For a long time, Mozilla Firefox did not support H.264 in HTML5 which meant that you could not access all of the videos on YouTube if you switched on the HTML5 beta on the site or use it as part of other new technologies such as WebRTC.
The core reason for this was that the popular H.264 codec is patent-encumbered and cannot be distributed with open source software such as the Firefox web browser without paying a license fee.
Mozilla made the decision to use the operating system's H.264 codec if available so that at least part of the organization's user base could make use of H.264 video contents and live video chat on the Internet if delivered via HTML 5.
It appears that things will get a lot easier for Mozilla and its user base in the next time as Cisco just announced that it will release a free open source H.264 implementation along with binary modules.
Note: This only affects WebRCT at the time of writing, and not HTML5 web videos on sites like YouTube.
Open source projects such as Firefox can then implement the codec into their applications without having to pay licensing fees or worry about having to pay them.
We plan to open-source our H.264 codec, and to provide it as a binary module that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Cisco will not pass on our MPEG LA licensing costs for this module, and based on the current licensing environment, this will effectively make H.264 free for use in WebRTC.
Brendan Eich, Mozilla's Chief Technology Officer, announced on his personal blog that Mozilla will implement Cisco's H.264 binary module in to the Firefox browser soon.
Mozilla worked with Cisco before on the organization's WebRTC implementation and will work with Cisco on the OpenH264 project as well to make sure it is "governed well".
Especially operating systems that do not ship with H.264 included will benefit from this in the short run, as Firefox and other Mozilla services that run on them will be able to make use of the codec for video on the Internet.
Mozilla will continue to support the VP8 codec for the HTML5 video element and WebRTC at this point but it sounds like the organization may make the decision in the future to put that decision back on the table.
This does not necessarily have to mean that H.264 will become the sole video codec supported by the browser, as Mozilla is also working on its own high-end video codec codenamed Daala. The main goal of Daala is to create a codec that is better than H.265 and VP9 in all regards.
All in all good news for the Firefox community thanks to Cisco.