From the DF Archives: A Wee Bit More on AAC, Ogg, and MP3

One of the Free Software Foundation’s complaints regarding the iPhone (and Apple in general) is the lack of support for “free” media file formats such as Ogg Vorbis. Here’s what I wrote last year:

With regard to Ogg Vorbis, or the idea of “free” codecs in general, the consensus seems to be that this is an ugly patent lawsuit waiting to happen. Yes, the creators of Ogg Vorbis have released the format (and source code for encoding and playback) openly, but the holders of the patents behind MP3 (and other patented codecs) very likely consider part of Ogg Vorbis to violate their patents. If Apple, or any other company with a serious amount of money behind it, were to use Ogg Vorbis in a mainstream widely-used product, it could lead to an expensive lawsuit.

Do software patents suck? Yes. Is it possible that Ogg Vorbis does not actually infringe on anyone’s patent, but that some patent holder could sue and win even though they shouldn’t? Yes. The point is, Ogg Vorbis is intended to be free, and it would be great if it were free, but no one with deep pockets has yet tested the water to see whether it really is. Worse, there are some experts who do believe that Ogg violates at least one significant patent.

Perhaps the same goes for why Apple chose to create the Apple Lossless format rather than use FLAC. For Apple to support Ogg Vorbis would be to take a potentially large risk (a lawsuit, by, say, Fraunhofer, an MP3 patent holder) for an utterly minuscule financial upside (whatever handful of people exist who won’t buy an iPod or iPhone now but would if Apple supported Ogg Vorbis).

In short, Apple supporting Ogg Vorbis makes wonderful political sense, but no business sense whatsoever.

Friday, 18 July 2008