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Steve Jobs Flash rant put to the test

CPU hog Adobe v HTML5

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When Steve Jobs badmouthed Adobe Flash to The Wall Street Journal, he said it was buggy, littered with security holes, and a "CPU hog". It's hard to argue with the first two, but a new study claims the Apple cult leader was wrong about the hog bit.

According to tests from the Streaming Learning Center - an online media consultancy that conducts public seminars on the delivery of net video - Flash is no more of a CPU drain than the HTML5 setup favored by Steve Jobs. The issue is not whether you use Flash or HTML5, says Jan Ozer, who conducted the tests, but whether you back them with hardware acceleration.

After Valleywag outed that Jobsian Flash rant, Ozer decided that someone should actually make an effort to determine whether he had a point. "There's so much commentary about how good HTML5 is and how bad Flash is, but there were no facts," Ozer tells The Reg. "I thought somebody should at least do some testing."

Testing Jobs' claim that Flash causes a majority of Mac crashes is almost beyond the realm of possibility. And that Flash is full of security holes should go without saying. So Ozer focused on CPU utilization during video playback, pitting Flash and HTML5 against each other on both Apple's Safari browser and Google Chrome.

These are the only two browsers that offer HTML5 with the H.264 codec, the same codec that backs Flash on YouTube. Ozer also tested Flash on Firefox and IE.

With Safari on the Mac, Flash did show a significantly higher CPU utilization, but Ozer attributes that to Apple's use of GPU hardware acceleration with HTML5. Things even out with Chrome on the Mac and even swing in Flash's favor with Chrome on Windows. Naturally, the platforms that performed the best were those that benefited from hardware acceleration. "When it comes to efficient video playback, the ability to access hardware acceleration is the single most important factor in the overall CPU load," Ozer writes.

"It's inaccurate to conclude that Flash is inherently inefficient. Rather, Flash is efficient on platforms where it can access hardware acceleration and less efficient where it can't." In one respect, that's merely stating the obvious. But the point is that if you test Flash and HTML5 with Chrome for Mac - where both lack hardware acceleration - CPU utilization is similar.

Adobe has added hardware acceleration with Flash Player 10.1, and Ozer argues that if Jobs were to embrace such a setup, CPU hogging would no longer be a problem. Of course, that still leaves the buggy bit. And the security bit. ®

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