Web Standards: They All Have Their Agenda.

It really should come as no surprise that anything a large corporation does is usually done in their best interests. By definition their existence is centered around increasing profit for their respective shareholders within the bounds of the law and operating outside that definition will in turn make your company not long for this world. Still we manage to suspend disbelief for certain companies which have qualities we aspire to but make no mistake they are in the end driven primarily by motives of profit. Nearly all other secondary activities are conducted to further their primary directive, even if on the surface they don’t appear that way.

Take for instance the current web standards warthat’s brewing between Apple and Adobe. Whilst both companies would have you believe that their stance is the only answer to the problem the fundamental issue that they face is not one of ubiquitous web standards, more it is about control over the future of the Internet and who will be the dominant player. I’m on record as stating that Adobe will win out thanks to its current market penetration and support from many big players. It’s no secret that Google is more on Adobe’s side in this war than Apples, as a recent post from one of their (well their subsidiary) employee states:

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether or not the HTML5 <video> tag is going to replace Flash Player for video distribution on the web. We’ve been excited about the HTML5 effort and <video> tag for quite a while now, and most YouTube videos can now be played via our HTML5 player. This work has shown us that, while the <video> tag is a big step forward for open standards, the Adobe Flash Platform will continue to play a critical role in video distribution.
It’s important to understand what a site like YouTube needs from the browser in order to provide a good experience for viewers as well as content creators. We need to do more than just point the browser at a video file like the image tag does – there’s a lot more to it than just retrieving and displaying a video. The <video> tag certainly addresses the basic requirements and is making good progress on meeting others, but the <video> tag does not currently meet all the needs of a site like YouTube:
All of the points Harding make add quite a lot of fuel to the fire in the whole web standards debate. He’s quite right that the current version of HTML5 does not (and most like can not) provide the features required by sites like YouTube. As such there will always be a need for plugins that fill the functionality gap between the web standards and what is technically possible. The more rich the standards are the less requirement there is for plugins but as it stands right now the features provided by third party plugins are almost a necessity for a lot of sites on the Internet and it will be a long time before the standards catch up.
However if you read on you’ll see that YouTube’s apprehension to switch over to a full HTML5 based site is fueled not only by lack of features but also because their bread and butter, videos, still lacks agreement on some core components. One of those is the codec that will be used as the standard for all content used with the <video> tag. Usually you would go with the most popular codecs out of the lot which is currently H.264. The problem with that codec is that, while it is currently royalty free, it is encumbered by a number of patents held by a consortium of companies. This poses a problem for browser developers as it means eventually they will have to pay fees to implement the video part of the web standard, which doesn’t really fit with overall vision of the HTML5 standard. Google of course has their own open codec VP8 which they’ve garnered support for which brings us full circle back to my original point: they’re only developing it to further their bottom line.
Ultimately it will be the market that decides the winner out of all this. Web standards will always lag behind what Internet enabled devices are capable of and that will mean there will have to be third party plugins to bridge the gap. Whether that gap is bridged by Adobe, Apple or some other company remains to be seen but so far the market still seems to side with Adobe as the vast majority of sites (including this one) make use of Flash in one way or another. Many sites will still go to the effort to make their content more accessible to mobile devices (like this one!) but in the end we’d still have to do that even if Apple ends up losing the war on Flash.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: if a company tells you they’re doing something that seems to be for your benefit ask yourself what they have to gain from doing it. In the end you’ll notice that they will be benefiting from it far more than you ever could.

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