One of the constant supplies for Jon Stewarts “self-skewering” stories on the Daily Show is Fox News where it is ridiculously easy to catch the network lying, prevaricating and otherwise speaking falsehoods with unbridled carelessness. See the Nazi Icons spoof or the many roastings of Glen Beck. Well I was surprised to see the same jaundiced journalism show up in one of my favorite Web 2.0 websites, Mashables. Here is Christina Warren telling us that Apple Didn’t kill Flash, HTML 5 Did:
H.264 Rules Web Video, Not Flash
For most end-users, the debate over Flash is largely a debate about web video. Yes, Flash is used in other ways — for web-based games and ever-decreasingly in website design — but thanks in large part to YouTube , Flash is most commonly associated with web video.
In his letter, Steve Jobs highlights a point that I have made myself on many occasions: Web video is overwhelmingly encoded in H.264. Not only is the H.264 codec the default encoding setting for practically every video service online, it is also by and large the default codec for raw video from digital video cameras….
Flash on Mobile Has Issues
Even on Intel’s Atom platform, Flash has issues. This is why playing back fullscreen Hulu or HD YouTube clips is often painful on a netbook (even an ION or Tegra netbook). Again, Flash 10.1 is supposed to bring hardware acceleration that will make those types of processors handle video in more robust ways, but frankly, when there are still longstanding issues with Flash on x86 computers, how can we expect the transition to mobile to be problem free?
This isn’t to say Flash couldn’t become a killer, hardware optimized superb mobile platform — but at this stage, everything that Flash is so good at doing on the desktop isn’t happening with Flash on mobile devices. Rather than defend Flash’s performance on mobile devices with words, I’d much rather have Adobe actually release working products that show off why the technology can work well across platforms, including mobile.
One Size Never Fits All
It’s nice to get caught up in the fantasy of building an application that can be deployed on any type of device and work the same way across the board. Sun Microsystems called this “write once, run anywhere,” and it was the defacto slogan for Java. However, as anyone who has ever actually written for Java knows, the differences in Java virtual machines (JVM) means that that in practice, it can often take more time to try to debug a solution and get it working on another platform than it would to just write it natively for that platform.
Web applications are actually the closest example of “write once, run anywhere” actually working. Even then, browsers still need to be optimized for specific platforms in order to run applications built using web languages. This is one reason why native application building for smartphones has become so popular: native applications usually offer a better experience than simply using the web.
It’s fine to aspire for solutions that will work well across a variety of platforms, but users need to continue to be aware of the technological realities that prevent that from happening. If nothing else, the Apple-Adobe debate highlights that computer software — web based or otherwise — is not one size fits all.
Now no one will argue the point that Christina makes at the outset “Unsurprisingly, the arguments from both parties [Apple and Adobe] are self-serving in parts and gloss over some realities.” And I will agree that Apple is trying to make this feud center around Flash video. But that is the very “glossing over realities” that makes this post so bad.Apple and Steve Jobs wants it to be over video because that is where Flash’s performance drags the most. But that is Apple induced because until March of this year, Apple did not make available the Mac OS/X graphics hardware APIs to all software vendors. In contrast, Windows did – and there are not any complaints about Flash’s video performance on the Windows X86-based platforms. Unfortunately this was the start of numerous glossing over realities by Ms. Warren.
First and foremost reality gloss – Flash is much more than video. Flash delivers programmable multimedia with better features and better performance [both size and speed of runtime] than any other vendor. And Flash manages to do this on more platforms than any other software vendor. Programmed multimedia experiences which includes video, audio, bitmap, vector graphics, and a wide array of fonts and font-types is the name of the Flash game. Microsoft Silverlight, lead by former Flash developers, is the only software that comes close to matching features and performance of Flash. But Silverlight is a)proprietary and closed API; b)does not run on all platforms with equivalent capabilities and features; and c)has a full set of development tools only available on Microsoft Windows Vista and 7 [so sad for Windows XP developers where early versions of Silverlight runs fastest]. For example, Mono-based Moonlight, the Linux version of Silverlight, is about 1 1/2 versions behind Windows Silverlight in features and performance. But the key point is that Ms. Warren allows the Apple slide – because performance of Flash video alone has not matched all expectations, Apple and Steve Jobs are allowed to condemn the complete Flash platform. Just awful reporting.
Second reality gloss – H.264 is not where the action is in video – WebM and Google’s VP8 is the latest. Ms Warren concedes that Flash supports H.264 but does not mention WebM/VP8 and the fact that Adobe Flash is committed to support WebM as well. What Ms. Warren also fails to note is that Apple is the only hold out on VP8/WebM for its iDevices and for the Safari Web browser. Finally, Ms. Warren also omits the crucial fact that H.264 and its MPEG-based APIs switches over from a free API to a payment system in 2015. Google VP8 free and open versus H.264 will have to be paid for is simply not mentioned. Nice slip-sliding through the realities.
Third reality gloss – “there are still longstanding issues with Flash on x86 computers” overlooks the fact that those issues are related to availability of graphics accelaerator APIs have been unavailable until this Spring on Macs. Ooops.
Fourth reality gloss - Java trashing. Yes, Microsoft’s JVM on the client and WebLogic’s Rockit JVM on its Web servers are the two most notable JVM departures. After that IBM, Sybase, Tibco, SAS, Lawson plus dozens of other major and minor software vendors including Oracle outside of its WebLogic subsidiary have managed to stick pretty darn close to the both the server side and client-sde JVMs. Granted there are many competing specific GUI Java APIs and framewoks on the client side – but take a glance at the same issue for Windows and Mac OSX. But the key is that once it is delivered as bytecode Java works even better as a cross platform API than Flash[more hardware+OS platforms than Flash]. But then Ms. Warren mouths the Apple-line => “it can often take more time to try to debug a solution and get it working on another platform than it would to just write it natively for that platform”. This is balderdash.
And then, Ms. Warren falls for Steve Jobs HTML5 straw dog completely. HTML5 already has Apple’s discord on video codecs. Add to that Apple and every-browser-body-else is doingtheir own thing on the crucial multi-touch and gestures semantics/no-standards. Finally, in addition to the lack of key standards, there is absolutely no software vendor delivering HTML5 development tools. Not Adobe Dreamweaver CS5, not Activestate Komodo, not Aptana Studio, not Eclipse Web, not Netbeans – NOBODY! So Steve says HTML5 is the now standard for mobile development and Ms. Warren chomps on it – hook, line and stinker.
Sixth reality gloss – “If nothing else, the Apple-Adobe debate highlights that computer software — web based or otherwise — is not one size fits all.” This is Apple code language – so Ms. Warren may not know what she is saying. In effect, code generators like the Flash cross compiler and dozens of other apps are Verboten/Forbidden as iMobile development tools. See – only Apple development tools and code is acceptable. “Open” HTML5 you say? It won’t be ready until 2012 at the earliest and Macrosoft will have enough closed Mac standards to prevent any but proprietary coding on the iMobiles such as iPhone, iPad, iPod, and iFrisku4allurworth. Of course, Ms. Warren fails to consider that Steve Jobs would like to replace the Windows monopoly with the Apple iOS4 one. Incroyable.
The story missed so many important points one wonders if Ms Warren failed to vet it other than at the Cupertino PR offices. But seriously, the misses in this story are so bad it sets my confidence in Mashables stories down two notches. Damn – this means whenever reading Mashables coverage I will have to take into account whose agenda is being advanced and then have to hunt down the confirming links and references if any – not good.