Flash vs HTML5

March 13, 2010

The last few months have been full of heavy speculation regarding, well, the future of a certain pioneering RIA technology that goes by the name of Adobe Flash. All this fuss hasn’t been without good reason though. Over the years, not only has Flash managed in helping to sculpt the most interactive and visually delectable portion of the World Wide Web, it has also succeeded in creating a formidable string of (potentially?) rival technologies. There was a time when all the buzz around AJAX was touted as Flash’s ultimate death-knell. And more recently, with the release of something called HTML 5, it’s de-ja-vu all over again. In the meanwhile, Sun came up with its JavaFX, and of course, Microsoft (Zune, Bing) with Silverlight.

Early signs indicate that an HTML take-over of Flash’s core feature-set over the web is imminent[1]. It is all a question of how long it will take, like the Browser Wars (1995-2002) showed us. At this very instant, a battle is brewing between online giants over which video format to adopt as a common standard for the much talked-about HTML5 video. Uniformity, as it turns out, is one of the basic ideas behind HTML5. However, with bigwigs like Apple(MPEG-4/H.264), Microsoft(VC-1), Mozilla(Ogg Vorbis) and Google(unspecified) locking horns on this one already, it is unsettling to think of all the other standards they will fight over in the near future, and all the (developer-)time they will waste on it. Furthermore, the time that the new HTML5 compliant browsers will take to achieve significant market penetration remains a major reason behind the argument that Flash will not be displaced from its dominant position for a few years to come. Meanwhile, all this commotion buys a lot of time for the folks at Adobe to figure out a way to make their Flash authoring tool output to HTML5 pages instead of SWFs. Reports state that they’ve already found a way to achieve a similar conversion for Flash source to iPhone apps[2]. Also, around 2 million Flash developers get enough time to cross over (if they wish) to another platform. After all, learning a new language is not the difficult part, its about getting a hold on the underlying concepts and techniques. Though some of the best HTML5 apps match their Flash counterparts neck-to-neck in matters of interactivity and visual appeal[3], developers who’ve got a foot each on both sides of the river admit that the same result in HTML5 requires more effort due to the less robust tools and language.

If nothing else, the Adobe engineers could atleast try to achieve the lightness, stability and security that have been much longed for. This would then majorly eliminate the need for moving away from Flash; much of the other criticism that’s been targeted at it is baseless and illiterate for the most part. Within the DA-IICT campus itself, I’ve heard technologically aware people say things like “Flash usage is limited to playing back video over the internet and so a college festival website doesn’t merit a Flash version”, and “if HTML5 provides an easier way for developers to code apps and games, people will definitely choose it over Flash”. For one, the energy and enthusiasm of an event like a college fest is best mirrored by a vibrant and dynamic Flash site (less source, easier to code) as the people at IIT-B showed, when they decided to go ahead with a Flash-only website for their cultural fest[4]. For the other, the argument about coding apps and games in HTML5 being easier is plain wrong. Moreover, as we move toward a future with better-equipped computers and speedier internet connections, issues like CPU usage and loading times (which are attributable only to poor design on the part of inexperienced Flash developers anyway) will cease to be. That apart, the new open-source initiatives being taken by Adobe[5] could be seen as a possible indication that the firm is thinking about opening up its source to a wider range of developers for debugging.

All in all, ‘the future of the web’, that a previous article described on Entelechy, seems to be stuck in a ditch for the present, held there by politically-motivated internet forces battling each other. Bloggers and micro-bloggers have, in the meanwhile, been camping up and spewing acid at each other, over the debate on which technology will kill which. A light-hearted little snippet, from Twitter:

RT @joeFlash 5 yrs ago, it was AJAX. Now its HTML5. Beware Flash; in 2014, CGI makes a comeback ;)


References & further reading

[1] Check out Youtube’s HTML5 beta here (Firefox not supported): http://www.youtube.com/html5 . Read on: http://www.thechromesource.com/html-5-beta-goes-live-for-youtube/ , http://www.formortals.com/youtube-html5-not-even-worth-of-being-beta/

[2] Adobe’s Packager for iPhone: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashcs5/appsfor_iphone/ . More on it here (interesting flame-war over comments): http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/05/adobe-shows-off-flash-apps-for-iphone-yes-you-read-that-right/

[3] Check out this awesome HTML5 creation: http://mugtug.com/sketchpad/

[4] The site’s probably been taken down, but here’s the link anyway: http://www.moodi.org/

[5] http://techcrunch.com/2009/07/20/adobe-unveils-new-open-source-initiatives-targeted-towards-media-companoes/

[6] The recently launched iPad has with-held support for everything Flash. Ouch, had to hurt: http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/27/apple-ipad-flash/

[7] Will we ever see a real standard? http://techcrunch.com/2008/06/05/the-next-gen-web-html5-will-we-ever-see-a-real-standard/

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