Ogg and friends challenge Flash

Ogg Theora may technologically revolutionize online video, but to succeed in the market it's got a long, hard battle ahead of it.

Mozilla has given US$100,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation to improve and develop Ogg Theora, an open source video codec being developed by the Xiph.org Foundation. Wikimedia will disburs funds over a six-month period. Although not the best-known video format, Ogg already has some major support from web developers. Theora will be built into Firefox 3.1, which is currently in Beta 2, as well as into Norway's homegrown browser Opera. Theora is also the video format of choice for all Wikimedia Foundation projects.

Mozilla, Wikimedia and Xiph.org hope to unseat the predominant video standard on the web, Adobe Flash. Microsoft is already encroaching on Flash's dominance with its Silverlight codec, but this still keeps web video in the hands of larger corporations.

Mozilla's Director of Evangelism Christopher Blizzard believes this is a bad thing for the future of the Internet. "Anyone can build online tools without permission that speak the lingua franca of the web," Blizzard wrote in a blog post. "You can find tools to do just about anything. It's a truly vibrant marketplace. There's one exception to this: video on the web."

Blizzard goes on to explain that currently, access to powerful video tools requires a heavy investment upfront as well as per-unit royalties and expensive encoders. Ogg could change all that, and move video away from plugins to let it be embedded more easily on any web page, similar to the way we view photographs and other still images on a web page.

That is certainly an exciting idea. For bloggers and other small websites, this means posting a video won't have to be done via YouTube or other online services. It also could create an explosion of growth for smaller video sites.

But is this realistic? Perhaps, but not anytime soon. Mozilla developers are still struggling to get the codec to work the way they want it to, and Blizzard himself admits that Ogg is not perfect although "certainly good enough for how video is used on the web today." Also, Flash may have its detractors, but businesses and users are used to it and know how to use it. As with any new technology on the web, open source video must overcome legacy issues from those who will be slow to adopt a new format. Ogg Theora may technologically revolutionize online video, but to succeed in the market it's got a long, hard battle ahead of it.

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Ian Paul

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