Microsoft has bought a first-class seat on the Flash Bashing Express with an official statement on its IEBlog. Apple’s sometimes-friend, sometimes-foe echoed ideas that Apple CEO Steve Jobs expressed in Thursday’s Thoughts on Flash essay and put its own stake in the ground for the future of Web technologies.
Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s General Manager of Internet Explorer, cut to the chase rather quickly, by stating “the future of the Web is HTML5.” He also said that Microsoft has been “deeply engaged” in the HTML5 process with the W3C, the standards body that drafts the specifications for how HTML5 should work. The company’s Internet Explorer 9, now in beta for Windows users, features HTML5 support. Hachamovitch says that while the W3C does not specify a video format for video embedded in HTML5 sites, Microsoft has joined Apple in supporting H.264, and H.264 alone.
In a potential move to soften the blow to an already upset Adobe, Hachamovitch does end his piece with an acknowledgement that “despite [some] issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web.”
Of course, with the rise of the portable devices that don’t support Flash—and especially the popularity of the iPhone and iPad—major publishers and content providers have quickly accelerated the adoption of HTML5 and H.264 to provide Flash-less video delivery. Or, in other words, while Flash may be the Web technology of today, don't think it will necessarily by the Web technology of tomorrow.
Besides taking sides in a contentious battle over the future of Web and desktop technologies (don’t forget AIR, Adobe’s bridge for delivering Flash applications to Mac, Windows, and Linux desktops), Microsoft’s announcement is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the company competes directly with Flash and AIR with its Silverlight technology, which can be used to deliver multimedia via the Web or the desktop. Furthermore, it’s the only technology which developers are allowed to use to build applications for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform.
Second, there’s no mention of Microsoft’s own Windows Media video codec; Redmond could be hinting it plans to abandon Web aspirations for its own proprietary technology, or at least relegating it to any niches it already occupies.
Microsoft siding with Apple in the war on Flash could put a serious dent in future prospects for Adobe’s technology, especially where the hot new market of portable devices is concerned. While Silverlight may live on as a platform for building apps for Windows and Windows Phone (assuming those devices catch on), Microsoft’s embracing of HTML5 and H.264 could do a lot to help grant Apple’s wish of “leaving the past behind.”