Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: flash

The state of the video tag

YouTube’s developer blog has a sort of state of the video tag post, explaining why the HTML5 approach works for experimental purposes but isn’t going to soon displace Flash as the default for their service. The problem of browser makers not agreeing on a single video standard to support is huge:

First and foremost, we need all browsers to support a standard video format. Users upload 24 hours of video every minute to YouTube, so it’s important to minimize the number of video formats we support. Especially when you consider that for each format, we also provide a variety of sizes (360p, 480p, 720p, 1080p). We have been encoding YouTube videos with the H.264 codec since early 2007, which we use for both Flash Player and mobile devices like the iPhone and Android phones. This let us quickly and easily launch HTML5 playback for most videos on browsers that support H.264, such as Chrome and Safari.

Just supporting one more format will roughly double the amount of storage they need for videos. (The exact amount will vary based on the effectiveness of the compression algorithm.)

Their full list of reasons why the video tag is not ready for prime time is worth reading, and it underscores a larger point with regard to standards as well. The bottom line is that it’s easier for Adobe to iterate on Flash than it is for browser makers to iterate on HTML. Adobe can add new features and push them out in an update that works in all of the popular browsers. And it seems like it’s easier to get people to update their Flash player than it is to get people to upgrade or switch from Internet Explorer. That’s what leaves us stuck on the least common denominator when it comes to implementing things with HTML. In other words, Flash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

My prediction is that the trend over the next few years will be Flash on the desktop and more robust HTML5 applications for mobile platforms, thanks to the lack of Flash on iOS and strong support for HTML5 on both iOS and Android.

How to get Flash onto the iPhone

In a blog post that I agree with in parts and disagree with in parts, Louis Gerbarg explains how Adobe can get Apple to support Flash:

If Adobe actually wants to persuade Apple to support Flash on iPhone (either as a plugin or compiled to native apps), I know how they can do it. They can get an awesome, high performance, Flash environment working on Android, and get a bunch of great Flash apps running on Android phones. As much as Apple wants to control iPhone, I am willing to bet they want to beat Android more.

That, I agree with. The argument that Apple has decided to restrict developers from using translation or compatibility layers because if one of them became particularly successful, it would give that vendor veto power over features and schedules in subsequent iPhone OS releases, I don’t really agree with. It’s a rationale, but a flimsy one.

Adobe’s John Nack defends Flash

I like to beat up on Flash a lot, but there’s no way to argue that it hasn’t delivered a ton of value over the years. Here’s Adobe’s John Nack arguing making the argument:

But let’s also be honest and say that Flash is the reason we all have fast, reliable, ubiquitous online video today. It’s the reason that YouTube took off & video consumption exploded four years ago. It’s the reason we have Hulu, Vimeo, and all the rest–and the reason that people now watch billions of videos per day (and nearly 10 hours apiece per month) online. Without it, we’d all still be bumbling along.

Read the whole thing. (Via Webmonkey.)

The philosophical argument against Flash

At the core, because Flash is the only de facto web standard based on a proprietary technology. There are numerous proprietary web content plugins — including Apple’s QuickTime — but Flash is the only one that’s so ubiquitous that it’s a de facto standard. Flash is the way video is delivered over the web, and Adobe completely controls Flash. No other aspect of the web works like this. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are all open standards, with numerous implementations, including several that are open source.

The simplest argument in favor of Flash support on the iPhone (and The Tablet, and everywhere) is that Flash is, by dint of its popularity and ubiquity, part of the web. But the best argument against Flash support is that it is harmful to the web as a whole to have something as important as video be in the hands of a single company, and the only way that’s going to change is if an open alternative becomes a compelling target for web publishers.

John Gruber on why it’s worth resisting Flash.

Links from January 26th

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