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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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