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Flash/HTML5 wars: News from the front

By Jon M Simpson, Logical Design, January 10, 2011.

When Steve Jobs banned the Flash plugin from all Apple devices in April of last year, it sent tsunamis throughout the tech world and left many wondering what the future would be for this darling of web development software and its ubiquitous plugin. The event has had many proclaiming the death of Flash and sparking a flurry of activity to prepare for HTML5, their supposed future king.

But not so fast.

Of course one of HTML5’s biggest appeals is its ability to bring applications directly into the browser,  making it much easier to design web applications. And with the exponential explosion of mobile apps, developers can utilize almost the same exact code for every platform (iPhone, Android tablet, desktop, laptop, etc), thereby drastically reducing the time and effort it requires to create native apps in this feverishly crowded mobile OS market.

But even though Canvas (HTML5′s up-and-coming Flash-like tool) seems to be gaining a lot of attention these days for being able to duplicate basic Flash tasks, it still runs into massive road blocks when trying to say, create a connection with a webcam or microphone, or trying to execute a very long list of complex, Flash Action-script-able functions.

Unless Adobe were to shut Flash development down TODAY,  the notoriously slow W3C would take decades to catch up on many important levels.

But certainly this was not just a wake up call for Adobe, for it has pushed the W3C to take HTML5 to new heights, resulting in an uncharacteristically rapid expansion (for the W3C anyway) of codecs compatibility: In January of 2010 only 10 percent of web video was available to playback in HTML5.  By October it was well over 50 percent.

So although these developments are a short term obstacle for Adobe, as it was already suffering from a growing disdain for its plugin’s power hungry and security vulnerable perception, it seems unlikely that the W3C either can or wants HTML5 to supplant the extensive capacities of Flash.

What’s more is that HTML5 is in severe danger of being far more vulnerable in the long run,  security-wise than Flash is.

Sorry Steve. But most of us developers already knew your motives were disingenuous anyway.

As HTML5 really begins to take off, the same annoying pop-ups and ads are beginning to appear – but these are worse because they are not readily identifiable within the code and filterable like Flash is with add-ons such as Firefox’s No-Script.

So when it comes to one of Steve Job’s primary excuses for banning Flash, HTML5 is opening  up whole new playgrounds for malicious activity on levels that a plug-in like Flash will never be able to.

What is one of the more interesting developments and one that may prove to be a very real answer to the survivability question of Flash, is the announcement in October that Adobe is developing an add-on tool that is able to convert Flash into HTML5 code. It processes the information and exports everything to HTML5, while simultaneously calling attention to anything that HTML5 is unable to handle and still needs to be addressed, post-translation.

Although this still leaves the Flash plug-in in question and it doesn’t answer the codec challenges everyone from Microsoft to Google and back are having, it does offer Adobe the promise of continued relevancy and indeed, dominance in the application development world. It is a brilliant move by Adobe and a collective sigh of relief can be heard across much of the web development world, knowing that the never-ending innovation at Adobe will probably save Flash from these recent developments.

No release date has been announced but 2011 promises to have many developers scrambling back to the familiarity, ease and unmatched capabilities of the Flash platform. As the W3C continues to fix its codecs compatibility issues, hopefully ongoing surprises across the development world like this one from Adobe, will make web developers and users the real victors in this war.

 
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