I just got an email from Akamai announcing the launch of their Open Video Player initiative. I was immediately interested as this is something that I think the Internet really needs, because at the moment we’re mired in a horrible mesh of closed-source, proprietary systems like Adobe Flash and MPEG-4. With Microsoft pushing Silverlight as an alternative, the landscape isn’t really shaping up to look any better.
Unfortunately, despite the wording of the email and the official website with gratuitous use of the words “open” and “standards”, the end result appears to be nothing more than a bunch of resources to help you make generic video players using the same old proprietary technologies we’re using already – Adobe Flash and (heh) “Micorosft” Silverlight.
They also throw around the term “open source”, and have a SourceForge page for their Open Video Player (which includes two download options, Flash and Silverlight).
Now, there’s pretty much fuck-all documentation on the website about it – their “Resources” link in the menu just gives me a page full of videos that no sane person will want to watch. There’s no FAQ and their blog and forums links just go to their (as yet almost unused) SourceForge pages. A quick glance at the documentation and downloads seem to indicate there’s just a bunch of pre-defined classes and methods for getting video working relatively quickly, as well as a bunch of interfaces to (unsurprisingly) Akamai’s services.
I’m not exactly sure what they think is the standard they’re attempting to create here though. This looks like a thinly-veiled attempt by a bunch of commercial partners to increase their proprietary lock-in on one of the fastest-growing parts of the web – video.
Adobe already rule the roost with their system, so they get some sheen from being associated with this new “open, standard” system – having a solid, free, open source player (that hooks into Akamai for content distribution) can’t hurt them. Microsoft get more exposure for Silverlight, which they’ll start pimping desperately soon, no doubt. And all the other media and advertising partners get exposure as well for their various products and services.
And, of course, Akamai seem to get the most out of this by having a stack of players pre-programmed to support their network. So kudos to them for this as a marketing exercise. But bullshit has to be called on their attempt to try to declare this as a standard.
This “initiative” does nothing to help the web standardise on video. It MIGHT mean a more standardised experience for users as there will be more people using these free players. This, in itself, is a commendable achievement – releasing robust and flexible Flash and Silverlight applications as open source (although it should be noted that I can’t find any mention of what license these things are released under; it’s not included in the Flash download and I can’t see it on SourceForge or anywhere on the official site) will help a lot of people add video into their site.
Of course, if you’re making video and want people on the web to see it, you’d be mad not to use Flash at the moment. It has the highest install base, works on a pretty wide variety of systems, and (as much as the mass market gets used to anything in software), people are used to it. So the Flash player might be worth a gander anyway, but just don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re doing something opens and standards based because big companies just because a big company told you that you are.
The real standard
For those of that that are still holding out hope for a truly open video experience on the web – the HTML specification draft now includes a tentative mention of a new VIDEO tag, and the goal is purportedly to ensure that their recommended standard is completely open, to the point of using open source and non-proprietary codecs like Ogg Theora for video and Vorbis for audio.
Still, there’s opposition to it. Nokia made a fuss a while back by opposing inclusion of the Ogg stuff in the video tag (here’s some commentary about it).
But at the end of the day, it’ll be best for users if we have a truly open standard for web video – Akamai’s initiative is not it.