Apr 142010

I came across an interesting article about Apple claiming intellectual property rights regarding the bitmap canvas used in HTML5. I had no idea that the canvas is proprietary technology, but apparently that’s the case, at least according to wikipedia:

On March 14, 2007, WebKit developer Dave Hyatt forwarded an email from Apple’s Senior Patent Counsel, Helene Plotka Workman, which stated that Apple reserved all intellectual property rights relative to WHATWG’s Web Applications 1.0 Working Draft, dated March 24, 2005, Section 10.1, entitled “Graphics: The bitmap canvas” , but left the door open to licensing the patents should the specification be transferred to a standards body with a formal patent policy.
…The disclosure means that Apple is required to provide royalty-free licensing for the patent whenever the Canvas element becomes part of a future W3C recommendation created by the HTML working group. [Source]

When it comes to video playback in HTML5, Apple is pushing for h.264. And they are one of the licensors behind the technology.

In this light it becomes a bit absurd hearing how people not only promote HTML5 on the basis that it is an open standard, but think Flash has no place on the web because it’s proprietary.  Especially when coming from Apple fans.

First of all, “flash” is not proprietary. The SDK, compiler and Flex framework is FOSS. Swf and RTMP formats are open, and the VM is open.

Why don’t they open source the player as well?
I guess one reason could be that it contains proprietary code that Adobe have licensed, and that’s obviously not theirs to open. HTML5 hands over the responsibility of selecting codecs to the browser developers, so if you want to watch video on for example youtube without the Flash Player you need a browser containing that licensed code instead. Moving the proprietary code to another part of the system does not make the web more open.

So who do we want to trust? Is it better to have Apple in control over the technology than Adobe?

Adobe is a very open company compared to Apple in every aspect. They are allowed to blog about their work quite liberally, they released a lot of code as open source and are cooperating with a lot of software and hardware manufacturers to ensure compatibility across many platforms.
Flash is a platform in it’s own right today, but it’s a platform that has been achieved by cooperation and interoperability which makes it a bit different from many other platforms. In a sense it’s wrong to say that Adobe is in control over Flash, because Flash depends on so many parties for it’s success.

Looking at Apple, while they have open source projects like Darwin and WebKit, it’s not code opened by Apple, but forks from already open code. They are obviously very much focused on proprietary solutions and I doubt is any company that compete with them when it comes to profiting from DRM systems. Adobe donated AVM2 to Mozilla, but Apple “reserved all intellectual property rights” for the canvas.

If anything HTML5 will give Apple more control over the net requiring licenses not only to display video, but also to draw graphics. Flash technology does not require licensing and is under control by a far more open company who seems a lot more in tune with the spirit of the Internet than Apple.
In the end I think both technologies will have their place, but choosing HTML5 on the basis that it would make for a more open Internet does not make a lot of sense.


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