Mozilla has decided to add a propriety feature to its open source Firefox browser, and we should expect it sometime in the near future. However, it is doing so for a specific purpose, thus far, and it is to not alienate Netflix users or other propriety video streaming users.
The feature is a Web standard called Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) that Mozilla has decided to incorporate into Firefox and prevent unauthorized streaming of videos. In essence, it is Web-based DRM and API that allows for propriety video streaming among other things.
"Encrypted Media Extensions provides an API that enables web applications to interact with content protection systems, to allow playback of encrypted audio and video," Sam Dutton says, an HTML5 expert and developer.
Mozilla was always against such encryption standards, DRM and propriety software to be a part of Firefox, but changing economic and user base demographics has a way of making companies change their minds.
"Looking at the competitive landscape, every single major player in the browser market has adopted this spec and the prop module that comes with it," says Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal. "We are concerned that if we don't do this, our users don't have access to a significant part of the Web."
What adopting this form of DRM does is allow Firefox users to watch Netflix straight from the Firefox browser like certain competing browsers. The particular DRM module of the API comes from Adobe, and this is Adobe propriety.
Adobe used to be a company that offered plugins, such as Flash, on almost all browsers. Ever since mobile devices took off, that changed, and this is a new standard for companies to run video. EME is becoming standardized on the World Wide Web Consortium and is currently in draft form. It doesn't handle the encryption itself, but provides a mechanism to communicate with a DRM plugin called a content decryption module (CDM), which handles the encryption.
Besides being a propriety software, EME may annoy Web developers due to different versions of CDM shipping on each of the different browsers available - e.g. Safari, IE, Firefox and Chrome. This is another aspect that may trouble Mozilla and the idea behind Mozilla's open source initiative. Developers should have the choice and not have propriety software or standards shoved down their throats. However, life as a Web developer is not always as easy as it should be on paper and as this case proves they will have to adapt.
"The situation is really sad," Gal said. "It's a direct consequence of fact that the EME spec is not really a spec -- it just says there is a black box and here is how you talk to the black box."
However, despite the fact Mozilla will have to abandon some of its previous efforts to remain fully open source, Firefox users shouldn't have a problem watching Netflix.