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Defending the HTML5 Myths

HTML5 is turning out to be a surprisingly controversial topic.

Last month, we sat down with Zohar Babin and Michael Dale, two HTML5 experts who work for HTML5video.org and Kaltura at the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles, where they were about to lead a pre-conference workshop on HTML5. The topic was the myths that surround HTML5 video, a hot topic that's generated more than it's share of misinformation.

The resulting article, Myths and Misconceptions About HTML5, was one of the most popular articles in the history of OnlineVideo.net. It was also one of the most controversial.

The surprising thing about the comments received was how emotional they were, and how closely the Flash vs. HTML5 debate mirrors the old Windows vs. Mac war.

To reply to some of the comments and continue the dialogue, we again sat down with Babin (Dale was on a business trip) to get this thoughts.

For Babin, a lot of the comments centered on freedom of choice, as well as open versus proprietary systems. It's a discussion that he thinks misses the real issue of usability.

"People don't care. Most users, most publishers, don't care if you're using open software or proprietary software. They don't give a damn," says Babin. "They just want it to work and they want it to provide the best ROI. Whenever it boils down to freedom of choice, it's just a question of whether I have control whenever I need it."

The question of openness is also a non-starter, he says, because while HTML5 is open, the Apple devices that push its use aren't.

"It was actually funny when Apple went with the announcement about HTML5: ‘We want to support openness and an open standard.' On the background, they are not open. They did the complete opposite of being open which was, ‘I'm closing my software, I'm closing my hardware, and I'm not going to let anyone like Adobe provide tools for my hardware,'" Babin says.

Whatever Apple's intentions were is beside the point, though, for Babin. The company's efforts have garnered HTML5 a lot of attention and adoption.

Myth 1: HTML5 is a direct competitor to Flash.
Commenters disagreed that Flash and HTML5 had a purely complementary relationship, saying that just because they both exist in the market doesn't mean they're not competing.

"For the foreseeable future, it doesn't matter," says Babin. "They will live together; they will coexist. The way I look at it, HTML5 is a natural standard, it's a natural progression."

Flash will continue to innovate with cutting-edge new features, and slowly those will get adopted into the HTML5 standard. "That's just natural evolution. You always have the innovators and the creative people, and then the standard just catches up," he adds.

Myth 2: Adding a <video> tag is all you need to do to serve video.
While it's literally true, as commenters pointed out, that the <video> tag is easy to use to embed a video, it won't be a one-step solution for many people or companies.

"Yes, it's enough, you can use only the <video> tag and that's it, but guess what: you won't be able to support older browsers, and devices won't be able to detect the right video flavor to use," says Babin.

Even if everyone agreed to use only H.264 video, you'd still need different versions of videos for variously sized devices and different quality connections. "HTML doesn't know how to do that. You still need to have JavaScript on top to do those things," he adds.

Myth 3: Flash is responsible for a lot of browser annoyances.
The most irritating, distracting ads are run in Flash, so some people look forward to an HTML5 world where Flash ads are a thing of the past. But in the original article, Babin said that HTML5 ads would be just as irritating and harder to block than Flash ads. Commenters thought that plug-ins would come along to do the job.

"It will just be a lot harder, that's all," replies Babin. "You're not always able to detect what is real content and what it advertising, if everything is HTML. If I don't use special tags, if I don't mark content as an advertisement, then how would you know to block that content? It is possible, but it will be harder."

Myth 4: Apple is driving HTML5 on Steve Jobs's whim.
Oddly,  no commenters had a problem with this myth, despite the strong emotions that Apple brings up on either side of the debate.

Myth 5: HTML5 and Flash offer similar features.
One commenter said that while they don't have similar features now, in a short 12 months they will. Is that timeline too optimistic?

"The problem is that Flash is a lot quicker to innovations, so things like multicasting, 3D, hardware-accelerated video, better fonts: all that is really quick to get into that platform. HTML5 and JavaScript have the basics to do those things, but it will take a while for people to learn how to use them.

"In a year, they might have feature parity, but it doesn't really matter. It's not only the feature parity, but whether people are able to use those features," Babin says.

Troy Dreier's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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