For any developer worth their salt, it will ALWAYS be about using the right technology for the job. Because I’m primarily developing on the Flash-platform I’m looking for areas where I see the Flash-platform as being beneficial over other current technologies. I’m not a fan of all-flash websites, but I’ve found the platform perfect for creating a dynamic UK online examinations application, an internal application to generate visual interactive representations of text documents (try saying that when you’re drunk), and for creating enterprise-level financial applications.
Why The Flash vs HTML Post?
[ Edit - I'm surprised no one has picked me up on this yet, but something quite important that I forgot to add in here - the "Flash vs HTML" part of the title is a reference to the childish "my technology is better than your technology" style rants I've been reading, and not intended to suggest that it's an either/or situation - I'm sure that's pretty evident from the rest of this post but just thought I'd clarify it]
They say that “change is the only constant” and online boundaries are certainly shifting all the time; Some of the more traditional benefits that the Flash-platform has/had are lessening over time due to advances such as the HTML5 spec, but new ones are appearing too – for the record I’m all for HTML5; So many of the reasons I disliked HTML in the first place are being addressed and that is great news! Yet the Flash-platform does have benefits in certain areas; Just because they may not fit your particular use-case, it doesn’t mean they do not exist. There are so many short-sighted, one-sided arguments flying around on both sides of the Flash vs HTML5 debate that it’s hard to know where to start. People often make the assumption that there is only one use-case. They ignore real-world time & budget constraints. When criticising Flash they all too often rely upon extremely outdated arguments that no longer apply, or talk about how the web is too important to be in the hands of a single company (I agree – but companies do drive technology sometimes). It’s a shame because some arguments against Flash are very valid, but they lose credibility when paired with ones that are not.
I’ve no doubt that any Flash vs HTML5 post will cause some kind of angst-ridden spat amongst the party-faithful on each side, but I am eternally optimistic that there can be reasoned, grown up discussions without resorting to child-like attacks – let’s see if I’m right ;)
My reasons for this post? To encourage people to think reasonably, to dispel a few myths about Flash and to hope HTML5 users avoid mistakes that were made by us in the Flash world … “skip-intro” anyone :)
1. The “I hate Flash adverts” argument
I hate Flash ads too. For the most part I hate all ads (possibly with the exception of a few subtle targeted ones like Google Adwords). Adblock Plus is a faithful friend of mine. If you say that you hate Flash *because* of ads, remain balanced and make sure you start declaring your hatred for HTML5 as soon as some ad agency uses a Canvas element to deliver a nauseating advert to your page. Animated adverts with sound should become easily achievable in HTML5. Advertisers use Flash at the moment because it’s the best medium for them to deliver their content. When HTML5 allows them to deliver that same rich content, which medium do you think they’re going to choose? Yes you got it, HTML5! Blaming a technology for the way people misuse it is, in the main, pretty dumb. It’s just as wrong to blame HTML5 as it is to blame Flash. They are simply technologies which facilitate the delivery of rich media.
2. The “I hate Flash because it’s not fully accessible” argument
HTML5′s Canvas tag allows people to do some amazing stuff. I’ve seen some stunning examples already (side note: in the early days of Flash, examples were ripped off from Java, so it’s amusing to see many HTML5 examples apparently ported over from Flash). However, be warned, HTML5′s canvas tag is not accessible. I guess the question is how do you make such varied dynamic content accessible? Now that HTML5 can DO MORE, it will face more of the problems that the Flash-platform faced (because it could DO MORE). The more a technology can do, the more challenges it will face. Make sure that if you used the “I hate Flash because of the lack of accessibility” argument, that you avoid using the HTML5 Canvas tag altogether until the issue is sorted, if it ever is.
3. The “Flash video is rubbish & the iPhone shows we don’t need it anyway” argument
The iPhone delivers video without needing Flash so why can’t everyone else? First of all, as I mentioned above “change is the only constant”. Now that many of us have broadband we can get high quality video streamed to us, but that wasn’t always the case and believe it or not, still isn’t for many people in the world. Flash became popular because it could deliver streamed/progressive video better/faster than many alternative solutions around at the time. There are other use-cases besides watching YouTube. Video content creators may want to take advantage of overlaying, queue points, filters and other additional features which I’m not sure are offered by all the other formats. It’s a shame to see a technology get knocked because it did something so well. Flash video really did facilitate change on the web. I’m not saying don’t start investigating alternatives, but I think it’s a strange argument for hating Flash. I would rather hear people say something along the lines of “Our video requirements are evolving and we need to review our reliance upon Flash as a video streaming solution” … though I wouldn’t necessarily agree outright ;) … and finally, as Flash is already the establish default format is it necessarily right to force content providers to have to provide alternatives as well? I’ll leave that open ended as I’m sure there can be lots of good discussion around that point.
4. The “Why Doesn’t Adobe Use Open Standards?” argument.
BONUS ARGUMENT: The “I hate Flash intros” argument
Don’t we all? HTML5 will allow people to do more, and because they can do more they almost certainly will! All I can say is you must learn from the mistakes of us Flash guys. Don’t give your users some crazy navigational controls just because you can – only do it if it benefits THEM! And for goodness sake, perform user testing where possible :)
There are really exciting times ahead. I’m genuinely excited by HTML5 but I’m under no illusion that there won’t be things to dislike too – What? You’re telling me it’s going to be perfect? ;) – but it will be interesting to see if those shortcomings escape as much hate as I see levelled at Flash in certain circles simply because HTML5 is an open standard. The thing is, any technology can be misused and the more powerful it is, the more the scope for misuse … with HTML5’s new tags such as Canvas I’m sure we will see a host of truly awful things. That is not a reason to hate HTML5 and I hope Flash developers will not resort to tit-for-tat arguments. If you can separate the technology from the (mis)use of the technology it gives you a far more balanced picture. Flash does have problems but I’m happy as long as they are constantly being addressed, and if you look at many of the announcements from Adobe this week, you can see that it is still evolving and issues *are* being addressed – working with ARM to make improvements at chip-level is just one new example.
p.s. Sanity note for fellow iPhone/Apple guys – Apple lock down their app store, tie you into a single provider, they expect you to pay for an mp3 and then *pay again* to turn it in to a ring tone and they have historically made it difficult for people to get the music they (may have) purchased off of the iPod and on to another device – iPhone owners seem to be the worst critics of Flash, so just bear that in mind when you’re talking to me in the pub about how bad Adobe are & discussing openness … just thought I’d point that out ;)
p.p.s Flash may not be on the iPhone for many reasons. My personal thought: the main reason for exclusion is that it would break the entire app-store model and allow people to get apps for free. As an iPhone & MPB owner, and someone who owns shares in Apple, I see the different sides of the argument. I want my shares to increase in value and I’ve never been particularly desperate to see Flash fully supported on the iPhone … but I *would* at least like a cut down version which allows me to view any Flash video, and not just content from the major sites. Plenty of great home-made tutorials out there, only available in Flash!