I’m taking a long-awaited vacation next week, in part to attend my friend Kristin’s wedding down in New Jersey, but also for the Streaming Media East conference in Manhattan. My work these days requires a great deal of knowledge about video (and audio) delivery workflows for online media, and I can see many aspects of our operation ramping up in near term. Flash-based players like the Maven Networks front-end are already in use, and I can see live Flash being only six months off. It seems like Flash is suddenly on everyone’s tongue, and at least at CBC, Windows Media, while still our standard, is no longer the market darling that it once was.
Part of the reason for this, I think, is the increasing adoption of Macintosh computers in the marketplace. Computer world wrote at the end of 2007 that the Mac’s market share is about 8%, and I expect that by now, it’s exceeded 10%. Of course, Microsoft Windows is still the dominant platform, but people are starting to take notice of the Mac’s rebirth. That has implications for video producers.
The user experience for Windows Media on Mac, frankly, is terrible. The last version of Windows Media Player on Mac was released in November 2003 before development was cancelled; since then, Microsoft has partnered with Telestream to produce an on-the-fly transcoding plugin called Flip4Mac, which acts as a shim between the WM source material and QuickTime. Flip4Mac frequently does not work for our end users, and we get dozens of complaints a week.
Microsoft then came along and decided Silverlight, their answer to Flash, was going to be the solution to such woes. Despite all the marketing hype about Silverlight being a cross-platform API, there has yet to be a player or plug-in created for non-Windows platforms. Even when it does get produced, you can expect to see all sorts of silly compatibility problems. My view is that with Silverlight, Microsoft is adopting the exact same business strategy as with the .Net framework: make all sorts of noise about the technology being “open” and that “anyone can implement a runtime”, but without giving any material assistance to those trying to develop a runtime on another platform. This ensures that the only strong implementation of that technology runs on Windows.
The point is that Flash is already a cross-platform video streaming technology – it works well on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX (!!!) and so on. Flash seems like an ideal solution to minimize the complaints coming from the audience, particularly those using Macs, who wish to watch our videos. As I said before, it’s only a matter of time before the noise level gets so high as to become intolerable for us – and I think it’ll be in lockstep with an increase in market share of the Mac.