Firefox and Videos without Flash

firefox300I really want to love Firefox again, I really do. It’s open source, the add-on library is massive, and (because it’s open source) it’s really easy to get involved. I had used Firefox for everything for quite a long time, but then I got tired of Flash, and that’s when Firefox fell apart for me.

You see, it’s 2014, and videos online are a very popular thing. Probably 20% of every page you view on a daily basis has a video embedded somewhere. Most of these videos are H.264-encoded MP4s, fewer are WebM (either VP8 or VP9), and even fewer are OGG (seriously, try to find an embedded OGG video outside of Wikipedia). To get an idea for the magnitude of this situation, YouTube (the largest online library of embed-able videos in existence) still has not finished transcoding their entire library (all currently available as H.264-encoded MP4s) to WebM, and Vimeo (the second largest) only uses H.264-encoded MP4s with no plans to transcode their library to WebM or OGG.

Well, can you guess what Firefox on a Mac still doesn’t support? If you guessed H.264-encoded MP4s, you’re right! You also get a lesser prize if you guessed VP9-encoded WebMs, which really aren’t all that popular yet.

If you really want to view the most popular online embedded video format with Firefox on a Mac, you will need to install Flash. Firefox on Windows and Linux has supported H.264-encoded MP4s natively without Flash for quite some time, but not Firefox on a Mac. The people behind Firefox on a Mac don’t want to support H.264-encoded MP4s natively without Flash, because H.264 is a proprietary codec, meaning it’s not open source.

Well, I ask you, what is Flash then? Flash is proprietary software, it’s not open source either. Firefox’s solution to viewing the most popular video format online is to install proprietary software, which brings me to a very important question. If I need to install proprietary software to view the most popular video format online, why don’t I simply use a proprietary browser (like Safari or Chrome) instead of Firefox and continue to not use Flash?

Really, Firefox, what is the point if not to spread the value of open source software by making the web a better place through a free and open source browser which simply offers the best possible web experience to the average user? If you do not provide the ability to view the most popular video format online without the help of proprietary software, you have made the web a worse place for your users and damaged your efforts to promote open source software by promoted a piece of proprietary software as the only solution to a problem which almost every single one of your users will face.

Now, to be fair to Firefox and anyone reading this article searching for a solution, you can install Greasemonkey and ViewTube to view videos on the video sites themselves (YouTube, Vimeo, etc) without the need for Flash, but due to the limitations of these types of scripts, it will not work for videos embedded elsewhere, like the Vimeo video embedded below. This is not a solution, as more videos are consumed via embeds elsewhere than on the video sites themselves. The solution is to bring native H.264-encoded MP4 support to Firefox so that users no longer need to rely on proprietary software to view the most popular video format online.

(Note: The content of the above video from The Sunday Times: Culture is not related to this rant, except for the fact that it’s an amazing embed-able H.264-encoded MP4 video that you still can’t view on Firefox without the help of Flash.)

Your move, Firefox.

2 thoughts on “Firefox and Videos without Flash

    • I guess you could say they’re valiantly fighting a losing battle. ;)

      Google abandoned its decision to drop support for H.264-encoded MP4s from Chrome, they have yet to fully transcode all of YouTube to WebM, and Safari is unlikely to drop support for H.264-encoded MP4s as the entirety of Apple’s video business is based on H.264-encoded MP4s.

      As you can guess above, lines like this one from the article infuriate me, “Remember, dropping H.264 from only on desktop and not on mobile doesn’t matter, because of Flash fallback.” I don’t know what the thought process is there. It basically says something like, “Remember, it’s ok to remove support for the proprietary codec, because people can always use proprietary software instead.” They’re promoting proprietary software under the veil of promoting open source codecs.

      Also, I find it cute that the whole article took place around a graph which suggests that 80% of videos available for HTML5 playback are H.264-encoded MP4s.

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