Archive for the 'Open source' Category

Video, fragmentation, and Firefox

Yesterday two prominent people at Mozilla announced that Mozilla plans to support H.264 to some extent in future versions of Firefox:

While I understand their reasoning, I hope there is a chance to change that position. In my view, continuing on that path will ultimately hurt the open web, both in the short- and long-term.
Continue reading ‘Video, fragmentation, and Firefox’

Three years browsing without Flash and why it doesn’t matter (anymore)

Three years browsing without Flash

It was three years ago today that I decided to stop using a Flash player. Since then, I have not installed (or have immediately uninstalled) Flash on all computers I use for more than one hour per year. I define it this way because I want to clarify that I make sure Flash is not on any computer I use regularly (including the computers I use at work owned by my employers), which is more than the computers I own. But I think it would be a bit much to force a friend to uninstall Flash if I’m only using my friend’s computer for a couple minutes to check email.

As a result, browsing for the past three years has been a very pleasant experience. My browser rarely crashes, it doesn’t consume all my computer’s resources for long periods at a time, and I don’t have to worry about whether I’m vulnerable to any of the 166 security flaws discovered in Flash over the past few years.

Why it doesn’t matter (anymore)

Back in 2008, one had to make a conscious decision not to use Flash. Most machines that shipped with Windows also shipped with a Flash player, as did most Apple computers (even System76 preloaded Adobe Flash Player on new Ubuntu machines). Mobile browsing was still in its infancy, as the iPhone had barely been out for a year and Android less than a month.
Continue reading ‘Three years browsing without Flash and why it doesn’t matter (anymore)’

Vimeo Downloader 0.3 released

Note: Vimeo Downloader is for those comfortable with the command line (or interested in learning). To download Vimeo videos within your browser, use Free Youtube! (get Firefox, install Greasemonkey, then go to Free Youtube! and click Install). When you visit a Vimeo page after installing Free Youtube!, a Download link will appear under the video. If you need to download password-protected Vimeo videos, you should use Free Youtube! since Vimeo Downloader won’t download them.

Update (2010-11-30): I’ve replaced Vimeo Downloader 0.3.0 with version 0.3.1, which removes the caption from the filename. As pointed out by Mikko, the caption is not guaranteed to contain characters suitable for a filename. I may add the caption option back when I’m confident we have an exhaustive list of suitable filename characters, but for now you can uncomment the FILENAME= line I disabled if you know the caption for your video will work in a filename.

I’ve updated Vimeo Downloader to include Jorge’s changes as well some other minor enhancements:

Here is the complete list of changes:

  • download HD version if available (from Jorge)
  • use caption as part of file name (from Jorge) – disabled for now; see above
  • output the type of video that has been downloaded (from Jorge)
  • accept either a Vimeo URL in addition to the Vimeo ID
  • revert to basic version if perl is unavailable

To download a Vimeo video (ie. with Vimeo Downloader, do the following from a terminal window:


Vimeo Downloader can also use just the ID (this is how the old version worked):

./ 1084537

After downloading, you will probably have to make the Vimeo Downloader script executable before running it:

chmod u+x ./

Vimeo Downloader should work on any POSIX system, including Ubuntu, Mac OS X, or Windows with MSYS. For more details, including how and why I created it, see my original post, Vimeo Downloader 0.1 released.

Thanks to Jorge for the major new features in this release (see Jorge’s comment for the original version).

Encoding Pioneer One in WebM and Theora

I recently watched the first episode of Pioneer One, an excellent Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-licensed series. It’s from VODO, an indie film distributor that really gets it (the whole “free distribution is good for you, not evil” thing). After suggesting that a WebM or Theora version should exist, the VODO people challenged me to make it. So I did. And here are the links:

The Theora/Vorbis version will work in Google Chrome/Chromium or Firefox while the WebM version works primarily with pre-release browsers. You may need to use this wrapper page to view the WebM version in-browser.

Transcoding steps

Since not many people are familiar with the process of transcoding (converting from one set of codecs to another), I thought it would be helpful to share the methods I used for converting Pioneer One into Theora/Vorbis and WebM. It’s really not as hard as it sounds and it’s gotten a lot easier recently with pretty graphical tools.
Continue reading ‘Encoding Pioneer One in WebM and Theora’

DVDs and TPMs: how often is CSS used?

On June 2, the Canadian government tabled Bill C-32, its third attempt to implement anti-circumvention laws and other changes to the Copyright Act of Canada. The proposed changes would significantly impact the way Canadians are allowed to interact with copyrighted works stored in digital form, such as movies stored on DVDs. Not much information is available on the DVD situation in particular so there is significant uncertainty as to whether C-32 prohibits DVD backups (as an example):

  • xentac: “with BillC32 can I buy DVDs and rip them…?”; Tony Clement: “So long as no TPM”
  • Drew Wilson: “If you have a home movie recorded on a DVD and you back that movie up…, you’ve broken the anti-circumvention law.”; anonymous commenter: “This isn’t correct. Home movies you burn onto a DVD-R/RW are not CSS encrypted, only commercial DVDs are.”

By “CSS”, the anonymous commenter means Content Scramble System, an optional method of obfuscating the data on DVDs (what some would call DRM). CSS seems to be a “technological protection measure” (TPM) according to C-32 (“any effective technology, device or component that, in the ordinary course of its operation, controls access to a work…”) so I will proceed under this assumption. Hopefully someone closer to the bill can comment on the validity of this assumption.

To provide some clarity to the issue of which DVDs are encumbered by CSS (and thus could not be legally backed up or used for fair dealing under C-32), I analyzed 66 DVDs in my household’s DVD collection to determine if they used CSS. Here are the results:
Continue reading ‘DVDs and TPMs: how often is CSS used?’

What WebM means for web video

Today Google launched WebM (project page), a royalty-free video format consisting of the WebM container (a “subset of the Matroska multimedia container format”), the VP8 video codec (acquired by Google when it purchased On2 Technologies), and Xiph.Org Foundation‘s Vorbis audio codec. Thanks to Google’s many WebM-related partnerships with hardware and software companies, we may finally have a codec that breaks through the codec logjam. Here’s why:
Continue reading ‘What WebM means for web video’

My new Core i5 and Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha

This post will document my new computer, which I assembled last weekend, as well as my experiences with Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 3 on it so far. I hope that this will be useful for others that want to build a system like mine and for those that want to learn a bit about the latest version of Ubuntu.
Continue reading ‘My new Core i5 and Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha’

How to install GCC on the Nokia N900

I finally got around to installing GCC on my Nokia N900 today (using Maemo 5). I found it more challenging than I expected so I figured it would be nice to share how I did it.
Continue reading ‘How to install GCC on the Nokia N900’

Seamless web video within reach

Images on the web have been a solved problem for many years. Web designers know they can insert a JPEG, PNG, or GIF file with <img> and it will work in virtually all browsers. Video, on the other hand, is much more difficult to provide. There are a range of formats and none are universally supported across browsers. Inserting video should be as easy as inserting an image: just make sure the video is in the right format and use <video> to place it. While we’re not there yet, such a reality could be closer than you think.
Continue reading ‘Seamless web video within reach’

Implications of rtmpdump takedown

On May 8, Adobe submitted a takedown notice to requesting that the rtmpdump project be removed from their site. removed the project this past week. For more details, see the original Slashdot post, an updated Slashdot post, and a new post from Linuxcentre.

The problem: RTMPE

Reading deeper into the takedown notice, we see that Adobe believes rtmpdump “can be used to download copyrighted works” and lists some pages on Channel 4 as examples. The takedown notice also states that Adobe “is the developer of technological protection measures that protect content from unauthorized copying and distribution”. This suggests rtmpdump was targeted because it circumvents technological protection measures. A post on the XBMC forum confirms that Channel 4 uses RTMPE, an encrypted version of RTMP, used to transmit video with Flash. The post also links to a Replay Media Catcher page discussing how Adobe forced them to remove RTMPE support. Though the takedown notice doesn’t state it explicitly, we can be fairly sure from these points that Adobe is targeting rtmpdump because it allows you to download content transmitted using RTMPE.

Implications: Flash cannot be an open standard

The major implication of this takedown notice is that Adobe has definitively told us that a fully-compliant free software Flash player is illegal. This is because RTMPE is part of Flash, circumventing RTMPE is illegal (in the US at least), and Adobe will never give a key to a free software project since they cannot hide the key. As a result, Flash cannot truly be a standard even if we ignore the codec patent problems.


Adobe’s takedown of rtmpdump reminds us that Adobe does not fully support open standards. As a result, web designers and anyone else who cares about an open web should steer clear of Adobe technologies, in particular Flash. Adobe was given the choice of supporting open standards or appeasing big media and they chose big media. Make no mistake, Adobe is an enemy of the open web.