The State of Flash

May 07, 2010

Apple, Microsoft, Opera and now Scribd have all spoken out about Adobe's platform. What does this mean for open source?

Last week Steve Jobs grabbed some headlines (as if he needed more of them) by releasing an open letter about Apple's decision not to support Flash video on their popular mobile devices. Jobs cited Flash's status as a closed architecture (as opposed to HTML5, CSS and Java, all of which are compatible with iPhone and iPad).

Not to be outdone, Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager for Internet Explorer expressed his thoughts on HTML5 and Flash on the IEBlog. Hachamovitch explained the merits of HTML5 and its ability to handle video on any operating system. While Hachamovitch never outright attacked Adobe or Flash like Jobs did, he did state plainly that, "the future of the web is HTML5" and briefly addressed the need for Flash in the current web environment despite issues with "reliability, security and performance."

Yesterday, Opera product Analyst Phillip Grønvold gave a similarly diplomatic statement to Tech Radar, stating "Today's Internet is dependent on Flash," but later added "But at Opera we say that the future of the Web is open Web standards and Flash is not an open Web standards technology."

And now comes news that Scribd, a document hosting and sharing service, is abandoning two years of development on Flash in favor of HTML5. The move makes it possible to view Scribd documents on a mobile browser. It also allows Scribd to utilize @font-face, a feature in CSS that allows for font downloading, helping to optimize a document both for search and acessibility.

But this isn't quite the open source victory it seems to be. If HTML5 becomes the Web standard, there are plenty of people championing patented, proprietary codecs for video, specifically Apple and Microsoft who have both backed h.264. And while the user will ultimately be able to choose which codec handles video in an HTML5 environment, there is also talk from Jobs himself of pursuing open source video codec Theora for patent infringement.

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