A couple of things concerning digital video content caught my attention this week.

The first is the news that Mozilla have been forced into a position where they need to add in support for H.264, you can read more about this story here and here. I was surprised both by the controversy that this has created and by the number of people who think that Mozilla have some how caved in. They really had no choice. A large proportion of the video content available on the web is encoded in H.264. Users want/need to be able to view this content. Mozilla used to rely on Flash as a fallback for playing H.264 content, but Flash sucks. On mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, and even on devices like the MacBook Air, Flash is worse than sucky. If Mozilla are going to continue to stay relevant, if they are going to stick around to fight the good fight in the future, then they have to have a presence in the world of mobile. It really is that simple. They tried to persuade the world to adopt an open standard and they failed… on this occasion… but because of the decision they’ve taken they will still be around to fight this battle again in the future.

To everyone and anyone who think that Google are going to sweep in and save the day with WebM, they aren’t. WebM is not an open standard, it is royalty free, which makes it one better than H.264, but it is not an open standard.

The second thing which peeked my interest was the furore that seems to have been created in the eztv forums by The Scene making the decision to switch from XviD in an AVI container to x264 mp4 files. I’m not even sure where to start on this one because there are just so many angles being played out. First off you have the folks who don’t care about the change other than the fact that it happened mid season. WTF? It wasn’t eztv who made the decision to change, it was the scene. Besides which, it wouldn’t matter when the change was made it would be mid season for something. But honestly, what difference does it make? If it really bothers you, convert the files. Then you have the people complaining that their old equipment can’t play the new format. Yep, we call that progress. Buy some new (and maybe future proof) equipment or convert the content into a format that your legacy gear can play and while you’re at it, throw out those VHS tapes. My personal favourite part of this is that there are people calling for eztv to distribute both the AVIs and the mp4s and not understanding why this is a terrible idea. eztv do not care about file size because they do not encode or upload, they distribute. They have stated in the forums that they will distribute which ever version of a show they get first, but have also explained that since mp4s are easier to encode and faster to upload (due to smaller file sizes), that at the moment they always seem to receive the mp4s first. If they distribute both versions then they have doubled their effort for absolutely no gain and have slowed down the distribution of shows in the process. My two cents, smaller files, better quality, #winning.

Browse like a ninja

If the only metric you use to make your choice of internet browser is performance then you are a fool. The security of your personal data must surely be at least as important as how quickly you can render a page? I should explain that this post has been coming for a while, articles about Evercookies and Firesheep were worrying, but it was a piece on internet security on The Gadget Show [that completely failed to mention browser choice] that was the ultimate catalyst.

Firefox is my browser of choice because it is the safest, thanks largely to the security and privacy on offer from some of the myriad of awesome third party add ons. I have previously explained why NoScript and AdBlock Plus are must haves for me, but I have recently come across two more add ons that have quickly found a place in my personal hall of fame.

BetterPrivacy provides an easy way to manage super cookies (LSO Flash Objects, DOM Storage Objects – cookies that never expire). You set it up, in my case this meant telling it to delete everything when Firefox is closed, and then you forget about it.

Ghostery allows you to see exactly who is tracking you using web bugs, beacons, hidden pixels etc and then control which ones you allow. In fact, it offers you a profile on the source of each tracker to help you make your decision.

Go on, check them out and start browsing like a ninja!

If you are interested in browser security then you may be interested in this article about changes in Firefox 4.0 to prevent abuse of the CSS :visited selector.

Thanks to James Hugman for pointing out Ghostery to me!

Surfs up

firefoxRecently a lot colleagues and friends have been telling me about how awesome browser x is or why I should use browser y and at the back end of last month Windows users booted their machines to be greeted by an update informing them that there were other browsers besides IE and were prompted to decide which one they wanted to use. I wonder if any of them realised just how big of a decision they were faced with? I took the time to investigate all of the browsers that people recommended, but found myself going back to the browser that I had been using all along, Firefox.

Right off the bat I’m going to say that I think IE sucks; nobody should brag about scoring 55% on the Acid 3 test. For sure 55% is an improvement on 20%, but it’s a long way behind the competition, most of whom are chalking up 100%. I want to use a browser that is standards compliant and I want you to use one even more; as a web developer I don’t appreciate having to blight my HTML with hacks just to get my pages to render/function correctly in IE. Acid test scores were not what drove me back to Firefox though, after all, the current version of Firefox scores only 94% in comparison to Opera, Safari and Chrome, all of which are in the top marks club I mentioned earlier.

Firefox isn’t the fastest browser either, it is fast, but Safari is no slouch and Chrome is Usain Bolt fast. Where Firefox wins is in the content blocking department and it’s all thanks to the open source community and the add ons that they produce and maintain. Content blocking seems to be a rather controversial subject and mainly because by content blocking people generally mean ad blocking. This slashdot article discusses an experiment performed by Ars Technia where content was hidden from users of popular ad blocking tools. I understand why people like Ken Fisher, the founder of Ars Technia, object to ad blocking, I just think they are missing the point entirely: I value my browsing experience more highly that I value your business model. I actively block certain content in webpages using NoScript and AdBlockPlus, adverts are included in this. With NoScript and AdBlock Plus I can decide what I want to see and what I want to allow, Opera, Safari and Chrome all provide an ‘all or nothing’ option, but none of them offer the granularity of control that I want need. I do not want random code from random 3rd party sites being executed on my machine, I do not wish to be tracked across the web, I do not want hideous [Flash based] adverts hoovering up all of the resources on my laptop and I certainly don’t want, and this is a particular bug bear of mine, stupid ad word type adverts which pop up an annoying box whenever the mouse happens to move across particular words on the page.  If you decide that your site cannot exist without these things and place your content behind a paywall then I accept that, but don’t expect to me sign up.

If Apple ever decide to implement proper support for add ons in Safari then I’m there, but all the time things have been hacked together as Input Managers that require me to run Safari in 32 bit mode I’m not. Likewise, if Google ever decide to allow proper content blocking then I might consider switching to Chrome, but I think this is unlikely as they have failed to add the necessary hooks even with direct coaching from Giorgio Maone. All of the currently available Chrome content blockers use an easily circumventable CSS hiding approach that can be coded around in about 3 minutes which isn’t that surprising when you consider that Google make a sizeable amount from adverts themselves! So like I said, around the world in a multitude of browsers only to discover that the grass was greener on my side.

Oh no you ditn’t

There is nothing worse than trying to surf the web and being bombarded with adverts. Thankfully, I use AdBlock Plus with Firefox to prevent such problems, but when testing the full release version of Safari 4.0 I discovered a few things:

  1. That the growlmail plugin still doesn’t play nice with Safari 4.0.
  2. That Apple saw sense and got rid of the tab-bar-at-the-top-of-the-window-ness that I found so disturbing.
  3. That one of the sites that I frequent fairly regularly was whoring itself out for a few extra bucks. Disgusting.