[Foundation-l] Freedom, standards, and file formats

Brion Vibber brion at wikimedia.org
Fri Oct 3 06:20:00 UTC 2008

Hash: SHA1

Gregory Maxwell wrote:
> There are so many distinct classes of problem with flash that it can
> be hard to have a productive discussion about it. 
> For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to talk about
> flash-as-a-video-format. For that purpose the important problems are
> almost entirely caused by the codecs used inside flash.

Just a quick note -- there actually *are* potential productive uses of
Flash outside of the video player context. Like so many things, Flash is
best used when it's invisible. :)

The primary other areas where I might consider Flash are:

1) An aid in an improved file upload system.

Flash's file upload capability is slightly more flexible than the
general HTML+HTTP one natively supported by browsers, providing better
support for multiple file uploads and progress feedback.

WordPress, like MediaWiki an open-source LAMP application, has a nice
example of a progressive enhancement in their upload widget, using the
Flash upload interface when available.

2) Fallback implementation of open web standards for Internet Explorer.

Other popular web browsers (the so-called "web standards" world) are
actively supporting open client-side goodies such as SVG graphics and
the <canvas> element, which can be used to create <buzzword>rich
interactive experiences</buzzword>.

Maps, timelines, equation graphs, gravity simulators, all sorts of fun
and educational things can be created which would benefit from just a
_leetle_ fancier systems than raw HTML 4 + JavaScript.

That's something we don't currently do, but is something we'll want to
consider for the future; we're about creating free, open, *educational
resources*, and visual interactive activities can be part of that goal.

[Of course we don't want to neglect print and non-visual and
non-interactive models as well! But remember, accessibility doesn't mean
limiting yourself to the lowest common denominator.]

There are open-source Flash implementations of <canvas> which can
provide a unified interface that works on modern web-standards browsers
and on IE with Flash.

Alternatively, a Java version is probably possible too. :)

How best to implement creating interactive thingies in a
community-edited browser environment (safely!) is an open problem, but
it's one that might well benefit from properly-considered use of Flash
(and without any video/audio codec patent issues).

Other tools, such as page activity history graphs which could be zoomed
inline, could also benefit from this sort of system without having to
worry about sandboxing. Like so many things, these would benefit from
progressive enhancement: always support a solid PNG, use dynamic
<canvas> graphic if available, etc.

This stuff wouldn't depend on patented codecs.

- -- brion
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