Google brings good tidings to Adobe Flash fans

Google brings good tidings to Adobe Flash fans

Summary: Google’s YouTube got a huge amount of publicity when it announced support for playing videos via HTML as an alternative to using the Adobe Flash video player. But relatively little publicity followed its announcement last week that, actually, HTML5 was still deficient, and that it couldn’t offer benefits comparable to Adobe Flash.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Google’s YouTube got a huge amount of publicity when it announced support for playing videos via HTML as an alternative to using the Adobe Flash video player. But relatively little publicity followed its announcement last week that, actually, HTML5 was still deficient, and that it couldn’t offer benefits comparable to Adobe Flash. As YouTube’s post says : “We need to do more than just point the browser at a video file like the image tag does - there’s a lot more to it than just retrieving and displaying a video.”

One of the problems with HTML5 is that it doesn’t have a standard video codec (mainly because Apple refuses to support the open source Ogg Theora). YouTube used H.264 for its HTML5 playback, which was handy because it was already using H.264 in Flash. Unfortunately, H.264 is both heavily patented and expensive, so it’s not supported in Mozilla Firefox or Opera. Only a small minority of web users -- mostly those with Chrome and Safari browsers -- could therefore access YouTube’s HTML5 videos, whereas almost everyone could access them via the Flash player.

YouTube also explained that Flash allows control of the video stream so people can move to the parts they want, and HTML5 doesn’t. Flash also enables users to embed YouTube videos on their own sites, along with “features like captions, annotations, and advertising,” and HTML5 doesn’t. Further, Flash allows users to play videos full screen, and YouTube comments: “While WebKit has recently taken some steps forward on fullscreen support, it's not yet sufficient for video usage (particularly the ability to continue displaying content on top of the video).”

YouTube's last point is that Flash allows for webcam and microphone access. It says: “Video is not just a one-way medium. Every day, thousands of users record videos directly to YouTube from within their browser using webcams, which would not be possible without Flash technology. Camera access is also needed for features like video chat and live broadcasting - extremely important on mobile phones which practically all have a built-in camera. Flash Player has provided rich camera and microphone access for several years now, while HTML5 is just getting started.”

It’s assumed that, one day, HTML5 will be capable of replacing Flash for videos, and perhaps for many other functions. But today, it isn’t.

In passing, YouTube also notes that “we’re excited about the new WebM project”. This is based on using the VP8 codec that Google acquired by buying On2 Technologies and then making it open source. Widespread adoption of VP8 would solve the H.264 problem for Google, Mozilla and Opera.

YouTube says: “we have already started making YouTube videos available in the WebM format. Adobe has also committed to support VP8, the video codec for WebM, in an upcoming Flash Player release.” With luck it could replace H.264 for most purposes, though AVC/H.264 is still mandatory for Blu-ray.

Adobe Flash got more support from Google as well. Last week, The Official Google Blog announced that “We recently released a new version of our Google Chrome browser with Adobe Flash Player built in, automatically bringing you the latest and greatest updates.”

Users can disable it via the chrome://plugins manager, but it’s unlikely that many people will. Like it or not, the reality is that Flash is used all over the web.

Finally, Adobe has also started shipping Adobe Flash 10.1 to its mobile partners, so it should soon start to appear on RIM BlackBerrys, Palm WebOS phones, and mobiles running Google’s Android 2.2 (Froyo). People who have Dell Streak, Google Nexus One, HTC Evo, HTC Desire, HTC Incredible, Droid, Milestone, Samsung Galaxy S and similar devices should be able to download it from the Android Market. (Windows Phone, LiMo, MeeGo and Symbian OS will come later.)

Now, an independent reporter might just notice that, far from being dead, Adobe Flash was still YouTube’s preferred system for delivering videos, that it was built into the fast-rising Google Chrome browser, and that it stood some chance of becoming widely used on mobile phones. Sadly, however, these things are not really worth reporting, because Apple’s Steve Jobs has already decided that Flash needs to die as soon as possible. And we all ought to do what Steve Jobs wants because, after all, he’s our Big Brother.

Clearly, Apple users cannot be allowed to decide for themselves whether they actually want to run Flash on their iPhone or iPad. It’s for their own good. Whether or not Apple can bolster its $40 billion cash pile by charging them for things that Flash delivers free is entirely incidental.

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Brilliant article - brilliant.

    Here are some extras worth adding regarding flash player 10.1.

    It encompasses Access 2.0 which allows media creators to copy protect their videos - this is without doubt the primary reason HTML5 video will not be adopted for years.

    It allows variable bitrate streaming - too bad HTML you are from the 1960's.

    It provides HTTP streaming - not going to happen HTML5.

    It provides GPU acceleration - bye bye HTML5 (internet explorer 9 is considering adding this - however since it would require them working with hardware manufacturers like adobe has done- not going to happen in any realistic way for computer / phone market) - bye bye HTML5.

    Provides bitmap effects for video - bye bye HTML5.

    Allows Peer to Peer networking via the player id from Stratus. Bye Bye HTML5.

    Streaming videos can be skipped ahead......no chance for HTML5.

    In built sockets for video conferencing.

    This list can be ADDED to the above captioning, key points etc - and does not include the myriad of features not related to video which makes flash the future choice for the web - as opposed to this 1960's mark up language we are being forced to accept by overlord jobs. HAIL JOBS!!
    aristophrenia
  • Flash HAS served us well in the past and it will fill the gaps where HTML5 currently has holes.
    However, don't forget that HTML5 is an evolving specification.
    Just because it can't do everything Flash does with video now doesn't mean that it won't be able to in the finalised specification.
    Referring to HTML as a 1960's mark up language is the rhetoric of the uniformed and unprofessional - there are things that you can do in HTML that you simply can't do with Flash (SEO!!!) The web progresses by what developers and the public want. I think there has been a clear shift away from "Flash for the sake of Flash" websites. Flash is a good tool for complementing web standards technologies and not replacing them.
    Grow up and do some decent research before poo-pooing what is sure to be the future dominant web technology - long live HTML5!.
    brudinie-9a7a8
  • The problem with Flash is not what it can or cannot do compared to HTML5.

    It is that Adobe has failed to deliver a version of the flash plug-in that is fully featured, reliable and performs well on any platform other than MS Windows.

    Until they can deliver that, then Adobe Flash is a non-starter for me.
    m.ward@...
  • I am hoping the final HTML5 specification covers more of the items you mention that Flash has. Flash is just another bloatware product from Adobe, which is bloated itself. Steve Jobs made a bold move, but it also made a statement that Flash is buggy and Adobe has failed over years of time to fix problems. On Linux/Unix/Mac OS X, Flash can be a memory hog and causes Firefox to eat up memory. Killing the "npviewer.bin" process for Flash instantly frees up the memory. This problem has been ongoing for years, yet Adobe makes no effort to fix it. This kind of mentality is what made Steve finally say enough is enough. I bet Apple will get far fewer support calls because Flash is just not present on the iPad. If Adobe is going to keep Flash closed source, we will probably continue to see these problems until something else can compete directly and force Adobe to improve stability. Hopefully HTML5 will be able to do this.
    Chris_Clay
  • Well... in conclusion, I think Google is just sticking to what works or what gets the job done now. I'm not saying that Flash is the best but who's better?
    ifeanyigbemudu
  • @brudinie
    > Referring to HTML as a 1960's mark up language is the rhetoric of the
    > uniformed and unprofessional

    Well, I didn't, of course. However, HTML didn't look very original to people who were familiar with SGML, and GML was developed in the 1960s....

    @apexwm
    > On Linux/Unix/Mac OS X, Flash can be a memory hog and causes Firefox to eat up memory.

    Flash could be better and I certainly hope Adobe will now put more effort into it. But I also hope it works to create the maximum benefits for the biggest audience - which is the 90% of users running Windows, where Flash works reasonably well.

    An alternative to having a hissy fit would have been for Apple to put some of its spare $40 billion into one or more of the open source Flash player developments, or he could have forked one of them, as he did with WebKit.

    Still, it would be nice if Steve Jobs did a bit more to follow his own advice and fix the crashy buggy bloatware that is, for example, iTunes for Windows. Even Adobe might be ashamed to foist that on people. Jobs is complaining that Adobe didn't invest enough in his tiny minority of the market, but he's underinvesting on the *vast majority* of iTunes desktop users.
    Jack Schofield
  • Evolution favors the most adaptable... HTML specifications take waaay to long for a "committee" to agree upon and for browser to adopt.

    Flash is continuously evolving at a much, much faster rate than HTML. I can't wait to see what's next!
    elliot_geno
  • @Jack n Elliot: I'm loving you guys...
    ifeanyigbemudu
  • What are you loving @ifeanyigbemudu? Bigotry? Take a look at http://www.html5video.org/demos/ and tell me that the criticisms of HTML5 are valid. Take a look at the Kaltura cross browser libraries that also support Flash and tell me that HTML5 isn't functional. Is it complete? No. Is it as full featured as Flash? For many yes. The good news is that open implementations will ensure it isn't as buggy as Flash and won't create the same hiatus in your browser.
    Flash is yesterdays answer to a developing question. Adobe have let Flash users down and continue to do so. Fawning support for Flash from industry worthies is about politics and not technology. On what basis are Google ever going to say "Steve Jobs - you're right". Why doesn't Apple spend money fixing Flash through open source? For the same reason that Apple doesn't spend money fixing Windows. If Adobe are serious then make Flash open source and let the community fix it Erm no.
    And Jack you have been a cynical critic of Apple for more than 20 years so you're hardly the impartial journalist you claim to be. As for iTunes on Windows being buggy bloatware well that is like called a blowfly ugly when it's sitting on the arse of a warthog!
    steverhard
  • @steverhard

    > tell me that HTML5 isn't functional

    I'm not criticising HTML5. I think it's the future. I just don't agree with Jobs and his fanboy drones that he should deprive users of the *option* of having compatibility with the past.

    Of course, I appreciate that Apple users have to be deprived of choice because they might make the wrong one and do something that does not make the maximum profit for Mr Jobs, but you know how cynical I am about Apple....

    > And Jack you have been a cynical critic of Apple for more than 20 years
    > so you're hardly the impartial journalist you claim to be.

    Oh yeah, you're right, it's impossible to be impartial and criticise Apple, because Apple is beyond criticism. Everything it does is perfect. Sorry, I keep forgetting that. (By the way, I had an Apple II, so I've been accurately and correctly cynical about Apple for 30 years.)

    > As for iTunes on Windows being buggy bloatware well that is like called
    > a blowfly ugly when it's sitting on the arse of a warthog!

    Well, my basic point is that Steve Jobs is an obscenely rich, money-grabbing hypocrit. If he had any concern for the vast majority of his iTunes desktop users then he would spend a bit of money on fixing a program that by his own statements is defective by design. You know, he could actually get his staff to write a proper Windows program for Windows users. This point remains true regardless of your opinion of the quality of Windows.

    However, in passing, I doubt Apple could write an operating system as good as Windows 7. In fact, Copland is evidence that Apple couldn't, or it wouldn't have bought the exisiting Unix-based NextStep on which to perch OS X....
    Jack Schofield