I help to manage and upgrade a few hundred PCs and Mac for different government agencies.
One of my regular tasks is to evaluate and recommend (or, forbid) new software. One of those regularly updated utilities that we install on many Macs allows users to play Windows Media Video files in a browser window.
Why? Because Microsoft doesn’t seem to like web standards for media files, and does not provide a plugin for Windows Media files for Mac users. Instead, we have a decent utility called Flip4Mac. The latest version came with a surprise in the package.
We Don’t Do Windows
Macs peacefully coexist with Windows PCs in an office environment for a few reasons.
For the most part, the Mac version of Microsoft Office is compatible with the many Windows versions of Office.
Most of our communication between computer users is done via the telephone or email, both of which seem mostly platform agnostic. Most of our compatibility problems have to do with what goes on in the browser.
We encourage Mac and PC users to install Firefox, as it seems to perform much the same way on Mac or Windows PCs. The same holds true with Apple’s Safari browser. To ensure that all browsers can play the same media files, we install Flip4Mac on Macs.
Flip Over This
Flip4Mac is a free plugin which adds Windows Media playback in a Mac browser. It’s been around almost since Microsoft dropped browser support for the Mac, and then failed to update their own Windows Media Player for the Mac.
Plugins are little utilities that do something special, and we’ve had little trouble with Flip4Mac over the years. It uses QuickTime components so that Mac users can play the occasional Windows audio or video file which pops up on some web sites.
Telestream, Flip4Mac’s publisher, has a variety versions ranging from free to a Studio Pro HD version for $179. The different packages add professional features for video producers.
A new version of Flip4Mac was released yesterday, and I went through the standard routine of downloading and testing it on my Mac before making it available to other Mac users on our network.
Surprise Package Inside
Imagine my surprise as I clicked to install Flip4Mac and found an extra plugin getting installed at the same time. Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin for Mac.
Silverlight? Yes. Think of Silverlight as Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash audio and video format. It does audio, it does video, it does animation—it’s pretty much like Flash, but it’s made by Microsoft.
The Flip4Mac utility will optionally install Silverlight on your Mac. Silverlight? When did you last visit a web site which had Silverlight media? Flash supposedly is on about 98-percent of the world’s browsers. Silverlight? Not so much.
Once you install the latest Flip4Mac version, including the Silverlight option, then head to a Microsoft web page with embedded Silverlight, you’ll see the resemblance to Flash. That’s the big news.
Flip4Mac itself has been updated to support Mac OS X Snow Leopard (the 64-bit version, but with limited support), and now handles audio encoding and decoding using Apple’s Core Audio. Some things are missing for Snow Leopard users.
A few export features are not found in QuickTime X. To get those back, Mac users must downgrade to QuickTime Player 7. The good news, and that’s debatable, is that Flip4Mac will install the Silverlight plugin. The jury is still out whether or not that’s a good thing.