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Flash, and the future of the web

Recently, there’s been a lot of debate about Apple’s decision to not support Flash player on the iPhone and iPad.  Both Adobe and Microsoft have said their pieces, and now it’s up to the community to figure out what to do, as developers and consumers are the ones being affected by these decisions. I think debate is healthy, especially around a topic that affects the core of today’s web, and the future.  But there’s a lot of mud being thrown, and a lot of people missing the point.

So what is the point, exactly?  It’s not about who has a more closed proprietary system, or who’s arguments are hypocritical, or who stands to make the most money.

It’s about what’s best for the future of the web.

Here’s what I believe open standards bring to the party:

1. Better education

When I was learning to design and code for the web, I relied almost entirely on being able to view the source of a page, and dissect what someone had done to achieve a particular result.  With open standards like HTML/CSS, this is possible.  With compiled SWF’s, it is much much more difficult.

2. Access for all

The problem with technologies such as Flash and other plugin-based technologies, is that they are exclusive instead of inclusive.  They say “unless you download our software, you can’t view this content”.

But now the core technologies of HTML and CSS are catching up, and most importantly, they’re doing it from the point of view of being as inclusive as possible They’re taking into account backwards compatibility, a huge range of other devices, and how things may be needed in the future as the web evolves. 

They can also be developed using any text editor, on any platform.  No single entity is going to create a monopoly on development tools for these technologies, and what we can hope for is healthy competition in the market, which will drive everyone forward.

3. Community driven

HTML5 and CSS3 are not only open standards, but they are standards that have been built completely due to the needs and requests of the web development community.  Any one of you can make suggestions to the specs, and discuss anything related to the implementation of these via things like the HTML5 mailing list.  These specs are written by developers, for developers, and I believe that will help make for a great future indeed.

8 Comments

  1. Picture of pfunc
    pfunc says:

    Both interpreted and compiled languages have their advantages. Sure, it’s ncie to see how something is done, but it’s not always advantages to the publisher, and offers a lot more security holes.

  2. Picture of Steve Dennis
    Steve Dennis says:

    There are certainly situations where compiled code could be considered better from a business perspective, but we’re talking about the fundamental building blocks of the web, not business sensitive data or systems.  There’s nothing inherently insecure about being able to see the HTML source of something.  Security should be handled as a separate thing altogether using things like https.

  3. Picture of Frederick Brock
    Frederick Brock says:

    So here is my spin on it. Apple doesn’t want to support flash because that would allow me to write rich apps that work across many devices and I wouldn’t have to own a mac to do it. Don’t think ‘for profit’ apple is looking out for the best interest of the web, come on, are you kidding me? Apple is not the step child, open, out for all company they were 5 years ago. They are heading down the same path they were on in the 90’s. It is sad because I love there product and was a windows/dos/linux guy for many years. What drew me to the mac was the fact it was based on BSD, it didn’t disappoint BUT in order to write great apps for the IPhone I am almost forced to use Objective-C and Cocoa both are only available on the Mac. I can write Andriod apps on any platform thats OPEN to me. I agree being able to learn by viewing is a plus, but people share there flex apps just as much and that is also OPEN

  4. Picture of Steve Dennis
    Steve Dennis says:

    Sorry Frederick but I think you’re missing the point for a couple of reasons.  Firstly your argument has nothing to do with the web, and is just focussed on app development, which wasn’t the point I was making in the article.  Second, there’s no reason a fully featured HTML 5 implementation couldn’t offer the same level of rich application design as an in browser flash app.  Third, think about how Apple make their money.  There are only 125,000 registered app developers, which is a drop in the bucket when you consider that 4.9 million macs were sold in the last quarter alone.  8.75 million iPhone handsets were sold in that same time period. When you look at the figures, developers just don’t matter that much when it comes to profits.  It’s a problem that often comes up in development, which is developers thinking the way they see things is the way everyone does, but it is not the case.  Alpha consumers don’t care about the app store development process.

  5. Picture of Frederick Brock
    Frederick Brock says:

    You have some good points. I also very much appreciate your site I have learned a ton. Again you have some good points. I agree html 5 could produce a rich app that is equiv to flash. I question the motives of why apple won’t support flash.

  6. Picture of Steve Dennis
    Steve Dennis says:

    Oh I by no means think that Apple are doing this for pure or noble reasons, but I think the outcome of what they are doing by supporting open standards is overall, better for the web going forward.

    I have no doubt they are out for profit above anything, and I’m sure there’s many improvements that could be made to the app store and app development process.

    Also Apple knowing full well Adobe was working on ways to create apps in CS5, and then announcing they wouldn’t support any of them on the app store was a total dick move.  No question about that.

    This was a difficult article to write, but thanks for offering me a chance to clarify some of my points in the comments :)

  7. Picture of Chris
    Chris says:

    mmm the reasons you mention are not so strong..

    1. Flex has view source function.. and most JS now is minified and obscured so it is not readable at all ;) even css and html.

    2. You can develop flash applications also with any text editor just download the Flex SDK which is opensource.. I love Flashdevelop as opensource editor ;)

    3. The w3c and standards group don’t really have that good of a track record where development is really slow and some companties trying to push or hold features for their own benefit.

    And Actionscript 3 is still based on EcmaScript which is a standard. I could get into this even deeper if the cool things like -webkit, -moz, -o can we really call CSS 3 or HTML 5 a standard now? ;)

    I love to see the web go forward don’t get me wrong but there is absolutly nothing wrong with flash :)

  8. Picture of Matt
    Matt says:

    I agree with all the points you made regarding HTML5 and CSS when it comes to access and being community driven, etc…, however, as a Flash developer I have a few points to make myself.

    1)  Flash has ONE programming language, Actionscript 3, which is very powerful!  If you are using Flex or the Flash IDE, you have a great professsional development environment in which to build rich RIAs.  With HTML5, CSS, and Javascript, you have 3 scripting languages to get lost in!  Hmm…1 or 3?  I`ll take one thank you!

    2)  Javascript is NOT a compiled language like Actionsctript 3 is, but rather it is a scripting language!  So the fact that it is interpreted at runtime by a browser means it is slow (i.e. it is incapable of the high speed graphics and physics calculations one can do with Flash/Actionscript)!  For video and simple games, HTML5 is fine.  For everything else, there`s Flash!

    3)  Javascript is NOT object oriented!  In fact, as a former C++ programmer, it looks like a mess to program with, and has layers and layers of duct tape added to it over the years!

    Right now I`m building a 10 channel audio mixer in Flash with effects!  When you can mix 10 channels of audio at 44.1KHz / 16 bit in real time, and then run the resulting stream through a cutoff filter (with volume, pan, cutoff, and resonance adjustable in REAL TIME), with HTML5, CSS, and Javascript, then forget arguing with me!  You will have about 1000 job offers this second!

    I`m not saying that I`m closed to the idea of using anything other than Flash, but as I see things now it is the best we have for developing advanced RIAs.  Until something better comes along, there`s really no other choice!

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