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Apple and Adobe lead web tool battle

4 June 10 16:02 GMT

The technological landscape has long been defined by corporate conflict as companies attempt to win over consumers.

In the web's infancy, rival companies developed a number of different solutions to deliver video and interactive content.

But Adobe's Flash software has been increasingly adopted by designers producing websites and embedding videos.

"Flash has been around for years now traditionally creating interactive websites of the type you just couldn't do with a standard webpage," said Tom Royal from Computer Active magazine.

"In the last few years it's been used for video playback on sites like YouTube use Flash so you can play video in your browser without having to use another program."

Flash emerged as a favoured format from a host of third party plug-ins - these are pieces of software that add functionality to the net.

Chewy Trewhella, a developer advocate at Google, said plug-ins have helped the web experience become dynamic.

"Back in the day, 10 years ago, web pages were quite limited in what they could do," he said.

"You could make text bold or you could put a table on the page, but that was about it. So these third party plug-ins really allow you to make web pages a lot richer."

Emerging language

Technology is constantly evolving and even popular formats can often fall out of favour for newer and more useful ones.

The language used to write web pages, Hyper Text Markup language (HTML), is expected to rival Flash with a new programming standard known as HTML 5.

"HTML 5 is the next generation language for creating web pages, now it's been worked on for years and it's going to be a very long time before it's done," said Mr Royal.

"But the reason for all of the fuss about it at the moment is that it can play video in your browser in much the same way that Flash can," he said.

HTML 5 will be a major revision to the current HTML 4.01 because it aims to reduce the need for proprietary plug-ins to run web applications.

Standing against it are big consumer tech firms such as Apple, Microsoft and Sony who have joined forces to create a common standard for video compression called H.264.

It provides good video quality at low bit rates, and has been adopted by YouTube, iTunes and Blu-ray discs, among others.

Apple vs Adobe

Apple has been the most vocal company in rejecting support of Adobe's Flash in its own devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently said Flash was the number one reason Apple Macs crash, the software is a huge drain on battery power and it has security issues.

Adobe's web technology has had security issues but most other computer programs discover security flaws over time, said Mr Royal.

"Flash certainly does drain your battery power but that's because like every other multimedia application it's doing a lot of things so it's going to use more battery than just a static webpage," he added.

"It's true that on Mac's Flash is quite power hungry. As for the crashing, Apple is probably the only company that will have access to those statistics so we just won't be able to tell."

Adobe hit back against Apple by taking out adverts in financial papers and on tech websites stating their case for the "freedom to choose".

Mobile battle

Jonathan Gay, who created Flash's predecessor software FutureSplash, believes the battle between Apple and Adobe is one of control over the mobile platform.

"The two companies are competing to try and set the playing field for how people view video and applications on mobile devices," he said.

"Adobe would like to see Flash on the iPhone so Adobe developers can deliver their content. But Apple doesn't want to include Flash because they think it will take away from the experiences of building custom applications and building the iPhone into a video platform."

Mr Royal said almost all home computers can play Flash and will be able to use HTML 5 when released, but handsets are more "complicated".

"If you've got an Apple device, you won't be able to play the videos on websites that only use Flash. If you've got an Android phone you might be able to use Flash but older Android devices won't.

"The upshot for users is if there is particular website you want to watch videos from, you will have to choose your mobile devices quite carefully."

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