posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 19th Mar 2010 14:15 UTC

In the name of pragmatism

In the name of pragmatism

Let's back up for a second here. Ten years ago, when the web was just emerging, and on the brink of becoming the ubiquitous information and entertainment resource that it is now, web developers made a number of monumentally stupid decisions in the name of "pragmatism" - decisions that we still feel the sting of today, a decade later.

When web developers were faced with the massive market share of Internet Explorer 6, they didn't bother to code for anything else in the name of "pragmatism". This ensured that other browsers had trouble competing with IE6, simply because users couldn't visit their favourite sites.

Now, ten years down the line, we are all bashing Microsoft for Internet Explorer 6, and the web's reliance on it (the number of IE-specific sites has become very small, though, but still), while the real reason IE became so prevalent and hard to topple was that web developers couldn't be arsed to think beyond "pragmatism" and code in an IE-independent way.

Then there's Flash. Is it Microsoft that forced Flash upon us? Is it Adobe who put a gun to our heads, forcing us to download the runtime or else? No. Again, it were web developers all over the internet who used it in the name of pragmatism. We, the users, didn't decide to download Flash - we were forced to because web developers were using Flash for anything from buttons to illustrated first capitals.

Yes, I have Flash too (10.1). Luckily I have Flashblock.

Now, ten years down the line, Flash has become the block of stone around the internet's collective feet. Minority platforms like Linux and Mac OS X were not important enough for Adobe, leading to lacklustre Flash environments, and don't even get me started on hobby platforms like Syllable or Haiku who don't have access to Flash at all, rendering YouTube and other popular sites completely unusable.

Who are we blaiming now? I see web developers and important bloggers like Gruber rail on Adobe, while in reality, it were the web developers who chose Flash and who made it so prevalent on the web.

And here we are, on the cusp of yet another such matter. We have multiple choices for the HTML5 video codec - one is Free/free, and not patent encumbered; the other is patented up the wazzoo and beyond, and anything but Free/free. There is considerable discussion about which of the two is better, and you'll find intelligent people showing benchmarks and arguments showing the superiority of either two codecs. The one advantage H264 does have is hardware support, obviously.

And as we're standing on this cusp, it are once again the web developers who are willing to make the wrong choice simply because they're incapable of looking ahead. They don't care about how the internet will look ten, or even five years from now (when the free internet video provision runs out); they're only interested in the now. They've made one disastrous choice after another, choices that have seriously hurt the web, and yet, we should listen to them again?

Mozilla, look at how the history of the web has unfolded, and look at the disastrous impact of Internet Explorer and Flash, and then take a good look at who made sure those technologies were forced upon us. Then, and only then, take their opinion on this matter into account.

If not, then I will predict what we'll be discussing five or ten years in the future. Web developers and pundits like Gruber will be bemoaning how the web has been shackled to H264 now that the MPEG-LA has decided to pursue its patents. They will find someone else to blame - Microsoft, Adobe, the moon - and once again, they will refuse to look into a mirror.

The sour apple

Sometimes, you have to bite through the sour apple, as a Dutch saying goes. Sure, it will be hard to transition to a truly Free/free codec, but the benefits down the line are far, far greater. I'd rather deal with a messy situation now, then to face an IE6/Flash-like mess five to ten years down the line.

Table of contents
  1. "Mozilla should license H264"
  2. In the name of pragmatism
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