Web video without ads? No one would mind that. However, iPad users viewing the popular New York Times site are finding out that not having to sit through ads has a price: fewer videos to watch.
Here's why: Apple won't allow Flash based videos to run on an iPad. The Times and thousands of other sites use a media player called Brightcove to play those Flash-less videos. But without Flash, Brightcove can't include ads, or the analytic tools that allow advertisers to measure the performance of ads, said Brightcove's marketing chief Jeff Whatcott. And since ads pay the bills, the Times won't post many videos on the version of its site tuned for the iPad.
Normally, the technology industry's progress in adopting standards is like making sausage: You don't want to see it or know too much about it. But as the problem on the Times Web site illustrates, the tiff over Flash and a rival video standard called H.264 that's part of the draft HTML5 Web standard is having a real effect on the Web-loving public. Users of mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone are unwilling participants in the skirmish, and you can expect ripples to reach the desktop as well.
[Is Steve Jobs playing fair, or just playing politics, with the Flash complaints? See CIO.com's investigative story Apple-Adobe Feud: Is Flash as Bad as Jobs Says? ]
"Browser wars are back," says analyst Ron Rogowski, of Forrester Research. In the next year or so, you'll see all of the major browsers offering significant upgrades. That's a good thing, of course, but the standards battle means that users will have to upgrade if they want to have a decent experience on many of the sites they visit. And most annoying of all, people who browse at work using locked-down machines will be stuck, says Rogowski. Many businesses are still using Microsoft's IE6, an old browser that simply won't work with video content on sites that have moved to HTML5.
What's New in Firefox 4
The newest member of the browser world is so new that it isn't actually here yet. It is Firefox 4, the open source browser from the Mozilla organization, which previewed its newest version earlier this month.
Mike Beltzner, who heads Firefox development for the Mozilla group, said in a blog post that goals for the new version of the popular browser, expected late in the year, are more speed, a move to new technologies, including HTML5, a cleaner interface, and more user customization and control.