Reading between the lines of Microsoft's latest IE 9 standards missive

Reading between the lines of Microsoft's latest IE 9 standards missive

Summary: I'm puzzling over the meaning and messaging behind Microsoft's latest missive on the company's IE Blog. On April 29, IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch shared a bit more about Microsoft's decision to back the H.264 video codec in Internet Explorer 9.

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It's been a week of attempting to decipher motives and messaging in Microsoft-land. The (hopefully) last piece over which I'll be puzzling before the weekend is Microsoft's latest missive on the company's IE Blog.

On April 29, IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch posted a short blog entry about Microsoft's decision to back the H.264 video codec in Internet Explorer 9. That fact, in and of itself, wasn't new; Microsoft officials said the same back at Mix 10 in March, when they rolled out the first preview of Microsoft's next-gen browser.

What made the post interesting were a couple of stated and unstated tidbits. As News.com's Stephen Shankland noted, Hachamovitch got a little more specific with this week's post, noting that "IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only." (Italics mine.) That would seem to mean that Microsoft is not going to support the competing and open-source-backed Ogg video codec -- something which has riled many of the hundred-plus commentors responding to yesterday's blog post. Nor is Microsoft supporting the VP8 codec, the one used by YouTube, which Google is expected to open-source next month.

Update (May 3): In a follow-up post, Hachamovitch noted, among other things, that Microsoft wouldn't block users from installing other codecs, but reiterated that Microsoft isn't planning to build support for these codecs into IE 9.

Hachamovitch posted his H.264 update on the heels of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' open letter dissing Flash and explaining further his reasons from banning Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPods. Jobs is in the HTML 5/H.264 camp. So it looks like Hachmovitch is backing Jobs' play.

But wait... Check out Hachamovitch's last paragraph from his post:

"Today, video on the web is predominantly Flash-based. While video may be available in other formats, the ease of accessing video using just a browser on a particular website without using Flash is a challenge for typical consumers. Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance. We work closely with engineers at Adobe, sharing information about the issues we know of in ongoing technical discussions. Despite these issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web."

Hachamovitch now seems to have done a 180 and is admitting Flash support is still necessary for many Web users. Anyone else notice he says nothing about Silverlight, Microsoft's Flash competitor? Wouldn't you expect him to give Silverlight a passing nod here? (Like Flash, Silverlight also supports H.264, by the way.)

At the Mix conference, there was palpable tension whenever anyone asked the IE team about the future of Silverlight and vice versa. Is Silverlight really just a stop-gap measure for consuming audio/video on the Web until HTML5 (and the browsers supporting it) really take off?

I had a chance to ask Hachamovitch again, earlier this month, about Microsoft's thinking on Silverlight vs. HTML5. Here's how he explained it:

"Developers who want the exact same markup on different browsers and devices choose a plug-in (like Flash or Silverlight) today. Over time, as browsers get better at same markup, there may be different choices."

If "different choices" means no Flash and no Silverlight required, I wonder what Microsoft is planning to do with Silverlight and all those employees working on it -- other than to make Silverlight the dev platform for Windows Phone 7 devices, that is.

What's your read on the latest IE blog post?

Topics: Browser, Microsoft, Software Development

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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24 comments
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  • RE: Silverlight

    Silverlight is not just video playback -- it's an
    environment for bringing the .NET framework and
    XAML-based presentational elements to in and out-
    of browser applications. The decision to support
    H.264 as the video codec for HTML 5 doesn't impact
    Silverlight, because we're talking about two
    different things.
    jmccliment
    • Tottaly agreed

      When will people realise Silverlight isn't and never was a "Flash Killer"?
      Silverlight is the new way to develop client apps on the Microsoft stack. Period!
      I'm amazed at what guys in the DevDiv have acomplished so far, and Silverlight is here to stay.
      I just can't wait to see what these guys will do next in SL5.
      pedroroque
    • This one is for Mary: Wanna see how SL pwns HTML5?

      Install SL4 and then go here:
      http://www.silveos.com/

      You can see SL's ability to build real rich APPs is 2nd to none, which is why we .Net developers don't worry about nothing, certainly not the "all talk but no walk" HTML5.
      LBiege
  • Silverlight is a dead horse, and, if MS does not support V8 or Ogg codecs,

    then IE users will get poorer quality video than
    users of other browsers. Youtube will obviously
    serve up whatever standard is supported by the
    browser. So, little to worry on Microsoft's
    posturing here. They will not likely keep IE at
    a disadvantage for long as they have already
    lost enough market share.
    DonnieBoy
    • Sure it is

      A dead horse running on Windows, Mac, WinPhone7, XBox and set-top boxes. Really dead, but not as dead as your brain, apparentely
      pedroroque
      • Read the article, even MS understands that Silverlight is dead. The problem

        with HTML5, you do not need Silverlight.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: What?

        @Donnie<br><br>What do you think Silverlight does that HTML5 can do better?
        Michael Alan Goff
  • RE: Reading between the lines of Microsoft's latest IE 9 standards missive

    Sounds like they are just trying to be fair by saying they will support h.264 in the future but are going to support flash and silverlight between now and then. The other thing is they probably know that flash is used on a majority of sites and not to support it they would have to listen to a lot of complaints. As for silverlight, probably the same thing, they realize they won't convert websites using flash overnight.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Native Video support

    Sounds to me like MS is saying what video format will be supported *natively* in IE 9 (without a plug-in installed).

    Obviously, plug-ins like flash and silverlight will offer additional options.
    dpalley
  • Silverlight embedded in future IE

    I suspect, MS is planning to embedd SileverLight framework within future IE releases.

    While embedding SL is possible, it's not possible to embedd Flash. The most you can do is, do what Chrome did. But still it's a plug-in.

    But, before they could do it, they would love to loose further Market Share (just to avaoid Anti Trust).

    Silverlight is also important for MS, as they come with next Windows release; which they promised will be different from all prior release and will be accessible every where i.e., Desktop, Mobile etc...

    So clearly, MS is on track for another game win in next 7 years.
    aks78
  • Silverlight is alive and well

    How many releases of IE have there been since Silverlight
    was introduced? IE moves far too slowly to effectively
    address the needs of RIA, as do the standards committees
    working on HTML5 and associated standards. We could end
    up with HTML5 plus MS extensions (remind anyone of
    another time?) or we can have multiple platforms (HTML5,
    Silverlight, Flash, etc.)
    midas79
  • RE: Reading between the lines of Microsoft's latest IE 9 standards missive

    Silverlight is more than a flash substitute. I think, and I follow Steve Gillmor on this one, is the next version of Microsofts UI or application API. Windows Phone is only the beginning. Windows OS applications, set-up boxes and many more dedicated devices will follow. So, Silverlight will probably have a bright future and I think that flash comparison isn't important ...
    zeader
  • H.264 vs V8/Ogg Theroa

    For IE/Chrome/Mac users, I have an H.264 video file for you with a max bitrate of 128kbps. ]:)
    For Mozilla users (Ogg Theroa) and Google Chrome with V8 format, I have a video file with a bitrate of 3Mbps or higher! ;)
    Grayson Peddie
    • Actually not true, V8 gives the best quality for a given bit rate, and,

      H.264 is the worst.
      DonnieBoy
      • What the... Are you blind? You need lots of eyedrops.

        Did you see kbps and mbps? Huh? You misinterpreted that 1 kilobits per second is equal to 1,024 megabits per second and you read it wrong. 1,024 kilobits per second equal to 1 megabit.

        If I turn this (which I've originally said):

        "For IE/Chrome/Mac users, I have an H.264 video file for you with a max bitrate of 128[b]k[/b]bps. ]:)
        For Mozilla users (Ogg Theroa) and Google Chrome with V8 format, I have a video file with a bitrate of 3[b]M[/b]bps or higher! ;)"

        into...

        "For Mozilla users (Ogg Theroa) and Google Chrome with V8 format, I have a video file for you with a max bitrate of 128[b]k[/b]bps. ]:)
        For IE/Chrome/Mac users, I have an H.264 video file with a bitrate of 3[b]M[/b]bps or higher! ;)"

        Then you're right.
        Grayson Peddie
    • codec wars

      Can anyone point me at a set of videos that are done using H.264, Ogg, and V8 for comparison?

      I would like to see a 'typical' video, and then a couple that stress the codec capabilities.

      It would be nice to ignore all the opinion pieces and see for myself.
      lars626
  • Walking carefully

    I saw Dean's announcement as him making clear that IE9 will not include built in Flash support, but also they are not going to go on some kind of jihad against the product. Not mentioning Silverlight was a strategic move.

    Silverlight plug-in adoption is between 80% and 90% now due to its use in coverage of some major sporting events (Olympics, Super Bowl). It is something that can run independently of the browser, so it makes sense that Dean is not trying to make that connection.

    Adobe needs to be pressured to clean up the very real flaws in Flash and Acrobat. PDF and Flash are the two biggest vectors for malware online. PDF is bigger than Adobe, but they have complete control of Flash.
    wafsd
  • YouTube does not use VP8

    Not yet, anyway. YouTube does not, and never has, used VP8 in any form. Whether or not Google will convert YouTube to VP8 in the future is merely a matter of speculation.
    Sc4Freak
  • Silverlight and Flash are not just about video (nt)

    nt
    CobraA1
  • Typo and is that all you understand about Flash/Silverlight?

    I think you mean VP8. V8 is Chrome's JavaScript engine. VP8 is the codec they acquired from On2. Anyways, another tidbit you may later discover is H.264 support in IE9 may be limited to Windows 7. (No Vista support). Another point no one seems to get (morons really) is Flash and Silverlight are not just web video delivery frameworks. They are full fledged animation and presentation layer frameworks in which full apps can be written.
    xp-client