All posts tagged ‘politics’

File Under: HTML5, Web Standards

No Virginia, Adobe Isn’t Blocking HTML5

Ian Hickson, head of one of the standards groups charged with creating HTML5, caused quite a stir over the weekend when he alleged that Adobe was trying to block HTML5.

Adobe quickly denied the charge, but not quickly enough for the open web evangelists to grab their pitchforks and take to blogs in anger. After all, it was a juicy turn of events — big company with a vested interest in its own tech (Flash, in this case) tries to block a competing technology on the free, open web. It all ended up sounding like some conspiratorial, back-room maneuvering worthy of an Oliver Stone film.

The truth is considerably more complex and, dare we say, kind of embarrassing. In fact, dig a bit into the internal workings, back-stabbing, petty snipping and politics of both the W3C and the WHAT WG, and you’ll quickly come to realize it’s nothing short of a miracle that HTML5 exists in any form at all.

This particular tempest in a teacup revolves around an e-mail from Larry Masinter, Principal Scientist at Adobe, questioning whether the Canvas 2D element, the RDFa specification and the Microdata spec were within the scope of the WHAT WG’s charter.

The answer to that is hashed out in some detail on the WHAT WG’s public mailing list. The short version seems to be that no, they probably aren’t, but WHAT WG decided to include them in the spec anyway.

As far as we can tell, no formal objection was ever lodged. Though it certainly sounds like Masinter is planning to file one when he writes:

If I need to use the word “formally” in there somewhere, or if there’s some “Formal Appeal Change Proposal” form I’m supposed to fill in, recapitulating all of the e-mail arguments made to date, suggesting the documents “change” by disappearing, and written in iambic hexameter, please let me know.

However, Masinter has since said that neither he nor Adobe has filed or intends to file any formal objections. Perhaps more importantly, even if Masinter were to do so, it’s hard to see how that would “block” HTML5. Masinter (and some others) merely object to HTML5, Canvas 2D and other specs all being lumped together, not to the specs themselves.

So how will all this hoopla impact HTML5 and the web that we mortals actually use? The answer is, it won’t.

Regardless of what the W3C ends up doing with the Canvas 2D spec and other sub-elements of HTML5, browsers are already supporting them. Certainly it would be good if these elements became an official part of the HTML5 spec, but whether or not they do will have very little impact on the web as we know it. After all the HTML5 spec won’t officially be finished until 2012, but HTML5 is already changing the web since all browsers but IE are supporting it.

The reality is that, for all their blustering and antics, neither the W3C nor the WHAT WG ultimately have much practical impact on HTML5′s adoption on web. For that, we rely on browsers and the various HTML5 elements they chose to support.

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia, Software

Adobe CTO Defends Flash Against Apple, HTML5

He waited a few days to make his point, but Adobe’s head software honcho has thrown a bucket of water onto the “Death of Flash” fire.

In a blog post Tuesday, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch responded to Apple’s recent criticisms of the Flash platform and warned that a switch to HTML5 would throw users and content creators “back to the dark ages of video on the web.” Lynch went on to cite many of the same shortcomings of HTML5 video that we outlined in our post on the topic Monday.

First, here’s Lynch on Apple’s failure to support Flash on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad:

We are ready to enable Flash in the browser on these devices if and when Apple chooses to allow that for its users, but to date we have not had the required cooperation from Apple to make this happen.

And later:

Engaging with ideas and information also means ensuring there is an open ecosystem and freedom to view and interact with the content and applications a user chooses. This model of open access has proven to be more effective in the long term than a walled approach, where a manufacturer tries to determine what users are able to see or approves and disapproves individual content and applications. We strongly believe the web should remain an open environment with consistent access to content and applications regardless of your viewing device.

These strong words are no no doubt directed at Apple, which is actively keeping Flash off of its newest devices.

As reported by Wired’s Epicenter blog, Steve Jobs laid into Adobe at an Apple employee meeting last week, calling the company “lazy” and deriding its Flash Player as buggy, saying Apple is refusing to support it in Mobile Safari for stability reasons.

To defend against that particular statement, Lynch also pointed out that Adobe has been busy enhancing Flash Player 10.1 (which will be released within a few months) to work better on Android, BlackBerry, Nokia and Palm devices — and not just phones, but tablets, netbooks and other so-called “transitional devices” where Flash has historically had a negative effect on performance.

In other words, Lynch says Adobe is working on making Flash perform better on everyone else’s tablets and phones, just not Apple’s.

And here’s Lynch on the notion that HTML5 will threaten Flash’s dominance:

Some point to HTML as eventually supplanting the need for Flash, particularly with the more-recent developments coming in HTML with version 5. I don’t see this as one replacing the other, certainly not today nor even in the foreseeable future. Adobe supports HTML and its evolution, and we look forward to adding more capabilities to our software around HTML as it evolves. If HTML could reliably do everything Flash does, that would certainly save us a lot of effort, but that does not appear to be coming to pass.

He pointed to inconsistencies in browsers as the main hindrance on HTML5′s video capability, adding that, “users and content creators would be thrown back to the dark ages of video on the web with incompatibility issues.” For this reason and a few other ones cited by Lynch, Flash will be sticking around — at the very least, as a stopgap solution — for years to come.

What is left largely unsaid is the future of Flash as a development environment.

Flash Professional and Adobe Creative Suite are some of the most well-loved and powerful tools for creating rich apps on the web, especially when building apps to run on multiple devices.

Right now, a lot of people are building that stuff in Flash. In the future, they will likely be using the same software to do it in HTML5.

Adobe will react to the market, following developers where they go. If developers are making a broad switch to HTML5 — which the most forward-thinking ones already are — expect tools like Flash (via export add-ons) and Dreamweaver to get better at outputting content in HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and other web standards.

Lynch touched on it a little bit here:

We support whatever technologies and formats that best enable our customers to accomplish these goals, and work to drive technology forward where there are gaps that we can fill.

Photo: Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

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SublimeVideo Hopes to Simplify HTML5 Web Video

Flash might not be disappearing overnight, but there’s no denying that HTML5 is gaining momentum every day, particularly when it comes to web video. YouTube and Vimeo both recently announced support for browser-native video through HTML5, joining other, smaller web video sites that already supported HTML5.

But while HTML5 video is here, it isn’t quite ready for prime time. There are the codec issues, but even without considering those, the unfortunate fact is that even just watching HTML5 video isn’t as nice as it is with Flash. Full-screen support isn’t universal, some browsers autoplay video while some don’t, and the players themselves lack features you’ll find in most Flash video players.

In short, the experience of HTML5 video hasn’t quite caught up to the promise. That’s where SublimeVideo hopes to come in and sharpen the picture. SublimeVideo is a software product from Swiss startup Jilion. The company wants to create a uniform, cross-browser, multiple-codec compatible, HTML5 video-embedding solution.

As we mentioned in our Flash-isn’t-dead-yet piece, smart web developers are going to use both HTML5 and Flash for some time and that’s exactly what SublimeVideo plans to do.

SublimeVideo’s working demo movie currently only supports WebKit browsers (Safari, Chrome and IE with Chrome Frame), but before the public release arrives, SublimeVideo’s developers plan to add support for Firefox (via .ogg videos), Opera and a way to fall back to Flash video in older browsers and IE8.

At the moment, SublimeVideo supports basic features like live resizing, keyboard shortcuts for play/pause, advanced buffering and full-screen mode (full screen only works if you’re using a nightly build of WebKit). Obviously, it’s no match for a Flash video player, but it’s an impressive start and much nicer than the native video controls in most browsers. Unfortunately, the reality is a bit more of a mixed bag.

The player worked just fine in the latest version of Safari, though load times were bit slow particularly when jumping around in the timeline. Only the developer version of Chrome for Mac supports HTML5 video and it has quite a few bugs, making SublimeVideo’s demo video a jittery, stuttering affair (not SublimeVideo’s fault).

If SublimeVideo is able to deliver on all its goals, the end results just might make for a very slick HTML5 video solution — deliver web-standards video where you can and fall back to Flash where you can’t. Solutions like this are what the web needs in the short term.

It’s unclear from the limited information available, but it would be nice to see SublimeVideo fall back in the opposite direction as well. In other words, sites that use features HTML5 video doesn’t support — for example, in-video queue points, like user comments — start with the Flash video embed and then fall back to HTML5 for mobile devices that don’t support Flash.

SublimeVideo has not announced a release date beyond “soon,” but does say the code will be available for free so long as it’s for noncommercial use.

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Why Flash Isn’t Going Anywhere, iPad Be Damned

The arrival of the Apple iPad is still months away, and already the tech pundits are declaring the demise of Flash.

The view is based largely on the fact that the iPad, like the iPhone, will likely not support Adobe’s plug-in, but it’s also a result of the enthusiasm surrounding the current momentum of HTML5. The emerging web standard, which is quickly being adopted by browser manufacturers and developers, offers native video playback and animation tools that don’t require Adobe’s Flash plug-in. Google recently added its significant weight to the HTML5 camp when it announced HTML5 video support for YouTube. That Apple appears to have again shunned Flash is simply more fuel for the anti-Flash fire.

At this point, however, the demise of Flash is anything but assured. Even if it does eventually fade away, Flash will still be with us for quite some time because there’s currently nothing to replace it with.

While some proponents of the open web would have you believe that a viable replacement for Flash is already here — in the form of HTML5 –that’s not exactly the case. The HTML5 video tag does indeed allow you to embed videos in web pages without Flash, but it’s up to the browser to actually play that video. And that’s where the problem arises — what video codec should the browser use? Apple, with the iPad, iPhone and its desktop apps, is pushing the H.264 codec. But the H.264 video codec has licensing requirements and is not free in any sense of the word. Moving from the Flash plug-in to the H.264 codec is like moving backward — from Flash to a more expensive Flash.

The iPad then, even if it does hasten Flash’s demise, isn’t helping to bring about an open web, it’s just moving from one controlling body (Adobe) to another (MPEG LA, which controls the H.264 codec and is not, for the record, affiliated in any way with the MPEG standards organization). The iPad delivers Apple’s vision of the web, which currently happens to not include Flash. But the iPad isn’t some giant leap for the open web, no matter what Steve Jobs would have you believe.

Mozilla has already said that Firefox will not support H.264. Google’s Chrome browser does support H.264, but the company also recently moved to acquire On2, makers of another, competing video codec which means, if nothing else, Google isn’t completely satisfied with H.264 either.

Ogg Theora, which Mozilla has elected to support, is an alternative set of video codecs which might overcome some of the problems with H.264. But while Ogg is open source and free, there is some possibility that elements of it may be encumbered by patents. Apple has long cited these so-called “submarine patent” concerns among its reasons for not supporting Ogg. Critics dismiss these fears as misplaced. However, part of the reason Google acquired On2 may be to obtain these potential patents, and what Google does with them when the sale is completed — keep them or release them under an open source license — will have a significant impact on Ogg’s future.

So there’s no agreement on an open web video codec yet. This means no matter which option you chose — HTML5 with H.264 or HTML5 with Ogg Theora — the best case scenario is that 20 to 25 percent of the web sees your video without needing a plug-in.

Obviously that’s not ideal.

Adobe likes to say that if you use Flash, around 99 percent of the web will see your video. But throw in the iPhone, the iPad and other mobile devices without Flash capability and that number drops significantly. But even if Adobe’s penetration is lower than it claims, Flash still has a much deeper reach than any of the myriad other options.

So which option are developers going to chose?

Well, smart developers are going to chose all of the above. And indeed, they already have. YouTube has not abandoned Flash. The site is offering both Flash and H.264 video. We expect YouTube will add even more file formats to the mix before it’s done.

So if Flash’s dominance is slipping, then eventually it will just disappear right? Sure, just like IE 6 disappeared quickly as soon as something better showed up?

Flash isn’t going to disappear overnight, and probably won’t even fade significantly any time soon. Dion Almaer, who works at Mozilla and is editor of, put it best when he wrote about this in a blog post Monday:

HTML5 is slowly going to put a dent into [Flash] if we ever get some of the use cases just right (e.g. video), but Adobe has a good penetration and can move at the speed of a dictatorship… There is still much more work to be done. Flash and browser plug-ins have had a long history at forging new paths, and the web can come in behind them and standardize.

Flash will continue to exist because for many it will continue to be the best tool for the job. And let us not forget that while Flash has its problems — namely performance — it’s also been an incredible innovator for the web. All that Ajax and amazing desktop-like stuff we all love about today’s web? Many of the tools used create those interfaces were written specifically to catch up with Flash.

Instead of dancing prematurely on Flash’s grave, we ought to be hoping Adobe can turn it around and release something so innovative, so fast, so amazing — and so open — that even Steve Jobs has to smile.

Update 02-02-10: Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch weighed in on the debate over Flash and HTML5 video on the web in a blog post Tuesday morning. He expresses many of the same concerns about support and user experience inconsistencies across browsers, and offers comments about Flash’s ongoing future as a development environment.

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Adobe Reminds Us Flash Isn’t Out of the iPad Game

In response to Apple’s iPad product announcement Wednesday, Adobe has posted a message to its Flash Platform blog assuring developers they’ll be able to use Adobe’s Flash authoring tools to build iPad apps.

Developers are currently able to publish almost any project built using ActionScript 3 into a native iPhone or iPod Touch application using a cross-compiler called Packager for iPhone. Adobe is tweaking Packager for iPhone, which will ship as part of Flash Professional Creative Suite 5, to work with the iPad SDK and support behaviors specific to the new device.

The biggest change is the difference in screen size. Adobe says it will first concentrate on getting ActionScript 3 apps to translate to the iPad properly, then build in support for the device’s larger screen size.

Keep in mind, this does not mean that Flash apps, AIR apps or the Flash Player are going to work on the iPad. There seems to be some confusion about this — probably because Adobe’s communications are purposely vague about this fact, and bloggers are unclear as to what Packager for iPhone actually does. When you export a Flash app to the iPhone, you’re not getting a Flash app, you’re getting an app that was built in Adobe’s ActionScript 3 programming language using the Flash authoring tool, then translated into iPhone-native code.

Flash and AIR apps don’t work on the iPhone or the iPod Touch and they won’t work on the iPad. Apple’s mobiles currently use hardware-embedded decoders to render YouTube videos, but we can expect that scenario to change soon, now that YouTube is moving towards HTML5 video playback using h.264, which Apple devices use as their native video codec.

In fact, during Steve Jobs’ announcement Wednesday morning, many attendees (including our own Gadget Lab team) noticed when a “plug-in missing” icon popped up on the New York Times homepage as Jobs was demonstrating the iPad’s Safari web browser.

Adobe was going to release a full beta of Flash Professional CS5, but the company decided against it so it could get the final app out more quickly.

Photo: Jon Snyder/

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