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A Decade of Vanguards, #4

Feb 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Jan Ozer

Web video codecs.

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Macromedia Flash after adding video support but before the Adobe acquisition.

Macromedia Flash after adding video support but before the Adobe acquisition.

The story of web video over the past decade is one of relative scarcity followed by total ubiquity. Two technologies have done much to shape this narrative: Flash and H.264.

Think back to the early days of the Web—any point up to, say, 2000. Pages were primarily text with occasional images, some hideous animated GIFs, and the odd postage-stamp video. Then, a funny little animation technology took hold and changed everything. That, of course was Flash. Birthed by Macromedia, which added video support via the Sorenson Spark codec in 2002, and nurtured by Adobe, which acquired the company in 2005, Flash soon became ubiquitous across the Web.

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Why? Because it enables extensive interface customization with back-end logic, it features a cross-platform development infrastructure, it delivers scalable animations that website designers love, and it offers high-quality video. No competing technology comes close to Flash's installed base, and until one does, Flash will reign supreme.

What about H.264? In addition to being the highest-quality codec, it's also the only codec that plays on all major platforms. Create one file that plays in Flash and Microsoft Silverlight and on your iPod/iPhone? Only H.264. The only downside is a royalty to be defined in early 2010.

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