With IE9, Microsoft gambles on HTML5, H.264 video

After years of going its own way, Microsoft's browser is moving in the right direction: standards, performance, and HTML5

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Betting the farm on HTML5 and H.264

With devices like the iPad turning their back on Flash support, HTML5 is now very much in the spotlight. Today, sites that support HTML5 video are few and far between, and the technology base is not there yet to let HTML5 video widely supplant Flash video, notes Justin Eckhouse, the senior product manager for video and mobile at CBS Interactive.

In a panel last week at the Streaming Media Conference in New York, Eckhouse said Apple's move to require the use of HTML5's video tag and the H.264 video codec made his team work hard to put together a dirty HTML5 site in two weeks' time and support a modicum of content for the iPad. But the controls and features for HTML5 video are nothing like what exists for the Flash platform, and he expects it will be a couple of years before HTML5 development catches up (and surpasses) the work that many have done with Flash video streaming.

It's no surprise that Microsoft will support HTML5 in IE9, but it is surprising that Microsoft will back just the H.264 codec. HTML5 doesn't specify any particular format for video, but Microsoft has decided that H.264 is an industry standard with strong support and very explicitly defined intellectual property rights.

"The rights to other codecs are often less clear," says Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer. "H.264 video offers a more certain path than other video formats and does so in a way that delivers a great HTML5 experience for developers and users," he adds.

Obviously, plug-ins for Flash, Silverlight, and others will still be supported, so unlike the iPad and iPhone, users aren't limited to H.264-encoded video. But only the H.264 video codec gets native support in IE9 as a feature developers know they can count on.

How does IE9 rate so far?

So does the current IE9 beta currently get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down? I liked it, so thumbs-up.

That was no sure thing. For several years I got so tired of IE's issues that I ran to Firefox. It was the first application I installed whenever I got a new system. I'd launch IE just once: to download Firefox. Google Chrome tweaked my interest, but Firefox seemed better than everyone else -- until crash after crash helped me make the jump to IE8. Since then, I've been incredibly satisfied with IE, especially IE8's accelerators and several other features.

But I'm now ready for a change and a new browser experience that goes beyond the existing limitations and takes advantage of the powerful hardware we have at our disposal, one that takes the focus off the compatibility issues of cross-browser support and puts the attention back on developing great sites, regardless of the browser used. That could be IE9.

I like that IE9 is moving in all the right directions. I know I'll have to wait for the final version before I can praise the end result, but I'm pleased with what I've seen so far.

This article, "With IE9, Microsoft gambles on HTML5, H.264 video," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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