Separating fact and fiction on Adobe Flash, HTML5 and plug-in-free video

Will HTML5 make Adobe Flash irrelevant? Maybe someday but not soon.
There’s been a lot of speculative chatter lately about HTML5 as a replacement for Adobe Flash, fueled by Steve Jobs’ dark pronouncements during the splashy launch of the iPad. And recent reports about HTML5 video experiments by YouTube and Vimeo added to the brouhaha.

No doubt, the vision of plug-in-free video is appealing. Especially if you are Mac user whose computer slows to a crawl when it chokes on Flash video.

So far the discussion has referenced a rather sunny utopian view of a post-Flash web. But the practical reality of implementing a new standard like HTML5 is rather more complicated.

Big questions remain open. Such as: which video codec will be utilized by the browser to render video? The obvious contender is H.264 which can scale from mobile (see it on your iPhone) to high-definition and even includes teleconferencing. But this technology is licensed by a consortium of technology patent holders known as MPEG-LA, and they intend to extract a toll from content companies and content distributors. H.264 could be a perilous path if patent trolls emerge to tax every frame of video in the future. This scenario makes the future economics of online video rather unpredictable.

And what about DRM? With HTML, video files could be easily copied to the desktop, by a simple “right-click / save,” just as JPG images can be grabbed easily on today’s browsers. That would spell disaster for companies that produce and publish video: they will certainly resist the migration to a post-Flash world until their precious content is protected, lest streaming services like NetFlix and Hulu become a pirate’s playground.

And what shall replace Flash’s non-video functions? Such as scalable vector graphics, used for ubiquitous animated banners and online games? Plug-in-free video doesn’t address SVG.

Until these questions are answered, it’s not likely that there will be a wholesale abandonment of Adobe Flash.

John Herrman on Gizmodo provides a helpful analysis of the current state of HTML5 and the likely path to adoption. Read it here:

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