Daniel Eran Dilger
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Fraud science used to promote Flash performance over web standards

Daniel Eran Dilger

A report purporting to vindicate the performance of Adobe’s Flash plugin in comparison to open standards broke through the weak editorial barriers of the tech community yesterday. It’s wrong, here’s why.
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The report was created by Jan Ozer, a proponent of Flash who makes his living selling books and seminars about Adobe’s technologies. The original article is even interrupted by an advertisement promoting Ozer’s “Streaming Production and Flash Delivery Workshop.”

After noting Ozer’s bias, one site commenting on it wrote, “we don’t think that [his bias] has any effect on the test outcomes [his report presented].”

The problem wasn’t that Ozer faked data to promote Flash; some of his findings actually indicate that even the early beta implementations of HTML5 beat the latest version of Flash in video playback tests. The real issue is that Ozer framed the debate around an absurd premise to shift the conversation from real issues to contrived garbage.

Flash Player: CPU Hog or Hot Tamale? It Depends.

A press release of fake science

Coverage of Ozer’s press release uncritically reported his findings that certain browsers were no better (or at least not much better) at rendering video from YouTube via Google’s experimental HTML5/H.264 site than via the standard Flash version of YouTube.

Ozer detailed only the reported “CPU Utilization” for his test Mac running Safari, Chrome, and Firefox browsers, and a PC running the same three browsers in addition to Internet Explorer. He compared the performance of Flash 10 with the latest Flash 10.1, and contrasted HTML5 playback on browsers that supported that as an alternative to Flash, not too subtly suggesting that HTML5 and H.264 were riddled with problems that inspire fear, uncertainty and doubt, while Flash simply works everywhere.

However, his results made no comment on the visual quality of Google’s Flash vs raw H.264 implementations. Previous tests I performed indicate that Google’s beta version of YouTube running HTML5 delivers raw H.264 video with remarkably better picture equality compared to the HD version of its Flash video for the same file. You can see for yourself by viewing anything on YouTube in “HD quality” via both Flash and HTML5.

Additionally, Ozer seemed to gloss over the fact that his tests really say next to nothing about the efficiency and performance of the Flash runtime compared to the use of open standards, because he wasn’t testing Flash content rendering, but really only the playback of video data delivered via a Flash wrapper.

To deliver video, Flash really isn’t doing anything special. That’s why browsers supporting HTML5 can do this themselves without needing something like Flash (or its doppelgänger, Microsoft’s Silverlight).

HTML5 savvy browsers like Safari and Chrome can also animate content and even (with a little more work) do the kinds of fancy interactive apps and games that Flash was originally targeted toward, all using open web specifications.

Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history
Flash Wars: Adobe in the History and Future of Flash

The Flash problem

Flash is promoted by Adobe as being a great way to create everything from simple website navigation and interactive content to full-blown Rich Internet Apps. Using Flash is an alternative to using open web standards to build these types of content.

The problem is that when content creators built stuff using Flash, they’re locking up their code in a form that can only be rendered by Adobe’s sanctioned Flash Player plugin. Nobody else can create their own legitimate implementation of Adobe’s Flash Player because Flash isn’t an open specification. It’s a proprietary technology fully owned by Adobe.

That’s a problem for Apple because it wants web-based content to play back well on everything from the Mac to its iPhone platform. If content is created in Flash, that means Apple has to wait powerlessly for Adobe to fix the situation in its Flash Player plugin, something that Adobe (and Macromedia before it) consistently failed to deliver for the Mac platform over the last decade. Apple gave up on Flash in the mobile realm in part to hasten the development of open alternatives.

Flash content also forces Mozilla, Opera, and the other WebKit developers outside of Apple to similarly sit back and idly support Adobe’s poorly performing Flash platform in preference to independently optimizing the rendering of open web standards that were designed to scale better from desktops to mobile devices.

Adobe’s current mobile strategy has literally emerged just over the last year or two, largely in panicked response to the iPhone. Prior to that, Adobe was pushing the joke that is Flash Lite on mobile platforms, and a different version of Flash on PC desktops.

Ten Myth of Apple’s iPad: 2. iPad needs Adobe Flash
An Adobe Flash developer on why the iPad can’t use Flash

Ideological fraud science

Much like Microsoft and its new Windows Phone 7 initiative, Adobe is hoping everyone will forget that it has done an abysmal job in deploying appropriate mobile technology over the past decade, and has its fingers crossed that everyone will abandon the much better options that have become available over the past few years and instead turn back to subservient dependance upon refreshed version of 1990s monoculture instead.

Much of the ignorant tech media is actually cheering on this absurdity, which is a bit like right wingers hailing more Reganomic deregulation even as the economy fell into ruin due to misguided efforts at putting financial institutions (rather than the law) in charge of regulating themselves in the first place.

In both cases, ideologues are quick to leap upon the most ridiculous fraud science in order to support what they’ve been told they should shill. Ozer’s “report” on Flash conveniently ignores the real problems (which include both replacing the open web with a closed plugin architecture owned by Adobe, and Adobe’s terrible performance in building and delivering this).

Instead, he creates a strawman problem (suggesting that Apple is accusing Flash of being really bad at simply delivering H.264 video in comparison to open HTML5, and then attempting to show that’s not the case at all) while launching a conspiracy theory (that Apple is out to get Flash for malicious reasons) and a dramatic morality play (that Apple ought to instead work to invest its efforts into making Flash play slightly better, so Ozer can keep writing books about Flash for his captive audience of Flash creators and users).

HTML5 assault on Adobe Flash heats up with ClickToFlash

The truth is that Flash is irrelevant in the future

What Ozer should do instead is present the plain truth that Flash is a terrible platform for creating web content because it violates everything the web was designed to do: openly share content using openly documented specifications that any vendor can implement in competitive ways that advance the state of the art in hyperlinked, multimedia communications. Flash smothers the web with closed binaries that require Adobe’s interest to play back.

Additionally, Ozer should stop presenting half-truths comparing Google’s currently experimental version of H.264 playback with its refined existing implementation of Flash. Ozer fails to admit that Flash isn’t primarily a video distribution system, nor that video playback is really where Flash really exhibits its “CPU hog” problem. Flash is an interactive content platform that rivals the open web. Trying to subtly suggest there is not really a problem with Flash is the opposite of being honest.

Anyone can open a web page embedding a simple Flash visual and watch their CPU performance tank in real time as Flash Player is called upon to render a simple interactive graphic. Render the same element using JavaScript, and the browser itself can deliver optimizations and enhancements that cause it to play faster or more efficiently.

This is already the case in Safari and Chrome, where much work has been invested into making JavaScript execute many times faster than previous generations of browsers. Flash is really just an alternative version of JavaScript sold by Adobe that nobody else can enhance or accelerate on their own.

By presenting trickery in numbers, Ozer is playing the same role as climate change doubters: creating a distraction that lasts just long enough to turn the conversation away from meaningful changes and toward a false controversy that invents blame where none exists. In Ozer’s case, he deflects real criticism of the terrible performance of Flash (particularly on mobile devices) in order to shift the conversation to one that demonizes Apple for not rescuing Adobe from its own terrible implementation of its Flash platform.

Rather than encouraging developers to use open standards for creating interactive web content, and imploring Adobe to drop its dead end Flash runtime acquired at great cost from Macromedia and instead focus on creating tools for modern and open web standards, Ozer attempts to instead suggest that Apple is a bad company for not focusing most of its efforts into shoring up the performance of a fatally flawed web-alternative so that Adobe can serve as the sole beneficiary of all web development going forward, without actually doing anything but tainting the web with a proprietary binary trap.

Shame on you, Mr. Ozer. … and all of you in the tech media who gobbled up his fraud science while remarking how delicious it was.

  • JohnWatkins

    @twujr,
    What’s really amazing is to see my processor go from 5% use to 100% saturation with one click (and little is really happening on the webpage!) Disgraceful Adobe!
    But yes, really lazy web authoring. And its all too common.

    @getwnl
    That’s really how Flash should be used (but only that.) But since Flash support for different platforms is uneven, and the scheme is closed and proprietary, its a bad temporary solution even for that application. Unfortunately there are presently no other viable options that cover all the bases (that I know of.)
    AJAX nicely covers some stuff. There are various open projects in the works (lower level building blocks.) But there needs to be focused agreement, effort, adoption, and then easy to use tools that enable production of standard and open content will follow.

  • gctwnl

    @JohnWatkins,
    Thanks. I assume Silverlight also covers this, right? But that leaves me wondering. Any environment that covers this is in fact a portable environment that threatens the closedness of environments like iPhone OS. Apple wants developers to build for iPhone exclusively (SDK). Hence no Flash. But that probably also means that they will not be enthousiastic about any other cross-platform solution, even if it is open.

    It seems to me Apple’s position is a difficult balance. In the end they want to protect their hardware turf more than anything because that is where the profits lie. They sell not hard- or software, but user experience (hence the close integration of all parts in the ecosystem). Both drivers are more or less anathema to any cross-platform environment.

    Difficult to gauge where this is going. Because the ultimate question is: how much is not having the cross platform environment hurting user experience? For a company it is currently still only possible to build these kinds of rich customer experiences with Flash. Building apps for every platform is just too expensive. In that sense, Adobe’s ‘compile to iPhone app’ becomes an interesting move for companies wanting to limit resources.

  • JohnWatkins

    @getwnl
    Silverlight is just Microsoft’s Flash (closed and proprietary.)

    No, the whole idea with open standards is to enhance portability and eliminate closed environments. Apple has no problem with interoperability (they have lead non DRM’d music, and open standards as they currently are doing with HTML5, shunning Flash, helping with OpenGL and Open CL, etc.) but they move to defend their own look and feel, etc.
    HTML5, just like HTML4, leaves it to the browser and the OS to display content appropriately for the platform. With a proper standard something like a video or google finance chart should render fine on any browser without plugins. As a bonus, the quality of rendering is up to the browser (competition) and the controls and appearance are up to the OS (consistency and choice.)
    Actually I came here to post this for you. Gives a good explanation of the Flash/HTML5 thing as well good info on where HTML5 is, what it can do, and how it will work. Sound like he feels its pretty much there except for ratification and creation of authoring environments.
    http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/03/why-html5-is-worth-your-time.html

  • SunnyGuy53

    > The consensus among computer users is that Microsoft is the best OS.

    That’s like saying that the consensus among consumers is that MacDonalds is the best dining experience.

    Mentioning Darwin is appropriate. At one time the dinosaurs ruled the earth. But they are long extinct, aren’t they. Back in the day, you would have claimed the dinosaurs to be superior to the lowly mammals. Who today would say to you: “How do you like me now?”

    Sunny Guy

  • rufustfirefly

    @SunnyGuy53

    You say “That’s like saying that the consensus among consumers is that MacDonalds is the best dining experience.”

    I agree, even though it is my statement you are taking issue with. My point is my statement about Microsoft makes as much sense as the common, but foolish, statement, that there is a “consensus” about Global Warming and no alternative ideas are worth considering. First, there is no consensus. Hundreds, if not thousands of the leading climate experts do not agree with this “orthodoxy” and have taken public issue with it. Second, science is not about “consensus”. Real science, as opposed to junk science, encourages competing views because the competing views force new information to be considered, new possibilities to be examined, and lead to a better understanding of the truth. So, the “consensus, the settled science” got “unsettled” when Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and others at the CRU and NASA were found to have corrupted the data and the scientific process.

    I made the assertion about Microsoft because I know the posters here are mostly passionate about Apple. So am I. But the numbers of users, actual global market share, do represent a consensus that Microsoft is better. Does this make it better? Of course not. Nothing is settled. Not Microsoft’s market share, or the root cause of the weather. There is active debate about whether the last 10 years have seen global temperatures rise or fall. If this is not settled, how can the cause of the global temperature be known. And how can rational people assert that the “government” can fix the temperature? Has the government fixed war, or hunger, or prosperity, or mail delivery, or anything? Most government action creates greater problems than whatever ill the government was trying to fix. The most active governments are dictatorships – they believe in full control. No dictatorship has ever produced good for mankind. Government control of the flow of all carbon based energy is nothing more than asserting dictatorial control over the economy. This would produce unemployment, higher prices, lower standards of living, lower standards of innovation, and most important, reduction of the liberty that is at the core of our Constitution.

    So, kudos to Apple for being better than Microsoft. Apple’s biggest danger is that it will tend toward market dominance like Microsoft. Who can compete with it’s vertically integrated model, which is simply superior? Likewise, kudos to our Founding Fathers for engineering our Constitution so brilliantly that it provides protection from the ever present tendency of men/women to try to steal individual freedom through the expansion of government powers. It is human nature. And the protection against this move toward tyranny is a informed public that understands and cherishes freedom and allows the Constitutional safeguards to block attacks on the individual – like that represented by both the current Health Care bill, and the Cap and Trade legislation, that is based on the junk science Daniel decried in his article above.

  • twujr

    @rufustfirefly

    You’re comparing Microsoft’s market share with Apple’s and claiming a consensus is like comparing Toyota’s market share with BMW and stating that BMW has no ability to thrive. While I currently drive a Toyota, I see that their fit and finish build quality has declined over the past several years and I’m not sure I’d buy another one.

    I believe the reason that BMW is a superior vehicle is that they build to a level of performance and fit and finish, not price. More and more, it seems like Toyota builds to price.

    Over the past decade or so Apple has thrived as the underdog. I hope they always keep that passion, regardless of what the “other” 90+% of the world does.

    t

  • Mike

    Originally posted by rufustfirefly:
    There is active debate about whether the last 10 years have seen global temperatures rise or fall. If this is not settled, how can the cause of the global temperature be known.

    Actually the cause of global temperatures is known because we’ve had data longer than the last 10 years to work with. If you did the last 10 years, you’d be cherry picking data, since 1998 and 1999 were exceptionally hot years. So looking at the last 50 or even 100 years is a better trend for the future. If you look at that data, it’s clear that global temperatures are rising. And scientists are in consensus that global warming is happening, but the public isn’t aware of it. Anyway, 90% of the scientists agree that climate change is man-made, not by nature… just look at this article.

    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/07/public-trusts-scientists-not-their-conclusions.ars

    Who can compete with it’s vertically integrated model, which is simply superior?

    I have to argue with that. Because there’s plenty of examples of non-vertically integrated models out there in the business world that do just fine. And besides, Apple will never gain a monopoly and at best they will be dominating. Even then, the PC market is too big for one company to take over and dominate… unless you do it in software. Apple hardware just simply costs too much for some people and lots of people are willing to pay for an (arguably) inferior product. So I don’t think Apple has a problem with more competition. If anything, having a monopoly like Microsoft has made them innovate more than ever, because most people are locked in one way or another to Windows, and so those that switch will have to have that much more incentive to switch. So it’s just a different business model, but it’s not necessarily “the best”.

  • Robbie

    @ rufustfirefly
    You wrote:
    “[...] and allows the Constitutional safeguards to block attacks on the individual – like that represented by both the current Health Care bill [...]”

    It reads:
    “[...] and allows the Constitutional safeguards to block attacks on the RICH individual – like that represented by both the current Health Care bill [...]”

    Robbie

  • rufustfirefly

    NEW HEADLINE — Fraud legislation used to promote Flash Health Care Mega Bureaucracy performance over Free Market and Free Choice.

    (Please post if you understand what is in the 2000 – 3000 page “bill” which is to receive a final vote in the next few days. I would like a copy of the bill to review)

  • http://matthewfabb.com/ Matthew Fabb

    In the HTML5 vs Flash debate, many have claimed that Flash consumes too much CPU when running video and that HTML5 would be a more efficient way of viewing video. Jan Ozer’s tests and articles try to address that issue and that issue alone, not get into the larger HTML5 versus Flash debate.

    Also Ozer writes books on video software outside of Flash and if HTML5 becomes the video standard, I imagine he would switch to writing HTML5 video instead of Flash video (if he isn’t already writing a book on HTML5 video). In the end his speciality seems to be in video not just Flash video.

    As for quality Jan Ozer specifically chooses a video and switches to 720p and shows what YouTube video he’s using. Looking at both videos myself I don’t notice visible difference, but I would have to install a tool to capture the FLV file to compare to see if they are the same file. However, once again since they are both at 720p they seem to be at the same quality.

  • http://ny-pictures.com/nyc/photo/ paul_houle

    Flash sux, use Silverlight.

    [You might also have once said "AOL sucks, use MSN," but why not just promote web standards instead? - Dan ]

  • PhilipWing

    Dan, I understand this is your own blog, but please stay on your main subject. I also understand you’re upset about a variety of issues, e.g., Kaiser bean counters trying to screw you over, but sometimes only enforcing currently law is necessary. Please write with your usually excellent work like your Microsoft Courier article, which I will forward my upline wanting to avoid $50 per month stuck with a device even our Windows Shop IT may ditch in going to Windows Mobile 7 (or iPhones as even she hopes). FYI, that’s with adding it to my AT&T iPhone Family plan.

  • FreeRange

    Dan – where are you??????? We miss you…. lets get some new articles up!!!!!!!!!

  • Dorotea

    I agree….. I need something while I wait for my new iPad

    Puleeeeze!

  • vaprrs

    Poster rufustfirefly is quite correct in stating there is no consensus amongst scientists about climate change being anthropogenic. I would estimate 2/3 are against at the government lab where I work. It is at this point dogma in the media, not science.

    There is so much more to the debate than the CRU fraud. The climate models are interesting academic exercises, but the truth of the matter is that we are currently incapable of accurately modeling a global climate system even for short periods of time, and have no way to validate any model we might produce. Many over-reaching (and sometimes bordering on fraudulent) assumptions and simplifications used in these models greatly impact the results. Certainly nothing to base policy upon.

    We should all be progressing continually towards clean renewable energy and conservation with or without “global warming” simply because it is the right thing to do in terms of efficiency, economy, and sustainability. The real tragety here is that the climate change scare and its fraud science drains resources away from those of us working to make a real defference in the world.

    P.S. Dissapointing that rufustfirefly had to spell out the tongue-in-cheek. FYI, I have a PhD in Env. Eng. from a top school (as rated by US News).

    [If you want to claim credibility for your opinion via your education, you can't really also post anonymously and cite a decorated (by US News, really?) but unnamed institution, because that just smacks of falseness - Dan]

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