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Will HTML 5 kill Flash?

by Jon Rose on Jun 21, 2009 |

As last week came to a close, the “Open Web” debate heated up after Adobe’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen, commented on how Adobe views HTML 5.   The term “Open Web” is used by advocates of traditional browser based technologies to assert the importance of standards-based technologies on the web.  HTML 5 is the new browser specification, which browser vendors expect to implement fully over the next decade. 

Narayen made his comments after being asked about HTML 5 on Adobe’s quarterly earnings call:

Sure. So I mean, to the extent that an improved HTML standard accelerates innovation and consistent reach for web content, we’re very supportive and clearly from the perspective of our tools, we will support the creation and management of HTML content to the level that they want.

I think it speaks increasingly to the realization that rich Internet applications and delivering engaging experiences is increasingly important to all of our customers. I think the challenge for HTLM 5 will continue to be how do you get a consistent display of HTML 5 across browsers. And when you think about when the rollout plans that are currently being talked about, they feel like it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers that are going to be out there.

So clearly supportive in terms of making sure as HTML 5 is evolving that we will support it in our web authoring tools but from the perspective of continuing to drive Flash and innovation around Flash and rich Internet applications, we still think that actually the fragmentation of browsers makes Flash even more important rather than less important.

In a blog post, Adobe’s John Dowdell reacted to Narayen comments and expanded on his final point:

But Shantanu's last point in there really resonates with me... this whole "HTML5" campaign will likely benefit Flash, because few remain who oppose the idea that "experience matters". Things are quite a bit different than five years ago. Silverlight's launch helped boost the popularity of Flash... iPhone helped to radically increase the number of phones with Flash support... the "HTML5" publicity helps marginalize those few who still argue that images, animation, audio/video and rich interactivity have no place on the web. Flash will be able to deliver on those heightened expectations, regardless of what each separate browser engine does.

In InfoWorld.com coverage of the debate, HTML 5 specification co-editor and Google employee, Ian Hickson, made his case for HTML 5 over Flash and Silverlight:

"They're single-vendor solutions [and] they don't really fit well into the Web platform," Hickson says. "It's always a problem when you're stuck with a single software provider -- what if they decide to abandon the product you're using? What if they decide to start charging? With an open platform, there's no such risk, since we have true competition, many vendors, and an open standard that anyone can implement."

Hickson adds, "It would be a terrible step backward if humanity's major development platform [the Web] was controlled by a single vendor the way that previous platforms such as Windows have been."

Mozilla wants the Web to stay open and ensure that capabilities such as video are not beholden to corporate entities, says Firefox lead Vukicevic. But whether HTML 5 and Canvas displace Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFX "really depends on what developers do," he adds.

Hickson did touch on one of major challenges around HTML 5 that could stand in the way of this shift:

Lack of support for some HTML 5 technologies in the popular Internet Explorer is an issue for developers, says Vukicevic. "The fact that IE doesn't support a lot of these advanced features really holds back Web apps," because developers must instead do extra work such as supporting Microsoft-specific APIs or writing a portion of their application in Flash, he says.

The IE factor may not be a small challenge for HTML 5, as browser fragmentation and inconsistency has been one of the major pains, which has historically driven developers away from developing pure browser-based applications to relying on third-party plug-ins. Regardless, the reality is that it will likely take years before there are clear winners and losers in the debate. One thing is certain, as the technologies evolve, the debate will only intensify because major software vendors on each side of the debate have a lot to gain and/or lose. Hopefully, developers will benefit the most as each platform races to add new and exciting features to keep up with the competition.

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yeah right by Joseph Balderson

The very reason I became a Flash, now a Flex developer, like ten years ago, is that I got tired of waiting around for browser companies to get their act together and advance the technology so I didn't have to spend half my time catering to the lowest common denominator capability. Macromedia wasn't waiting, and neither is Adobe. HTML 5 is now a great new standard, but so what? Not all the browsers use it. And now HTML 5 is supposedly a "Flash killer"? Not even close. What, I'm going to wait around for another 5 years so I can do HTML 5 in all browsers what Flash used to be able to do like five years ago? Gimme a break. Someone's been drinking their own koolaid and smoking their own marketspeak.

Re: yeah right by Michael Neale

I think if you replace "browser companies" with "Microsoft" then it still probably holds true today. The thing with flash isn't so much that its different, but its a single runtime from a single vendor - less compatibility hassles around interpreting the spec.

HTML5 has come too late by Nguyen LeTan

I think HTML5 has come too late. Flash or Silverlight are mature. And The IE factor is always a big big challenge for HTML 5. No IE no be popular :D

But why in the world would Adobe do that? by Sébastien Arbogast

"what if they decide to abandon the product you're using? What if they decide to start charging? With an open platform, there's no such risk"

I'm really fed up with this bogey argument. Why in the world would Adobe shoot themselves in the foot like that? And even if they wanted to, with the Flex SDK Open Source, SWF, RTMP and AMF specifications open, how could they take it all back? And just this open move makes it absurd to compare them with Microsoft. Has anyone gone crazy like that about the fact that Java is controlled by Sun only, and now even worse by Oracle?

The whole AJAX and Javascript thingie made us go back in time to the old browser compatibility hell. HTML5 will be even worse on that. And that's no bogey!

next decade!? by Hermann Schmidt

"HTML 5 is the new browser specification, which browser vendors expect to implement fully over the next decade."



You got to be kidding! With today's speed of development, even two years is too long to wait for. After 5 years things are outdated and HTML 6 will already be specified, right? Flash/Flex development will not stand still for 5 years either.



While some wait for HTML 5 to catch up, others might already earn money with Flex. There is no time for waiting.



Is there any reason why we should assume that the HTML 5 adoption runs more smoothly than HTML 4?

Well, if Google Wave depends on HTML 5 (that's how I understood it), it could be the driving killer application - and probably also make Google's Chrome browser raise in popularity :-)



For the single vendor argument: does anybody know any case where a vendor attracted a huge, worldwide user base with free software first and then started charging? That's ridiculous and close to suicide.

Maybe we NEED a FireFox ActiveX to be included in web pages for IE by Jose M. Arranz

Maybe we NEED a FireFox ActiveX to be included in web pages for IE, this way we can workaround the bad support of W3C standards of IE, for instance to render SVG and HTML5 features.

Why is this Active X abandoned? Can someone explain?

What about mobile by Russell Leggett

HTML5 may have trouble making in roads on the desktop because of IE, but its already doing pretty well in mobile, with webkit being the predominant browser core for smartphones. Flash, silverlight, and javafx all want a piece of the pie when it comes to the mobile space, but I think it'll be a while before all three are on single phone. Meanwhile, the iphone already has very good html5 support, the palm pre is built almost entirely off HTML5, and android phones will clearly have a strong commitment to HTML5 tech because of google. I also believe that at least the newer blackberries and many other higher end phones will be using the webkit renderer. Soon enough, HTML5 will be the best way to build an app that can easily reach all of these phones. There are even technologies like "PhoneGap" that are working to get more native features to hml apps as well as distribution through the app store.



Open Web tech has a pretty steep hill to climb, but I wouldn't dismiss it. It has certain non-technical advantages as well.

Re: What about mobile by Jose M. Arranz

I don't agree with you, the browser fragmentation is even bigger in mobile world. For instance SVG, this standard is many years old, SVG is supported almost only in iPhone (was recently included), Iris Browser, SkyFire, Opera Mobile 9.5 and Opera Mini (yes really).

There are many WebKit based mobile browsers without SVG like Nokia S60WebKit, Nokia S40WebKit, Android, Motorola Symphony or Bolt. I've tried SVG with Palm Pre SDK browser (WebKit based) and SVG doesn't work.

And I'm not talking about non-WebKit browsers like NetFront 3.4, Opera Mobile 8.x, Pocket IE, Internet Explorer Mobile (6 on 6), UCWEB, latest BlackBerrys (Storm,Bold)... they all support a decent HTML engine, DHTML (DOM APIs) and AJAX but don't support (sadly) SVG.

In spite of this mobile web is promising and right now you can do many things with mobile browsers including AJAX intensive applications (and SVG when supported). Web browsers are widespread in mobile many of them and capable and you can ever install Opera Mini or Bolt (JavaME based), this widespread presence is not achieved by Flash Lite, and most of mobile browsers do not support Flash Lite.

Some frameworks are working hard to leverage the mobile web to the desktop level like ItsNat and IceFaces. In mobile web, server centric frameworks are almost the only chance for mobile web applications if you want to use JavaScript and AJAX, the diversity is overwhelming and hardly can be managed in client without bloating the browser.

For instance the next version of ItsNat (0.7) to be released soon adds support to mobile browsers like Motorola Symphony, Opera Mobile 8.6x in UIQ, Bolt and UCWEB, alongside the other browsers listed in this comment.

Re: What about mobile by Russell Leggett

If you are using SVG as a barometer for html5 support you're barking up the wrong tree. SVG isn't part of the html5 spec, at least not last time I checked. However, the canvas tag is probably the most widely implemented new feature of html5. It is pretty well supported in all of the major browsers except for IE, but more relevant to this discussion, it is already in many mobile phones. It has great support in the iphone, but also android, the pre, and opera mobile. I'm not sure about everyone else, but you can bet your buttons that anyone using webkit will use it soon. There's also html5 local storage for offline apps which is available on the iphone, pre, and I think android, if not now then version 2.

The point is that the mobile space is not beholden to microsoft, and beyond that, devices get upgraded much faster. Unlike desktops which are still running ie6, most mobile devices out there aren't more than a couple years old. When new technology comes in, the uptake is much faster. Mark my words, in 2 years, the mobile space will have pretty good html5 support, at least on the higher end phones people are really making intensive apps for.

Re: What about mobile by Jose M. Arranz

The point is that the mobile space is not beholden to microsoft, and beyond that, devices get upgraded much faster. Unlike desktops which are still running ie6, most mobile devices out there aren't more than a couple years old. When new technology comes in, the uptake is much faster. Mark my words, in 2 years, the mobile space will have pretty good html5 support, at least on the higher end phones people are really making intensive apps for.


I mostly agree with you, in the mobile web device switching is more frequent, unfortunately there is bad news because Microsoft is including Internet Explorer 6 in the new versions of Windows Mobile as the best of bread, it seems we are repeating the same history as in desktop. If we need to stick with a wide audience we have to leave out SVG and HTML5...WTF!



The good news is Windows Mobile is not the dominant platform in mobile and some device makers including Windows Mobile are including very good alternative browsers like Opera Mobile 9.5. IE6 in mobile is a really big step when compared with previous Pocket IE versions but again a non-W3C browser in XXI Century...another WTF :)



By the way, SVG is a very basic standard for drawing and cannot be replaced by canvas (both are complementary), the spec is 8 years old and it was already included in FireFox 1.5 on 2005.

Re: What about mobile by Russell Leggett

By the way, SVG is a very basic standard for drawing and cannot be replaced by canvas (both are complementary), the spec is 8 years old and it was already included in FireFox 1.5 on 2005.


I'm pretty familiar with SVG, and I wish it were more widely supported, but the discussion was about HTML5 and thats what I was basing my comments on. I personally would prefer svg to canvas on most things, but it still doesn't integrate well with html even when supported. Here's hoping it gets better.



BTW, canvas was supported by firefox 1.5 as well ;)

Re: What about mobile by Jose M. Arranz

Another concern for the mobile web is the low end devices, device makers progressively move high end technology to the low end devices.



In this evolution we are going to see in the wastebasket poor browsers like NetFront 3.3 included in many SonyEricsson phones, the problem is NetFront 3.4 or 3.5 will be the replacement for this market segment, NetFront 3.4 and 3.5 is not bad but it falls sort with features like SVG, HTML5 and so on. There are too many NetFronts 3.3, OpenWaves and similar poor browsers.



Fortunately we have proxy based browsers like Opera Mini (Presto) and Bolt (WebKit) to save the mobile web in the low end segment (and high end if you want desktop-like rendering without problems). Opera Mini 4.x already renders SVG and XHTML with SVG embedded, and I don't see any problem to support canvas, the problem in proxy browsers is video, audio and server-sent events because the server usually closes the connection if the request takes too much time.



SkyFire (proxy based too) supports Flash (is a simulation there is no real Flash player in the client), this sounds really promising for JavaME browsers like Opera Mini or Bolt to support video.

Re: What about mobile by Russell Leggett

There are a lot of problems in a lot of places. And the fact is, the only way to get close to 100% reach is to use lowest common denominator html techniques from 10 years ago. But that level of reach is not required for a lot of apps. I'm pretty sure that browser statistics have shown that iphones use the web more than all other mobile phones combined. I think the same is likely true about purchased native apps. There are a lot of apps that are starting to get use from a higher end smartphone that just wouldn't get the same use from a low end device. Those with lower end devices usually have much lower data plans, use their phone less etc.

Just look at the ecosystem of the iphone alone. People are willing to develop just for that. So I think that having a technology that can use the same app on the iphone, android, pre, and blackberry you'd be doing pretty darn good.

And again, to bring it back to the topic of this thread, html5 vs. flash etc. I suggested mobile not to talk about how great an environment mobile is, but rather to say that some of people's arguments about html5 do not apply to the mobile space. And because the mobile space is becoming more and more important, that is a significant thing to keep in mind. If people start really using technology in mobile, its more likely to gain traction.

Re: What about mobile by Jose M. Arranz

I agree with you iPhone users (high end phone users in general) use the web very much more than average user.



Anyway I'm very excited about the mobile web, we have right now the technology to develop AJAX intensive applications following the Single Page Interface paradigm in nearly 100% of devices (100% if MIDP 2.0 is supported) and almost any web browser excluding poor old browsers easily replaced by Opera Mini 4.x or Bolt (Bolt is a pleasure with AJAX).



In my opinion there is no excuse to develop web pages for mobile following the approach of 10 years ago or focusing in a single browser family.

Re: What about mobile by Jose M. Arranz

I forget to say, this widespread support of mobile web, including DHTML and AJAX, is far away of the support of Flash Lite.

In summary mobile web (with or without HTML5) kills Flash at this moment.

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