September 19, 2006
QuickTime 7.1.3 vs. QuickTime 7.1.3
Last week's release of QuickTime 7.1.3 broke a lot of interactive QuickTime content, of whose developers are up in arms. For unsatisfactorily explained reasons (see below), Apple chose to disable Flash media tracks by default; re-enabling is accomplished via a new item in QuickTime's Advanced preferences tab, but most end-users will never see this. If you are such a developer or have contracted for QT Interactive, you're probably up in arms, now, too.
For the uninitiated, Flash media tracks are employed by interactive QuickTime developers as interface elements, overlays, content, and for complex functionality that isn't possible in a .mov file otherwise. Examples include online and stand-alone content such as that deployed on CD-ROM/ECD. Here are some samples from Totally Hip's showcase.
So why did they do it?
Apple's knowledge base article "QuickTime 7.1.3 and Adobe Flash" states:
The version of Flash that ships in QuickTime is older than the version available from Adobe and used in Safari, therefore, while we still ship Flash with QuickTime, it is turned off by default.
This is somewhat nonsensical. Yes, QT only supports Flash 5 content, but interactive QT developers have for years been productive with the "older" version and there's plenty of stand-alone applications that have little or nothing whatsoever to do with a browser.
While it is theoretically possible to configure the QuickTime plugin to handle .swf movies directly, this has never been the default behavior, and we all know that most preferences may as well be invisible to the non-technical user. Even if it were a common support issue, wouldn't the less damaging response be to eliminate the ability to associate the QT plug-in with the swf mime type?
Apple's "QuickTime 7.1.3" download support page states:
QuickTime 7.1.3 is an important release that delivers numerous bug fixes and addresses critical security issues. This update is recommended for all QuickTime 7 users and is required for playback of content purchased in the iTunes Store.
Many developers are assuming that the aforementioned security issues, in conjunction with Adobe security alerts, are what is really driving the change, but Apple so far remains mum on the subject; Apple's own security documents make no mention of a vulnerability in Flash media tracks.
This seems an odd and mysterious misstep for Apple. Expect the popularity/momentum of iTunes and the new features available with QuickTime-Users list points out this statement on Apple's "Why QuickTime" page:
Compatibility You Can Trust
QuickTime is fully backwards compatible with content created in QuickTime 1.0. Rest assured that the content you create today will play back tomorrow with QuickTime’s history of backwards compatibility.