too.
Apple supporters like M.G. Siegler and John Gruber love that this is being portrayed as a pragmatism vs. idealism debate, because of the negative connotations associated with each of these two extremes. However, because of their Apple-induced short-sightedness, they’re mixing up which -ism belongs to which camp.
In this debate, H.264 supporters are the idealists. Even though the patent lawsuits are dropping all around them – especially in the mobile industry – they seem to naively believe that injecting a very patent-encumbered technology into the very fabric of the web will somehow magically not result in loads of patent lawsuits and failed business ventures because not everyone has the cash to pay for a patent license. That’s idealism, right there.
People who believe this is a monumentally stupid idea are the pragmatists, because we are grounded enough to realise that yes, this will open the web up to all sorts of nastiness, and we want to prevent that – even if that means we have to live with a slightly inferior codec for a while. We all know what happens when we become too dependent on a single, closed technology (Internet Explorer 6, Flash, Windows).
We believe that the web should be free and open, no exceptions, no ifs, no buts, from top to bottom, from root name server to client. Everybody must be able to create a device or application that accesses the entirety of the web, whether you’ve got 100 billion (in foreign bank accounts to dodge taxes), or you’re a 17 year old programmer dreaming up the next big thing. Not everyone lives in Silicon Valley where bored Vulture Capitalists have millions to throw around, you know.
The web needs to be 100% open and free to have it flourish. The web is more than cat pictures and porn – it plays a vital role in society, and, is already changing the very destinies of entire countries. Messing with this concept, opening it up to lawsuits, is stupid. There is no other way to put this.