Microsoft Offers Revealing Take on Flash Debate

Late last week, Microsoft reiterated its strategy for supporting web-based video in future versions of Internet Explorer (IE), noting again that it would offer integrated support for the H.264 video format. Online pundits immediately claimed that Microsoft was somehow "following" or "siding with" Apple in denouncing Adobe's Flash format and supporting a video format that Apple first put its weight behind. But Microsoft's decision to support H.264 going forward is more pragmatic than that, and contrary to reports you might have seen, Microsoft supports Flash as well, and will continue to do so in the future.

This issue arises in the wake of a bizarre episode in which Apple CEO Steve Jobs lashed out at Adobe and its Flash technology via a public letter that is so full of misinformation and self-rationalized pseudo-logic that it's almost as comical as it is unnerving. The New York Times, normally part of the problem when it comes to blindly supporting Apple, finally admitted to what I've been saying for years, that Apple has "familiars in the press whom it favors," including one famously pro-Apple columnist at that very paper. But shocked by the vociferous nature of Jobs' unnecessary attack on Adobe and Flash, the New York Times said that Jobs' behavior was "churlish." Wake up, people. The guy has always been like this.

As for Microsoft, the company figured this would be a good time to chime in on the issue. But unlike Apple, Microsoft didn't attack one of its biggest partners via a public letter. Instead, the company reiterated its support for choice when it comes to web video.

"H.264 is an industry standard, with broad and strong hardware support," Microsoft General Manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a blog post describing the company's position. "Because of this standardization, you can easily take what you record on a typical consumer video camera, put it on the web, and have it play in a web browser on any operating system or device with H.264. Recently, we publicly showed IE9 playing \\[hardware-accelerated\\] H.264-encoded video from YouTube. For all these reasons, we're focusing our HTML5 video support on H.264."

Today, Hachamovitch also notes, video on the web is predominantly Flash-based. But although Flash has some built-in downsides—including reliability, security, and performance concerns—it's still "an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web." So unlike Apple, Microsoft supports Flash today, and uses the technology for many of its web video offerings. This is particularly interesting when you consider that Microsoft makes its own Flash competitor called Silverlight. The point is that Microsoft won't screw over customers in order to push an agenda. And Microsoft says it will continue to support Flash in the future, including—yes—in IE 9.

There's more. Although Jobs' open letter about Adobe and Flash laid bare the company's dark heart for all to see, the company didn't offer any chance for its adoring public to provide feedback about its twisted stance. Hachamovitch's blog post, made in a far more open fashion, is open to comment from one and all, and as of this writing, several hundred people have provided feedback about its stance. (Thanks to my colleague Ed Bott for pointing this out.)

Put simply, the differences between Microsoft and Apple couldn't be starker. And I'm curious, as ever, as to why Apple has such a following when it's clear that the people running that company don't care about their own customers. Yes, I'm amused to see the New York Times wake up to this fact, but come on: It's always been like this. And Apple's bizarre attack on Adobe is only more interesting now because Apple has become so big and so popular.

Maybe it's time for regulators around the globe to rein in what has become a raging, anticompetitive monster. And time for consumers to ask themselves why they blindly support such a belligerent company.

TAGS: Windows 8
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