back to article Happy birthday, Apple QuickTime

Apple's multimedia foundation, QuickTime, was released to the public 20 years ago today. Initially provided as an Extension for the classic Mac OS – folk were running System 6 back then – QuickTime's ability to show tiny windows of video was premiered in May 1991 at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference. QuickTime 1. …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bah Quicktime

    The Apple virus...

    iPhone users send you video, and you have to install Quicktime to view their proprietary codec.. It now comes bundled with iTunes too, along with Apple Software Update...

    Oh joy.... You go to fix someones PC's and see Itunes, even though you know they aren't dumb enough to actually use iTunes, but they don't really know how they ended up with it....

    Anyone notice when Apple release proprietary formats, we get "happy birthday" stories, I don't recall one for ATRAC, only constant slagging off....


    1. Annihilator


      I'm not a fan of Quicktime by a real stretch, but are you just inventing stuff? iPhone users may send me a video, but it's recorded in H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, the sound is MPEG4-AAC. It's an ISO standard, and has been for around 10 years now. Bear in mind that in the video world, there has never really been a video codec standard, just a mish-mash. Theora is the open source best example, and is aiming to ape MPEG-4.

      I've also never seen iTunes installed on anyone's machine unless they meant to do it, I'm not aware of any installer that sneakily puts it onto a machine.

      Agendas? Apple-hating and assuming everything is bad, yup, I see the agenda.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Small problem.

        The STREAMS inside might me ISO standard, but it's conveniently wrapped in a Apple proprietary MOV container which isn't ISO standard and you therefore need Quicktime to play it... There are some other subtle differences too, enough to break compatibility.

        I'm guessing Apple could have easily made it ISO compliant and gotten rid of the need for Quicktime, but it suited their business model if they could sideload iTunes onto everyones PC as a quicktime trojan.

        1. Annihilator

          re: Small problem

          Swing and a miss again. The file in question as created by the iPhone uses the 3GP container.

      2. Roby

        You'd be surprised

        My dad has iTunes on his Windows PC. He does not own any Apple device.

        Confused, I asked him, "why on earth do you have iTunes? What do you use it for?".

        "I don't know why I need it," he replied. "I don't use it," he continued, "it made me install it".

        Turns out if you have QuickTime on your machine, which he did because it was required to view some video he wanted to see, then the invasive auto-updater for it automatically tries to install iTunes unless you specifically uncheck the box during its update.

    2. ThomH

      Quite a few inaccuracies in there

      The iPhone emails video out in the H.264 codec, which is an industry standard developed outside Apple. It uses the MOV container format, which was invented at Apple but then expanded to become the industry standard MP4. You should just be able to rename the files.

      So: it's not in any sense a proprietary codec and the container format is an industry standard.

      Because Apple's QuickTime standard has become the basis for the industry standard that powers most video, including solid media formats like BluRay, and because Apple was the first company to provide a framework of video on the desktop, it's worthy of a "happy birthday" story.

  2. JDX Gold badge

    As a Windows user I never 'got' quicktime, it just seemed like another annoying plugin/addon I had to install. The way others feel about Flash probably!

    1. Armando 123

      Apparently MS did. As part of their settlement with Apple, they wanted Apple to "kill the baby", ie Quicktime, so MS would effectively kill off competition in desktop mulitmedia. Apple held firm.

      This was part of what Apple said under oath during MS' anti-trust suit.

    2. I am the Walrus

      Like a lot of tech it depends on the application as to its worth. On home desktops and HTPC's it's probably not as usefull as something like VLC however in film it's used a lot with camers such as the RED having a specific quicktime only plugin. Also with the ability to step frame by frame through a movie it's extreamly usefull for reviewing animation.

  3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I'm sure I saw Acorn Replay being demo'd in 1991 when I worked at AFE in Hong Kong.

    1. nemo20000

      Moving blocks, moving lines

      Issue 1 of the Acorn Replay API documents were dated March 1992 – if finished and documented for third party use by then it would certainly have been demonstrable in 1991.

    2. Russ Tarbox
      Thumb Up

      I just Googled this as was thinking something along these lines before I saw your post.

      Replay was pretty amazing given the hardware it could run on.

  4. Outcast !!!


    Quicktime (for Windows) has become a bloatware nowadays!

    RIP Quicktime!

    1. ThomH

      I'm not sure 'nowadays' is accurate

      It's been bloatware for as long as I can remember, even going back to whatever version was supplied for Windows 3.1. It's been reported that when Apple were forced to graft Carbon onto OS X, as a transition technology from the classic OS, they found an incomplete but much cleaner implementation of the usual QuickDraw/etc stuff in the Windows port of QuickTime and worked forward from that. I appreciate that the thing was meant to do a lot more than just video but throwing large chunks of the system libraries for an OS in there sounds like it was the offence.

      At a guess, the culprit is whoever decided that QuickTime needed to be a 'multimedia platform' rather than just a video playback tool. Comparisons with Apple's feelings about Flash are entirely appropriate.

      They've fixed it on the Mac side as of QuickTime X, by the way — it's a clean break reimplementation thing that really just plays a subset of the video codecs that classic QuickTime had accumulated with none of the wider aspirations. I've no idea how they would defend what they currently ship for Windows but I doubt the defence would be very convincing.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Happy birthday, Apple QuickTime

    Why aren't you dead yet?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now can it die a quick death

    Useless POS

  7. TeeCee Gold badge

    Quicktime on Windows.

    Ah yes. That'll be the thing that installs the "Quicktime task" and "Quicktime updater" in the boot process. Without bloody asking!

    The removal of these doesn't affect the operation of QT, but is worth a good few seconds on startup times.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      At least...

      At least Apple actually make use of the Windows Scheduler for updating quicktime, so many other companies write their own cack that sits there all the time making a bad replication of the sceduler just to poll for or hold a port open for a push from an update.

  8. Mike G
    Thumb Down

    People might be banging on about the death of flash, but ideally can this bloated pile of itune infecting shite be next up for the chop?

  9. Peter Gordon
    Thumb Up

    Very interesting article.

    I wonder if the Commodore team were working on CDXL at the same time or before Apple were working on QuickScan, or if Commodore were inspired by it.

    After all, Commodores computers already came with awesome video chips in the 80s...

    1. J. R. Hartley

      CDXL on Amiga

      I was amazed by CDXL videos in the early 90's on the Amiga. As usual though, the victors write the history, and alas, not many people would even know what CDXL is. Shame.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windows qucktime?

    You mean it's still available?

    May of been good in the early days, but it became a slow, memory hungry bit of bloatware, that is best avioded.

    File it alongside Flash & RealMedia. Once useful, but long had it's day.

  11. Paul 135


    QuickTime Player for windows is one of the biggest pieces of software dung ever created. The last time I checked, it STILL could not play full-screen videos without a paid upgrade to the "Pro" version.

    Why camera makers and mobile phone manufacturers still insist on putting a stupid little QuickTime logo on their product boxes, encoding their video files in a .mov container, and forcing you to install this PoS, I do not understand.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fullscreen on free

      Been available for at least 4 years, possibly longer. Ctrl-F

  12. JC_

    Volume Control

    Anyone else remember when the volume control on a QuickTime window was a little thumb-dial, just like on transistor radios, and how bloody infuriating it was to use? Hated it ever since...

  13. jai

    stop complaining

    you only have yourselves to blame.

    if you'd accepted the Truth and converted to the Way of Mac years ago, you'd have avoided all of this built up angst and dangerous levels of blood pressure when talking about this software.

  14. Armando 123

    Why the hate?

    I get that Quicktime isn't perfect, but it effectively brought real multimedia to personal computers. Look back at the specs of the computers it first ran on and tell me that what it did wasn't impressive. Like C++, it had its flaws and was kinda clunky (especially at first) but it paved the way for everything else.

    1. Mike Moyle

      Re: Why the hate?

      Because the traditional "But 'X' had 'Y' first, so Apple just **STOLE** it from them!!! Apple SUXXX!!!!!!!!!" response is shut off at the tap and the Geek Chorus needs to say SOMETHING negative after any article that mentions Apple, or what's the point of living...?

      1. Daniel B.

        Hate isn't apple hating though.

        Quicktime USED TO BE awesome when it came out; and even then, only in Macs. There was multimedia stuff that actually exploited the wider QuickTime stuff in the early 90's. But then something happened, QT on Windows sucked (same thing with iTunes), and QT suddenly became the same as realplayer, only with the fugly OSX theming stuck in it. No fullscreen mode, low resolution, etc. But realplayer at least could do fullscreen, and didn't look odd with forced OSX theming.

        Sometime during the early 2000's QT became bloatware. :(

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Q: Why the hate?

        A: Because QuickTime is a digital turd that just won't flush.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: Why the hate?

        Because, as others have said, when you install itunes (like you are forced to, to reformat an iPod to work on Windows) it also installs Quicktime, some crap called Bonjour, and other resource-grabbing crapware without you asking it to, or without it telling you. And most people just leave it there thinking that it's fine to just leave it there. But in truth it's installed a bunch of services and is grabbing your CPU & memory, and trawling your hard drive, making everything else grind to a halt.

        So the user calls IT support, moaning about how their computer has "got old" and they need a new one.

        Filth. That's what it is. Filth.


      Why the hate? Mindless hype of course.

      Not everyone wears your brand of blinders. We don't buy into the whole "Apple invented everything" mentality and actually find it quite annoying.

      "Real multimedia" was being done by competitors with lesser hardware before Quicktime.

      Most people just view Quicktime as another more proprietary variation on Flash.

    3. Russ Tarbox

      RealPlayer brought streaming audio to the masses

      It was wonderful. Then they ruined it by filling it with ads and bloat at every version. Good things can turn bad you know ...

    4. Annihilator
      Thumb Up

      No alternatives

      Agreed, it wasn't brilliant, but it was born in the days when the only alternatives were Microsoft's proprietary formats, "Real" Media's abomination or accepting humungous file sizes in the more basic formats. Quicktime and the format it spawned (MPEG4) have for some years now offered one of the best balances between file size, picture quality and processing requirements. used to be the benchmark in finding quality video files.

      As a Windows user, I'd argue that this is one of the things Apple has actually given the industry.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No it didn't

      Acorn had real multimedia available well before Apple came up with Quicktime.

      Yet another of the Apple faithful rewriting history

    6. Darryl

      Yeah, and the floppy disk brought real storage to personal computers and paved the way for multi-terabyte hard drives. Doesn't mean I don't hate having to use one now, though. Same with Quicktime. It's huge, slow to start up ('specially on Windows), and proprietary and I hate being forced to install it on someone's PC just because they bought an iPod.

      If I need to watch a .mov, I just use Media Player Classic


      Why the hate?

      It's a piece of crap, that's why. Not everyone wears the same brand of blinders as you. This "we invented everything" mentality doesn't help either.

      "Real multimedia" was done on other platforms before Quicktime and on even more austere hardware.

      For most of us, Quicktime is at best just Apple's brand of Flash.

  15. blofse

    Man I hated using quicktime in the past. It was bloatware yes, and in the really old days it used to be about 25meg, which when you had your 500mb disk that was fairly huge.....

    It was a toss-up between this and realMedia (realmedia had 1000 options you had to disable to stop it connecting to the web if you remember), so it was a really dark time for media.

    realMedia also became bloatware fairly quickly.... but I always kept my old version (think it was real5 or something).

    But thankfully everything was solved when winamp allowed you to play video and now obviously we have vnc or mediaPlayerClassic if you have to use windows.

    Anyway - why do we have a report about this piece of software alone? It would of been good to have the entire story involving all the companies (real, winamp, windows media player etc) and comparing players. Instead we have something which feels like the work of mac fan boys saying Apple made video first....


  16. bigfoot780

    anyone ever tried deploying

    Pain in the a** Options saved in a per user file not the registry. Update settings in control panel quicktime and Apple software update. Msi is hidden away (like java). If Apple is anti plugin kill QT.

  17. figure 11

    one for old mac hands

    "time, n. a non spatial continuum travelling from the past through the present to the future." points for knowing where in relation to quicktime this appears

    1. tliet
      Thumb Up


      That is the extra text in the Get Info window of the QuickTime extension under the Classic Mac OS.

      All in all QuickTime has been pivotal for the industry. Windows users see it as a bloated 'player' and it may be on Windows, but in reality it has been the multimedia architecture for the nineties on the Mac. I think we haven't seen a lot of films over the past 2 decades that haven't gone through QuickTime in some way or the other.

      And .mov being a proprietary container? IIRC the MPEG group has chosen the file format for the MPEG4 specification.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Released 20 years ago today"

    And it's been downhill ever since...

  19. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    No streaming

    Let me say that the QuickTime/MPEG4 container sucks. It has scalability problems because the structural and informational data atom 'moov' and the codec data atom 'mdat' can not be interleaved. A compressor must write to separate moov and mdat files until the end of the audio/video is reached, append the mdat atom to the moov atom, then re-index the moov atom to reflect the new data offsets in the mdat atom. Alternatively, the compressor can pre-allocate some space for a moov atom and hope it doesn't run out before compression finishes. A decompressor must buffer all moov atom before it can play anything from the mdat atom. In other words, it's not actually streaming. It's a total pain in the ass. This is why video cameras producing MPEG4 files are limited to a few minutes of operation at a time. This is why phones have trouble playing long QuickTime movies even if they have hardware acceleration.

    The real kick in the nuts is QuickTime X. It was Apple's chance to drop all of the legacy baggage but the first step was using the ancient QuickTime container. There's nowhere for it to go now. It can't properly support streaming files like MPEG2 or AVCHD.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The exploding whale

    I think the first video I remember downloading in the early 90's was the report about the exploding whale ( - which, judging by the quality, is a copy of the original version). Before that, we had to make do with animated gifs (and I vaguely recall some "interesting" examples of that genre :-).

  21. tliet
    Thumb Up


    @figure11 That is the extra text in the Get Info window of the QuickTime extension under the Classic Mac OS.

    All in all QuickTime has been pivotal for the industry. Windows users see it as a bloated 'player' and it may be on Windows, but in reality it has been the multimedia architecture for the nineties on the Mac. I think we haven't seen a lot of films over the past 2 decades that haven't gone through QuickTime in some way or the other.

    And .mov being a proprietary container? IIRC the MPEG group has chosen the file format for the MPEG4 specification.

  22. Roby

    Feel old now

    I have always hated QuickTime. All it has ever been to me is an invasive piece of software that I didn't want but that was required to view some particular thing. Much like RealPlayer.

    You still sometimes get movie trailers requiring QuickTime to view, but that is usually for business reasons, and you can often find a version in another format somewhere else.

  23. icanonlyimagine
    Thumb Up

    Well that's a win for QuickTime then...

    ....if all the Windows blowhards are hit because of all the legacy crap that is your OS. Proprietary? That would be anything in the video world but it's the nearest there is to a standard.

  24. jubtastic1

    Memory a bit hazy

    But one of the things that blew me away about the Be OS demo In the early ninties was full motion video, 4 of them no less, mapped onto an interactive 3D model of a book. It made QuickTime look frankly pathetic.

    Also, 5 second boot times, that was pretty awesome as well, part of me wishes Apple had picked JLG over Jobs.

    Oh, and happy birthday QT

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Great on the Mac, steaming dung on the PC

    As someone who straddles both the PC and Mac platforms as well as producing video for a living, I have a love hate relationship with it.

    On the Mac it's a seamless experience. Works well, handles most formats, loads quickly. It is a decent container format for editing as it can hold lots of metadata to do with your footage as well. Apple also offer some really neat video codecs that are Mac only which are extremely useful in the professional domain.

    On the PC it's slow. bloated and generally pretty rubbish. The only advantage is that you can access some of the codecs that Apple bundle with it. But it's still crap.

    Incidentally I always send out either standard mp4, WMV or Flash videos to clients. Quicktime is only ever of use during the production process, there is no excuse to be exposing end users to it as most will be on the PC and will be required to download and install it.

  26. Marcus Bointon

    QT 1.0 was really a product of a project that Apple took on in 1987 called 'Pencil Test'. The mission was simple: produce a broadcast-quality 3D animated movie entirely on Macs. There were a few obstacles: personal computers had never done it before.

    There's little point in comparing QT with other container formats because they simply didn't exist at the time and almost none of them make any attempt to do anything other than playback. Pretty much every decent (i.e. not AVI) container format since has followed QT's basic design (MPEG-4, Matroska).

    QuickTime Player (up to 7.x) on Mac OS was one of the most underrated apps ever - it had comprehensive multitrack editing with as many simultaneous video/audio/text/arbitrary data tracks as you like, codec/frame-rate/colour-depth/sample-rate conversions, variable frame rates, timecode support, live arbitrary scaling, skewing and rotation, real-time audio mixing and eq, colour correction, video and audio effects, simple non-destructive copy/paste editing and compositing of video (without recompression). All this from an app that many thought was an equivalent of dumb playback-only apps like WinAmp and Windows Media Player.

    QT completely dominated the world of digital editing for a long time, mainly because it was (is?) the only viable interchange format, and because of the massive array of applications and codecs that supported it. There have probably been very few movies made in the last 20 years that have not involved QT at some stage of production.

    QT for Windows was always the runt of the litter - I know, I was Apple UK's QT for Windows support guy in 93/94. Much of this was down to the fact that QT depended heavily on the rest of Mac OS, so QT for Windows incorporated ports of large chunks of Mac OS, which made it very big and didn't really fit on top of Windows APIs very nicely. All the nice things like the Mac Sound Manager were severely hampered by Windows' dismal media support at the time (such as lack of sample-rate conversion and inter-app sound mixing). On top of that, there were of course almost no video apps for Windows save for playback; There was simply no market for professional video software on Windows back then.

    While QuickTime's open file format was the basis for the MPEG-4 file format, much of the promise of QT was lost in translation - we're still waiting for all those MPEG-4 part 10 authoring apps. HyperCard was supposed to become QT's interaction layer, but that never got off the ground, and we all ended up with Flash instead (which QT could play to some extent too).

    Apple pretty much gave up on promoting professional use of QT after 7.0. QT X has been relegated to being an iTunes appendage and headed off into playback-only land, and is no longer interesting. QT was so unbelievably good at what it did that it's almost criminal that Apple starved it of attention; it would have been great to see it spun out. Many of the things that made QT such a great authoring container have been lost, and the world of video is sadly retreating back to proprietary formats.

  27. John I'm only dancing
    Thumb Up

    Genuinely groundbreaking

    I've used QT since version 3, I have QTX but still use my version 7 pro a lot.

    I'm just waiting for all the Windows trolls to arrive, slagging it off, just because it came from Apple.

  28. lurker
    Thumb Down

    Happy birthday?

    As the posters above said, the survival of this piece of trash for yet another year is not something which anybody in their right minds would celebrate.

  29. Mectron

    Whorst then Flash

    Quicktime is as bad as flash the idiot who made this horrible piece of pooware should be jailed for releasing of the most poorly writed codec ever made.

    1. Marcus Bointon

      Right. I'm sure that they should have left it to you as you obviously know so much better, then it wouldn't have been so "poorly writed", and we could all be basking in glorious NumptyVision™

  30. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

    If you held Command-Option-Q-T during startup on MacOS 8, you were treated to a tiny, cheesy low-res movie, completed with MIDI-music showing the original dev team.

    Ah, the days when devs were allowed to include easter-eggs...

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