Mozilla recently announced it was going to be partnering with Adobe to enable Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) in Firefox. This announcement brought up much fire and brimstone from Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and open-source communities. From their eyes, it looks as if Mozilla is simply following in the footsteps of Microsoft and Google — at the expense of freedom and standards.
What is driving this? Streaming content and media — those beasts that are currently (and may always) drive the internet. There's no escaping DRM with the likes of Netflix. In fact, if you want to be on board that juggernaut's train, you'll have to play the DRM game. There's no way around it. It's only when DRM gets involved with the likes of books and music (items people actually pay for and should own) that logic and opinion get a bit murky.
As a long-time author, I see all sides of the d20. Even so, I do not apply DRM to my books. Why? It makes no sense. If someone buys one of my books for their Kindle, they have every right to transfer that book to their new Kindle (when they inevitably upgrade). They also should have the right to back those books up to their PC for safe keeping. DRM would say those consumers only "rent" those books and can't do with them as they please.
But even though I oppose DRM for such digital media, I get it. Authors, musicians, and other digital artists need to protect their work, especially when said work provides their income.
And this is sort of where I veer slightly from the standard opinion toward Mozilla's move.
Everything evolves. The state of digital media and the internet is pushed forward by an energy and momentum unknown by traditional media. It will not and cannot be stopped. And if those around it — the suppliers of technology to make it happen — do not keep up with the change, they'll fall behind in such a way that they may never catch up.
Such is the case with Mozilla (and Linux). The FOSS community needs to accept that evolution must occur in order to grow. Although that evolution must not break the moral compass that guides the foundation of the group, that same compass must not be so rigid as to prevent the whole from seeing the big picture. And there is a very big picture out there — one that says "You deliver or people will turn their backs."
For example, Linux has struggled to get anything close to out-of-the-box support for Netflix. The reigning king of streaming media supports Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS — but not Linux. However, with the help of HTML5 and EME, Linux will finally get the out-of-the-box Netflix support that it has cried for all of these years. Yet, at the same time, those who have cried out for such support are condemning Mozilla for joining the DRM/EME hayride.
Technology is not going to step into the way-back machine and return to the 90s. It's going to continue forward at an ever-increasing pace. Instead of letting this move by Mozilla set open source back, the communities involved should embrace it and make it their own (if that's even possible). The FOSS community could go so far as to create their own EME and release it under the GPL (again, if that's even possible).
The new agreement between Mozilla and Adobe should been seen as an attempt to keep the open-source browser in line with current content demands. Should Mozilla refuse to work with EME, that browser would likely wind up falling way behind Chrome and even (gasp) Internet Explorer. From where I stand, anything that prevents users from getting their fingers on IE is a good thing. And although EME isn't ideal, it will bring more options to Linux (such as Netflix). That is a win for the open-source platform from almost every angle.
But, should you still refuse to accept Mozilla working with Adobe and EME, there are plenty of other browsers for you to use. That's part of the many wonders of Linux and open source — there are always alternatives. Unfortunately, those alternatives may no longer bring you the entirety of the content available to the masses. Fear not, in a year or two, everything will have further evolved, and this point will probably be moot.
So, let's not condemn Mozilla for accepting a fate they could hardly avoid and move forward knowing Linux will soon enjoy even more content that it once could. Is it ideal? No. Is it the right move for Mozilla and Firefox? Probably. Is there another solution? Not yet... but give it time.
What do you think? Should Mozilla have turned its back on EME and Adobe? Or did they make the right decision for the greater good?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.