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The Blue Screen

Maxwell Cooter

Open standards - the Apple way

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What exactly does Apple mean by open standards?

There's open as the rest of the world thinks of it and there's Apple open, which is what Steve Jobs wants it to mean. Jobs is very keen to dismiss Flash as a proprietary product, which it is, although iPhones and iPads also run proprietary operating systems.

That's the only conclusion I can draw from Apple's demo of its HTML5 capabilities - the company has gone to a great effort to display its capabilities on a website but has rather spoiled the effect by designing them to be run on Safari only. So, Apple's commitment to openness extends just as far as its own browser and not to the genuine open browsers offered by Mozilla or Google.

In some ways though, the use of browser is irrelevant: the key issue for handling multimedia content is through the choice of video codec. Apple has opted for H.264 and, to see the demos, yes, you've guessed it, you have download Apple's version of it - QuickTime. Apple justifies this by calling H.264 the industry standard - it's certainly a standard but Apple saying that it is, doesn't make it the standard.

Google is going down a different path entirely. Last month, it released VP8, a genuinely open compression format designed to handle multimedia on the web and not be beholden to proprietary software. Unlike Apple, the company does have a genuine commitment to openness. Having said that, there is a debate as to whether VP8 is quite as open as it appears to be - and whether it differs much from H.264.

But the difference is that Google is, I believe, genuinely looking top open standards, while Apple is a law unto itself. Always positioning itself as a quirky, friendlier version of big, bad Microsoft, the company is every bit as manipulative and controlling. In fact, given Microsoft's ventures in open source, it's probably more open than Apple these days.

Apple's support for open standards as about as persuasive as the Doublethink philosophy that pervades 1984. Or perhaps its true influence is Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass. "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.' When Apple uses the word 'open' the spirit of Humpty Dumpty is nodding in silent approval.



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