Mashables Christina Warren Does a Fox News “Story”

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.

Reality Gloss

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.

Fifth reality gloss – “Web applications are actually the closest example of ‘write once, run anywhere’ actually working.What development planet is Ms. Warren from? 15-30% of  all Web code has to be rewritten with special hacks and JavaScripting to make it work properly in IE6 thru IE8 browsers. The new IE9 still score less than 70% on the Acid 3 tests [leave alone the full W3C HTML, DOM and CSS compliance tests].  Not all browsers support W3C and other Web standards including Chrome, IE, and Safari as main transgressors.  Look at XForms, E4X, and XSL/XSLT for missing-link  starters.

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.

  4 comments for “Mashables Christina Warren Does a Fox News “Story”

  1. June 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I don’t have the energy to debate this criticism point by point and ultimately it won’t do any good anyway because your opinion and decision has already been made up, but I would note that you need to look at the date of my editorial. It was in April, long before WebM was officially announced with hardware support from the chipset makers (and this is the hardware support I’m discussing for Flash. The chipsets on phones, set-top boxes, media players that run any OS iOS or anything else. And keep in mind Froyo wasn’t announced when this was written either). If you want to disagree with my opinion, fine, but don’t accuse me of shitty reporting if you can’t check the published date and frame your criticism appropriately.
    .

    Disa

    • June 12, 2010 at 1:01 am

      Christina -
      Your publication date was April 29th 2010. Here are some of the 100++ stories about Google On2/VP8 that were published before that date and found easily on Google or Bing. Many of these I had been following and thus they lead to my conclusion that VP8/WebM was indeed a big deal in the video world:
      TechCrunch Google Acquires Video Compression Technology Company On2 For $106M … 5 Aug 2009
      BusinessInsider – Google’s On2 Acquisition Could Revolutionize The Video Industry – 5 Aug 2009
      Betanews – What does Google gain from having purchased On2? | Web Apps News … 22 Feb 2010
      Free Software Foundation Free Software Foundation to Google: Free the On2 video codec … 23 Feb 2010
      goooglesystems.blogspot.com – Google Will Open Source On2 VP8 Codec 13 Apr 2010
      ARMdevices.net – Google to open-source On2 VP8 for HTML5 video –13 Apr 2010

      But my objection to your reporting is not just the omissions on video trends but also the fact that your were way off base in 3 other critical areas [and there are again plenty of reference stories available to you before your April 29th 2010 publication date] :
      1)the argument you present regarding JVMs,and whether Java can be effectively used to deliver” write once; run anywhere” is way off base;
      2)the fact that you accord ‘Web applications are actually the closest example of “write once, run anywhere” actually working‘ is also way off base. In fact Web development is very far from “write once” let alone run anywhere uniformly;
      3)by agreeing “that one size fits all” is not practical in software development; thus allowing Steve Jobs/Apple to exclude not just Flash but all code generation systems as not efficient enough on iOS4 and iDevices. Many articles and books have been written about the trade-offs of speed+agility+cross platform efficiency/integration through development automation versus proprietary, native code performance or feature advantages. Neither strategy carries the day; but without reasoning or analysis you support the Apple proprietary, native-code approach.
      By advancing this one-sided argument you allow Steve Jobs/Apple to justify a very closed/proprietary iOS4 development system. You also allow Steve to feign Open development through HTML5 when the reality is that it is 1-2 years away and Apple is holding things up.At no point in the article do you examine the implications of such a closed iOS4 ecosystem. Consumers, if they adopt Apple overwhelmingly, will be replacing a Microsoft client-side monopoly with an Apple one – with all the Vistas that may very well provide. So now when I read a Mashables story I have to say to myself – “what is missing here” or can the arguments raised be trusted or whose agenda is being advanced? I don’t watch Fox Not-Really-News except very rarely to get a read on what the GOP wants you to believe now. It would be a pity for Mashables to be vying with Fox News for the title of Most Biased Coverage.
      -Jack, editor

  2. Christina Warren
    June 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    And again, I don’t have time to get into a pxxxxg with someone who is going to repeatedly insult me and compare me to Glenn Beck (which is so off base it actually is funny). Rumors about the open sourcing of VP-8 didn’t matter when we were talking about what was actually an option and what was actually available on April 28th.

    I absolutely stand by my criticisms of Java and my utter distaste for write once run everywhere. I’m actually suffering from the flu right now so I wont go point by point, but as I said, you made your own bias clear and you made your own intentions clear in this post. My point is that it’s really easy to pick and choose your talking points when you are referencing an editorial that is six weeks old and was about the state of web video. If I regret anything about that post it was that “in mobile” wasn’t used in the headline.

    • admin
      June 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      The problem, Christina, is that you are doing a Glen Beck – taking indefensible positions and then hoping by repeating them over and over without detailed justification or deigning to respond to salient objections to your arguments- they will stick.

      This is the real stinker and you will get no further postings here without submitting compelling arguments – and, for example, ignoring the obvious trends in video codecs easily available to you is NOT a compelling argument.

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