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Will HTML 5 kill Flash?

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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 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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