Apr 122010

Reading discussions about the whole iPhone 4.0 SDK license and reading countless discussions on HTML5/Silverlight/AJAX/DHTML vs. Flash, it’s very common to find people wishing the death of Flash. And this is something that seems to be a pattern with all technology. For example all the talk about iPhone killers and now iPad killers. It puzzles me a bit why so many people seem to assume that technology is inherently like some kind of Hitler or cancer, seeking to devour all competition until there is nothing left to devour.

Evidently that is not the case. We are constantly getting more and more platforms, languages, frameworks and development tools. Sometimes a technology dies, but big prominent technologies tends to stay on.
The demise of Flash has been announced constantly for over a decade now. First it was DHTML, then SVG, then AJAX, then Silverlight and now HTML5.
But today Flash powers the vast majority of all multimedia and animation on the web and is also one of the most popular platforms for RIA development. It’s far from dead and when Jobs compares it to the floppy drive he is obviously delusional.

The future is diversity and I’m pretty sure we will have Flash, HTML5 and maybe even Silverlight in widespread use for many years to come as well as more specialized technologies like Unity3D. It’s all technologies with their own merits, and none of them needs to die. The market for technology that can deliver interactive multimedia is big enough for more than one player. Most people do agree that a little competition is a good thing, but why would they then want HTML5 to become the only way to deliver interactive multimedia?

I think it’s quite telling that very rarely you hear people in the Flash community wishing that HTML5 has no place on the web the same way you constantly hear people calling for the death of Flash.
I guess the reason for that is that we do not really fear the competition. I’m very happy with the Flash platform and think that it has a very bright future. If I’m wrong I don’t mind at all to learn new technologies, and as a Flash developer I already need to know JS and HTML anyway, so if it turns out to be more suitable for some projects I’ll be happy to use HTML5 instead.

Many developers working with JS and HTML defend their position that Flash must die with the fact that it’s a proprietary technology, and hence it has no place on the web. While I can understand that as a rationalization for wishing the death of a technology, it’s simply not true.
The SDK, compiler, Flex framework as well as the AVM is open source, and the swf and RTMP formats are open so you can write your own Flash Player or media server.
The fact that the Flash Player as distributed by Adobe isn’t open source is understandable since it uses proprietary technology for different codecs, which Adobe does not own. Hence it’s not their technology to open. Moving the proprietary code into the browser, for example to support h.264 video, does not make the web less proprietary.

I think the real issue is many times is not actually their concern with proprietary technology, but that Flash feels closed to them. Embedding an swf is like opening a hole to a different universe, and that is scary.
And while you don’t have to use Flash Professional and/or Flash Builder to generate your swf, that is what most people will do. While both IMO are fantastic products they are bulky, slow, costly and proprietary and I can understand if someone used to working with HTML and JS can feel a bit uncomfortable with using them.

And it can often be like a different universe developing for Flash. While the technologies involved overlap, someone good at developing websites is not necessarily good at developing advanced applications and games. So not only is the swf and the having to learn an extra development environment scary, but for many developers it’s a relief not having to deal with programming applications that for example involve physics, DSP, image processing or working with binary formats.

I can understand that  Flash does not appeal to everyone, and it would be a shame if developers who feel that way would have no alternative, But they have alternatives, and to me it seems a bit childish to when they wish the death of a technology, especially when trying to justify it with some bogus claims about it being proprietary or resulting in bad performance compared to competing solutions.


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