updated 06:10 pm EDT, Fri April 30, 2010
Jobs warns not to confuse OSS with patent-free
Apple chief Steve Jobs has warned in a reply to an open latter that Ogg Theora wouldn't necessarily be the best choice for HTML5 video. Addressing a call by Free Software Foundation Europe to use the open-source codec for plugin-free video, Jobs warned that it may infringe on patents and could face a lawsuit, though not necessarily from Apple. He suggested that H.264 fit the definition of an open standard and admitted it wasn't necessarily what open-source advocates would expect.
"All video codecs are covered by patents," Jobs wrote from his iPad. "A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other 'open source' codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source."
It's unclear what Jobs would know about the patent pool or whether it included any Apple patents, but the electronics maker doesn't have absolute control over whether or not lawsuits can be filed relating to certain codecs. For H.264, Apple is just one of many members of the associated MPEG-LA licensing pool; Dolby, LG, Microsoft, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony are among the companies invested in developing and supporting the format.
Both Apple and Microsoft have said they prefer H.264 for several technical reasons, including their sheer ubiquitousness on computers and devices as well as the ease of adding hardware acceleration. Ogg Theora, while currently free and open-source, is rarely used in the industry and on the web is mostly supported by Mozilla's Firefox.