Firefox Guys Admit That Competition Is What Drives Innovation

from the imagine-if-they-had-patents? dept

For years, we (and certainly plenty of other people) have pointed out that monopolies, like patents and copyrights, don't drive innovation -- competition does. In fact, having monopolies does the opposite of driving innovation, since the monopolists have fewer reasons to innovate and upgrade since they're not fighting against competitors. This point is made quite clear in an admission by Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox at Mozilla, in an article at Slate discussing how much browsers have been innovating lately:
"Were there not other competitors who were just as interested in making Web browsers faster, I don't know if we'd be able to find the gains that we can find," he said. "Now it's a game of one-upping each other."
Imagine if instead of thinking that way, the concept of a browser had been patented way back when? Does anyone honestly think that we'd have as innovative a web world as we do today?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Quick Brown Fox, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:34am

    What an original concept!

     

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  2.  
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    Pixelation, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:37am

    Personally, speed in a browser is a very far second to security.

    In answer to your question, we would be paying one company exorbitant sums to use a slow, inefficient WWW.

     

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  3.  
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    Modplan (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:40am

    Not surprising, most at Mozilla have acknowledged that competition is good for a long time, and have regularly stressed the importance of open and patent free standards, like their recent pushes to make OGG Theora the standard for web video (whilst Apple and Google seem to push h.264).

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:46am

    "In fact, having monopolies does the opposite of driving innovation, since the monopolists have fewer reasons to innovate and upgrade since they're not fighting against competitors."

    To some extent this is not necessarily true. Google has a huge market share yet they have innovated a lot. The key here is barriers to entry, when the government creates artificial barriers to entry (ie: patents/copyrights, government granted monopolies on cableco/telco infrastructure, taxi cab medallion laws, etc...) it hinders innovation.

     

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  5.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:46am

    Re: Jumps Over The Lazy Dog

    Nice to see it spelled out occasionally. Validation, ya know.

     

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  6.  
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    Mr. Oizo, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    I've also been hearing about this H.264 versus theora stuff. However, something nobody seems to mention is the aspect of quality versus compression ratio. It seems sufficient to claim that 'theora is an open standard, so it must be better'. Are there actually any hints that theora _is_ better than H.264 ? Suppose that to achieve the same quality you need 20% more storage capacity. In that case I could understand why google would prefer H.264; and in that case the argument has nothing at all to do with who owns the format, but rather with true competition,

     

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  7.  
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    yozoo, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:03am

    duh

    "having monopolies does the opposite of driving innovation"

    Isnt this a core tennant of capitalism?

     

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  8.  
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    Modplan (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    Theora does not quite have the same quality as h.264, but it's short sighted to make the issue entirely about that. The main issue is about barriers of entry, innovation and adoption alongside the fact the web is entirely based on open standards, and should continue to be so.

    Not to mention Theora was originally going to be the official standard for video, but Apple and I think Nokia objected, claiming submarine patents. This amounts to FUD - vested interests claiming that a known patent encumbered and comparatively high cost format is better than the potential of a free format being patent encumbered, even as Xiph.org (foundation behind Theora) has done numerous patent reviews, and the fact that this claim which relies on unfounded uncertainty has just as much basis in regards to any other software project today.

    Here's some explanations by others that are better at getting across the issues here.

    http://bemasc.net/wordpress/2010/02/02/no-you-cant-do-that-with-h264/

    http://www.0xdeadb eef.com/weblog/2010/01/html5-video-and-h-264-what-history-tells-us-and-why-were-standing-with-the-we b/

     

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  9.  
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    Steven (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    Theora encoded files are not larger, but they do seem to be somewhat lower quality (and I mean noticeable in a side by side comparison, not in the same way Monster cables claim to provide better digital sound).

    That being said, I'd rather have an open and free (as in freedom) standard that can be improved by everyone than a locked in proprietary standard.

     

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  10.  
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    Mr. Oizo, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    I also prefer open standards, but they should be competitive. One cannot claim that big companies should be competitive on a level playing field and then demand from them that they _should_ use things like Theora/ogg/vorbis, although it is not as good.

    Another, more reasonable argument, is to expect that big companies work with the community by publishing and opening up their own protocols.

     

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  11.  
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    Steven (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:24am

    Re:

    You are confusing monopoly with market leader. In order for a monopoly to exist an organization must have control over that market (be it through government force or some other means). Google does not have control over their market. They are certainly a large player, and have influence, but they are by no means a monopoly power.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:26am

    Re:

    Yet they are not a monopoly, therefore they have competition. And they're beating the living hell out of the competition.

     

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  13.  
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    Michael, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    "Better" is subjective. With competition, it gets sorted out by the market. Go back to the old VHS Betamax situation. You can easily argue that Betamax was "better" than VHS because of the picture quality and some additional features. However, the market decided that capacity was more important and VHS won the market.

    There may be one particular feature that H.264 or Theora has that wins the market - or a combination of features - but it is the market that will decide what features matter and which is "better".

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:30am

    Re:

    not exactly - there are a lot of search engines that compete with google. they may not be competitors at the moment but all it takes is a slip by google and there could be a new kid on the block in a matter of months. so yes, google has to keep innovating and watching the new comers.

     

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  15.  
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    Ryan, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    Low barriers to entry facillitate competition(or at least the threat of it), so that's still an artifact of a competitive market. Meanwhile, Google has had lots of competition in their endeavors, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, etc., and the nature of Google's primary revenue stream means that it is constantly competing with everything else for internet users' attention so as to drive up advertising rates.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Econ 101

     

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  17.  
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    Jon B., Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    Yeah, makes me wonder why Mike said "admit", as if ever said otherwise...

    Apple and Google are shunning Theora because it someone MIGHT have a patent covering something in it (we're looking at you, Nokia) and just waiting for some big company to implement it before they go on a sue-fest. That's the only real reason. Not all the companies that MIGHT have a patent are coming out and saying "no, Theora doesn't violate our patents". Yes, that's stupid, and may not even be legal in the US, but in Europe...

    H.264 has patents, but the patent situation is clear and known, so it's easier to just pay a license than take the chances on the open source alternative.

     

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  18.  
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    Richard Corsale, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:32am

    pfft really?

    I think everyone knows that monopolies stifle innovation. The problem, is that patents are misrepresented as innovation, not monopolies.

    Think of the innovation that took place (relatively) between the 50's to the 70's compared to the last 20 years... If you measure innovation in terms of quantity of patents ... we should have colonies on Mars.

    Patents are a sham, used to stifle innovation. Nothing is more feared by corporate HQ than disruptive technologies. They have effectively turned patents into a tool of legal attrition. Which they usually win, due to the artificially exhortation cost of patent litigation. Our patent system, as it is today, is a disgusting exhibit of corruption.

    -- thats all I have to say about that..

     

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  19.  
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    Andrew F (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    IE6

    If you're looking for an example of what happens when you have a browser monopoly, just look at Microsoft's IE6. It had 90%+ of the market-share at its peak and was amazing for its time. Then Microsoft decided that Netscape was no longer a threat and decided to rest on its laurels for 5-6 years before Firefox was enough of a threat to justify releasing IE7.

     

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  20.  
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    Esahc (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re: duh

    It's amazing how often this is forgotten.

     

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  21.  
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    Richard Corsale, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    ++;

    I remember when we all rolled our own standards :)

     

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  22.  
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    Modplan (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    Too late - it's already demanded of them with HTML, demanded of them with CSS, demanded of them with HTTP, etc.

    Open standards are fundamentally how the web works, and is the only possible way it can work in the way we generally expect it to today.

    Also, standards are not mutually exclusive from competitive. There is nothing that says Theora has to be used indefinitely into the future, just that it's currently the best option as a standard so to keep the same flexibility and ability for wide, unhampered usage that the internet is supposed to allow. It is perfectly possible and expected that new formats may complement or replace Theora if it were standardised, and that these new formats may compete with each other for inclusion, but should do so with the same aim and same openness as every other web standard.

    The issue is that h.264 is the opposite of that. If people want to contest and put another format up for consideration, fine, but right now Theora is the best bet, or if you wait a few years, Dirac.

     

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  23.  
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    Mr. Oizo, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    I don't buy that argument.

    The argument you bring forth sounds a bit like: okay, Theora is a looser, but we should favor that one regardless, while H.264 is the winner, which we should punish. This type of reasoning is quite similar to what the music industry tries to accomplish: this technology is a winner: let punish it; and our technology (or lack thereof) is a looser, but we should favor that anyway.

    In this case there is not even a demand for Theora or Ogg. How many people use it on piratebay. How many mp3's do you have and how many ogg's ?

    So, except from asking everybody involved to open up the H.264 standard or inventing a better encoder there are not much options left. If I were a company the decision would be clearcut.

    Actually, thinking of it, it is probably best how it turned out. There is a HTML video element and the appropriate plugin to play it is something you can add to the browser. This truly makes the field competitive. If you _want_ Theora: well go for it. Nobody is stopping content providers anymore to do this.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Helter, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    But Google doesn't have a monopoly. They have dozens of competitors, and if their product stopped being significantly better than the competitors, they would lose their market share.
    If they had patented the concept of a search engine early on, and nobody else could provide the service, they might not be so innovative.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 9:42am

    well were now goign to have to extend copyright again

    ya know to the internet
    its creator
    his kids
    his grand kids

    then the computer makers
    there kids
    there grand kids

    then the software coders
    there kids
    there grand kids

    then we have the browser
    there creators
    there kids
    there grand kids

    OH and cause it uses electricity we need to extend it to that as well

    so the people that make all the parts for towers and stations
    there kids
    there grand kids

    then the tool makers
    ( see other post about a hammer to gt idea )

    and then we can give you the new improved billion dollar
    STARFOXY
    only today we give it to you at 1$ off

     

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  26.  
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    edt (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    capitalism 101

    totally correct... what a concept... it's basic 101 Capitalism, and fortunatly Microsoft is a day late and a dollar short, thus, missed the moblie craze... go Apple.

     

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  27.  
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    jack, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 10:28am

    Re:

    but google has some compition even if its not on the same level its there and the threat is there so they keep innovating to stay on top. ie (iphone/android) (google/bing) (buzz/facebook/myspace......well google doesnt win there but what ever) they have to work to stay on top or to try to gain the top spot

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 11:03am

    Re: capitalism 101

    You forgot to end your sentence with a sarcasm punctuation.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Andrew, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 11:35am

    Benefits vs Harm of Monopoly dependent on Magnatude of Solution

    Devils Advocate to the original question:

    I concur that competition drives innovation in rapidly deployed, first to market, early bird / worm paradigms, but there are documented cases that a monopoly has proven beneficial where the required solution was so big that compartmentalizing it for the sake of competition would have been counterproductive. An example of this would be the early days of telecommunications. The US would not have been able to rapidly develop the baseline infrastructure without "Ma Bell". Granted, once the infrastructure was hardened it was completely appropriate to dissolve the monopoly.

    My point is that a Microsoft monopoly may have been completely appropriate in the budding years of browsing, developing open standards, et al. Patents are not eternal and we know the free market does a great job of policing itself once those patents expire...

     

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  30.  
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    Andrew, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 11:51am

    Re: Benefits vs Harm of Monopoly dependent on Magnatude of Solution

    Whoops! "Magnitude" not Magnatude, haha.

     

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  31.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Feb 17th, 2010 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    "However, something nobody seems to mention is the aspect of quality versus compression ratio."

    I seem to hear about little else, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. There seems to be a strong argument that at high resolution Theora loses out but that at medium to low resolution (the majority of web video), Theora is as good if not better.

    "It seems sufficient to claim that 'theora is an open standard, so it must be better'."

    It would be more accurate to say 'Theora is an open standard, which is better.' Or another way just to make it crystal clear: being an open standard is better. The key distinction is that Theora does not have to be an open standard; it is not an inherent quality, it is a choice. H.264 could also have been an open standard and would have been better for it.

    "Are there actually any hints that theora _is_ better than H.264 ? "

    The disadvantages of Theora seem to be nit-picking in comparison to the advantages of it being open. If the disadvantages actually effected the suitability then you'd have a good argument. I have yet to see any explanation of how Theora's disadvantages outweigh the advantage of it being open.

    The notion of 'competition' in this respect is artificial and because of that hinders rather than helps. If it weren't for patents in the first place then there wouldn't be an issue over which codec to use. The belief that those who created Theora were incapable of coming up with something as good as H.264 had it not been for patent protection in the first place seems ridiculous. It's like having a race where you win because you were first to the start line; the race hasn't really been allowed to start.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency Theora vs H.264

    "Theora is a looser, but we should favor that one regardless, while H.264 is the winner, which we should punish."

    You're still looking at this from the wrong perspective. the reason for open standards is so anyone may implement them, including smaller players. To suggest a royalty encumbered format misses the point entirely.

     

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  33.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 8:51pm

    Competition Requires A Market

    It’s worth pointing out that Firefox is able to compete because it has a sustainable business model. The profit incentive is what drives the Firefox developers to make it a better product. Sure it’s Free Software, but it’s commercial Free Software.

    Contrast this with Internet Explorer, which is basically just another cost to Microsoft. It’s a freebie thrown in to make Windows look more attractive, nothing more. Hence there is no incentive to make an effort to turn it into an outstanding product that customers will want to use. So it remains an also-ran, and an expensive drain on Microsoft’s coffers.

     

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  34.  
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    Richard Corsale, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 9:54pm

    Re: Competition Requires A Market

    mmmm not exactly, It's an insurance policy that lets them dictate the evolution of web applications. It protects their other monopolies, because they don't have to worry about incredible web apps, comming out of no where and becoming the OS. That's precisely the reason they fight so hard to get things like Canvas out of the HTML 5 spec.. MS actively throttles web browser innovation with a monopoly of a different sort... though, that's changed in the last few years, they no longer have total control, but still simi-total

     

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  35.  
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    bassmadrigal (profile), Feb 18th, 2010 @ 6:49am

    Admit??

    I don't ever remember seeing something that firefox execs put out saying that competition doesn't drive innovation. They didn't even mention it in the article. I think with Mozilla's background anyone saying that it doesn't is ridiculous.

    I think they have understood it from the get go. They started out by taking features that Opera had implemented before.

    You make it seem like they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I think that it should read

    "This point is made quite clear by Mike Beltzner"

    The title could be changed to "Firefox Guys Agree That Competition Is What Drives Innovation"

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Mc, Feb 21st, 2010 @ 1:36am

    Ip vs. Competition?

    You are putting Competition and IP as opposites. Doesn't IP promote other ways to obtain a result? This, in my humble opinion, promotes competition too.

    Of course, extreme IP protection may harm competition, but a balanced IP protection promotes it

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2010 @ 11:33am

    Re: Ip vs. Competition?

    Ip is a monopoly. Monopolies are by definition anti competitive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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