Spread Open Media/en/Free Formats vs. Open Formats

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If you are a loyal reader, you may have noticed that we never use the word "open" near "formats". Yeah, what's the story behind that, you ask. Well, we'll dive into the subject in just a moment, but since I'm known for doing (strange) comparisons while presenting an argument, let's go ahead and think of a door.

It is open; you can go in and out any time you want, right? Right. Until someone steps in, claims the door as his and tells you you have to pay to get in. Oh, and he (and everyone else) still considers the door open, because you can see what's on the other side. See, open door, open formats! How could you think of it any other way?

Yeah. So, you probably know some open formats already: MP3, OOXML, Xvid, H.264 and the rest of the MPEG-4 mess. Why are they considered open? Because their specification is, in fact, open, which means you can implement it anywhere you want... if you pay to cross the door. Well, I guess you can't implement it afer all.

If freedom is catchy, as some people claim, then free formats would have taken over by now, wouldn't they? I too wish it was that simple. Until recently, there wasn't an exact distinction between open and free formats, but such distinction is becoming more and more clear. It's got to the point where the big corps are attacking free formats to protect their investments in the open ones.

As soon as word got out that Theora would be the baseline video codec of HTML 5, a Nokia representative came out of nowhere and vaguely suggested that a submarine patent may be there somewhere. Neither he or Nokia have expanded on this, nor will they. The damage was already done, and Nokia's investments in 3GPP technology were not wasted. They hadn't paid all that money in licenses, hardware optimizations and research to make MPEG-4 work on cellphones just to let an upstart that everyone else could implement win the race. No way, ese!

And you likely already know about the whole OOXML debacle. How Microsoft got so afraid of OpenDocument (ODF) that they invested millions and millions on a 6000 page pile of — let's face it — crap. Pure, pointless crap. To beat another office format. And they bribed every ISO jurisdiction they could. To beat another office format. Because it would mean everyone would use a single format and make Microsoft's office suite obsolete. No way, ese!

This isn't anymore about closed vs. open formats, and you don't need me to rub it in your face. It's time to leave those non-free formats behind and look forward for a world of interoperability, a world of doors free to trespass in whatever way you want, and where no one will be able to take that freedom away from anyone else.

tl;dr version: Just because something calls itself an open standard, it doesn't mean it should be trusted. Good standards are free standards, too.