Sun Creating an Open Video Codec?

Sun are reportedly working on a new open source, royalty free codec for video.

Detailed at the Sun Labs Open House event in Menlo Park, Calif., the project is called Open Media Stack or the Open Media System. It was derived out of Sun’s Open Media Commons initiative for development of royalty-free and open solutions for digital content.

No timeframe has been announced, and the article makes some mention that it is based on “H.26x technology”.

If true, this is great news – under the condition that it is truly open. There are a few problems with the current major video codecs – most notably that they’re tied up heavily with patents. So heavily, in fact, that it will be interesting to see how they’re going to go about this without getting smashed at some point with a patent infringing suit, given how much revenue is derived from licensing of these video patent portfolios.

A lot of fuss is made about codecs like Xvid and H.264 because they’re “open”. This is a common misconception – they’re not open, they just have open source implementations. To actually use these codecs commercially (for example, building a hardware device that can play them) requires paying licensing fees (usually to the MPEG Licensing Authority, who collects the fees and pays royalties for most of the video codec-related patents).

So, a truly open video codec will certainly shake things up a bit, perhaps freeing the world from the clutches of those few companies that own the video market (two of the major codecs in use on the web today – On2 and h264, both used in Flash videos like you get on YouTube, are protected heavily by patents and require significant licensing fees to do anything with them), providing more choice and more freedom for users.

It should also be noted that the BBC tried (or are trying) a similar thing with their Dirac codec, but it never gained traction – presumably because of the availability of other “free” high quality codecs like Xvid.

Firefox 3 Beta 4 Memory Improvements

One of the big complaints about Firefox amongst hardcore nerds has been the memory leaking issue (despite frequent rebuttal that it is by design, or whatever). The Mozilla guys have made this a big focus of Firefox 3 and the new beta 4 shows the improvements mentioned in this post by Pavlov, one of the developers. If you want to test beta 4 without blowing away or risking your current Firefox installation check out the build, which will let you run it independently.

It is noticeably faster for me and definitely is looking nice. Not sure if I’m keen on the new address bar, but I’ll give it a go.

WebKit Browser for Windows

Qt Demo Browser Screenshot The Qt guys have released a new daily build which includes a new WebKit module.

WebKit is the excellent web browser engine which the Mac OS X browser Safari is built on. After trying the latest Safari build, I was blown away by its speed, so I’ve been keeping an eye on the (very rapid!) development of the various projects trying to bring an open source WebKit-based browser to Windows.

I downloaded the daily build thinking it would have binaries to test it out, but it doesn’t – fortunately it includes awesome tools so its dead easy to compile (so even half-assed people like me can make it work).

Anyway, if you’re interested in testing out the latest build, you can grab it here:

Note at this stage you’ll need Visual Studio Express or something installed for all the runtime stuff, thanks to the impossibly painful way Microsoft made it build executables. I’ll see if I can get it to compile statically so anyone can run it.

cpaste – Command Line Pasting in Windows

I use the command line in Windows all the time, for a lot of different things. Back in 1998, I realised one of my really common operations was to copy a file to the clipboard (using Windows Explorer; either right-click-copy or select the file/folder and hit CTRL-C) and then paste it into a destination folder.

As I always had a command prompt open, I’d often do this by changing to the destination directory, typing ‘start .’ to invoke an Explorer Window in that directory, then hitting CTRL-V. I realised it’d be awesome if I could cut out that ‘start .’ step, and thought a command line tool to allow me to paste files directly would be really handy.

So, I wrote a Win32 command line tool that did exactly that. It was really hacky, but it worked – I’ve used it almost every day since to copy and move files around.

10 years later, I realise I never even put it up for people to download or even offered it to anyone. So, here it is – cpaste for Windows.

WordPress Migration

After extensive testing of various alternatives (false: I tried two things, Drupal and WordPress), I’ve migrated to using WordPress.

As much fun as it is messing endlessly trying to hack a blog-type thing into shape, there’s just practically no point when a billion of other people – arguably much better at it than me – are working on something the sole purpose of which is to provide blog-like functionality.

I got bored of trying to maintain something that was blog-like and decided to cave and just install the same damn thing everyone else is using. WordPress is, in all honesty, quite a nice piece of software – it looks well maintained, its flexible and functional, and does what it’s supposed to do.

Whether it will prompt me to update more, well, that’s another matter.

2hash for Windows

I’ve compiled up a version of Thomas Akin’s 2hash for Windows for my own nefarious deeds and thought other people might find it handy. You can download it (including source, which is mostly unmodified) right here. It can crash unexpectedly if you don’t provide proper input; I haven’t bothered carefully sanitising user input just yet. If anyone else other than me actually uses it I’ll put some more effort into it.

Xbox Newsletter and Outlook 2007

I find it continually funny that the Xbox 360 newsletter can’t be read properly in Outlook 2007.

This is because Microsoft have severely limited the HTML rendering component of Outlook 2007’s mail reader. There’s a billion articles about it; Ars Technica have a decent writeup, but the basic problem is that Outlook 2007 users the MS Word HTML viewer.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you’re trying to send HTML emails (like the Xbox newsletter), you’re really, really limited if you actually want Outlook 2007 users to be able to read your newsletter.

I first ran into this problem when subscribers of the GameArena newsletter starting complaining about getting black text on a dark blue background. Eventually I discovered that they were all using the new whiz-bang Outlook 2007.

I assume the Xbox team have decided that there’s more people using non-Outlook 2007 clients to justify giving them a busted-ass newsletter and forcing them to click off to read it online if they want to actually see what’s going on.

Ubuntu – It's Almost There

This post is a work in progress..

Some quick comments about my recent look at Ubuntu, which I recently installed on my laptop to try to see if I could get wireless working in more locations.

The wireless issue is a story in itself. Turns out My oldschool Compaq 2544AH, according to the official site, has a Broadcom WiFi network adapter. Despite repeatedly installing the Broadcom software on their support site (which, at the time, I thought was excellent and was glad I’d bought a Compaq/HP – hey, excellent support resources makes it easier to maintain my hardware, right?), I couldn’t get WPA or some other WiFi functionality working.

Turns out that part way through the production run of the 2544AH, they changed to using the LAN-Express/Prism 2.5 chipset – and no official drivers were ever released. So anyway, total pain in the balls.

With the above saga in mind I thought getting it working on Ubuntu would be a problem. And, I wasn’t surprised. It’s easy to get working in limited mode, but the host-ap stuff that should work doesn’t, and it looks like I need to upgrade firmware, sacrifice a goat at full moon, and a few other things which I can’t be bothered doing.

So anyway, long story short, here’s my list of issues with Ubuntu so far after using it for a couple of weeks:

  • Needs more driver support. To be fair, my wifi card doesn’t work properly under Windows by default either and the open source community has provided a huge array of options for me – but I just want it to work.
  • I can’t Suspend my laptop – it just dies. Works fine in Windows.
  • The default fonts. They’re ugly. Seriously.
  • The default UI stuff in Gnome is just all too massive and looks, I feel, terrible.