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.