HTML5 versus Flash?

Let’s suppose for a second that Steve Jobs had not posted that open letter about Flash. Let’s also assume that Flash had not responded in their website. If all of that had not occurred, would people now be presenting HTML5 and Flash as enemies? In other words, is there a point in comparing HTML5 and Flash 10.1? My primary school math teacher would say no; the underlying logic is that you never compare oranges with apples (how appropriate). Apparently not all of us learnt such a basic lesson.

HTML is markup language (hence the name). It is used to structure text and multimedia documents and to link those documents. HTML has been evolving and adding new tags and deleting some. Now comes HTML5, which includes some tags that open the path towards the Semantic Web and some others dedicated to reproducing multimedia content. Yes, that’s that, but really, just because HTML5 allows you to insert some new funky tags such as <video>, <audio> or  <canvas> we should not think we’re talking about a product equivalent to Flash.

There has been a lot of fuss about the whole deal, as is usual every time Steve Jobs says something. To make things worse, he’s found an unexpected alliance in Microsoft. Let’s see what Dean Hachamovitch has said:

The future of the web is HTML5. Microsoft is deeply engaged in the HTML5 process with the W3C. HTML5 will be very important in advancing rich, interactive web applications and site design. The HTML5 specification describes video support without specifying a particular video format. We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only.(1)

One wonders though, could Hachamovitch just be trying to protect Silverlight?

In this context of crossed accusations, we are very lucky that someone has actually tried to run some objective tests. The results are published at Streaming Learning Center, and there are some interesting conclusions. Jan Ozer says:

When it comes to efficient video playback, the ability to access hardware acceleration is the single most important factor in the overall CPU load. On Windows, where Flash can access hardware acceleration, the CPU requirements drop to negligible levels. It seems reasonable to assume that if the Flash Player could access GPU-based hardware acceleration on the Mac (or iPod/iPhone/iPad), the difference between the CPU required for HTML5 playback and Flash playback would be very much narrowed, if not eliminated.(2)

Such being the case, are Steve Jobs’ declarations commercially biased? It is interesting to see how Apple is positioning itself along a language that is not even ready to use yet.

On the meantime, Adobe’s defending itself:

In Flash Player 10.1, H.264 hardware acceleration is not supported under either Linux or Mac OS X. Linux currently lacks a developed standard API that supports H.264 hardware video decoding, and Mac OS X does not expose access to the required APIs. The Flash Player team will continue to evaluate adding hardware acceleration to Linux and Mac OS X in future releases.(3)

In a other words, that’s like saying “hey, if Flash doesn’t work in Mac it’s because Apple does not allow it to work”.

I am not even going to take part, I am just wondering what all the fuss is about. Why can’t they just get along and make our life simpler?

(1) http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2010/04/29/html5-video.aspx

(2) http://www.streaminglearningcenter.com/articles/flash-player-cpu-hog-or-hot-tamale-it-depends-.html

(3) http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/articles/fplayer10.1_hardware_acceleration_02.html

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4 Responses to HTML5 versus Flash?

  1. Luis says:

    They are not here to just make our life simple, but to make a ton of money while doing or pretending to do so.

    Nice post, by the way.

    • Thanks!

      Yes, at the end of the day it’s all based on commercial interests. Which makes all those open letters kind of ridiculous.

      It’d be nice though, if they could align those interests, and even from an gains-oriented starting point, they could all deliver in the same direction…

  2. jose esteves says:

    going back to the source of all this conflict, don’t you think that probably what we are discussing is that adobe stills trying to maintain an applicaiton that in the near future will become obsolete?
    Is not adobe trying to force the maintenance of flash because it is its “star product?
    Perhaps adobe needs to think in innovate and not trying to maintain for all means a product that soon will disappear…

    • I see your point and I partly agree… but the difference for me is that I feel Adobe should be able to do whatever they want with their system. If they don’t evolve, there’s no stronger force than the market itself to kick them out but as of today, we don’t need Apple or whoever telling us (the customers) what to do.

      Plus, we’re comparing Flash to HTML5, which is not the epitome of innovation either…

      I am not taking the side of Adobe; I agree that Flash 10.1 is not a great improvement of Flash 10.0 and, as the rest, they’re just trying to protect their own commercial interests. But so is doing Apple. And Microsoft. The problem I see is that they’re all trying to conceal those interests by pointing at other reasons. Ones saying the other system is not safe, the others saying the other is not open… whatever.

      Let’s be optimistic, you never know. Perhaps you’re right and these pressures might actually result in the development of a better product.

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