Roadblocks in the Next Generation of Web Standards

July 26th, 2009

InternetSome of the most promising new features in upcoming web standards are being sabotaged by licensing, copyright, and patent issues. About a month ago Chad’s News wrote about the HTML 5 <video> tag. Since then, it came to light that the major browser vendors have irreconcilable differences over which video codecs should be used, mainly because of licensing and patent problems. The editor of the HTML 5 specification has given up and decided to remove the portions of the document that identify standard audio and video codecs. This is a significant blow to the advantages of having a <video> tag, and make the tag much less useful.

Then there’s the @font-face attribute in CSS 3. Currently, web sites are very limited in regards to which fonts they can use, because the fonts must be installed on the user’s computer. Microsoft addressed this problem in 1996 by creating 10 core web fonts that could be freely used by all browsers. You may not realize this, but nearly every web site in the world uses these fonts.

CSS 3 adds the @font-face attribute, which allows the web site designer to specify a font that’s physically located elsewhere on the internet. The problem here is licensing and copyright. The people who create fonts don’t give them out for free—they want to be paid for their work. The potential for font piracy is huge. Fortunately there appears to be some potential solutions. But if this issue cannot be resolved, then we’re back to the 10 core fonts.

The <video> tag, the <audio> tag, and the @font-face attribute were all created to address deficiencies in the current HTML and CSS standards. Unfortunately, they may be crippled from the start by licensing, patent, and copyright issues.

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