May 142008

Recently we have seen a lot of progress with the capabilities of Javascript to leverage the capabilities of HTML to do things that was previously only possible using Flash.
Thanks to for example mootools and jQuery you can now create sites that looks like they are made with Flash with nice tweening animations, and of course AJAX have already for a few years been an option to update the content without reloading the page.
Does this mean that the future of Flash looks bleak?
Somerandomdude seems to think so, and points to some of examples if the impeding demise of Flash. John Resig’s Processing.js and experiments with HTML 5’s video element.


First of all, does any of these developments offer improvements over what Flash have been capable of for years?
Maybe if a site that is heavy on information but you might want to jazz it up a bit with some nice transitions.
When it comes to presenting text HTML has some advantages, mainly due to the browser integration.
Using the browsers built in search or select and right click to google a phrase for example.
Usually those advantages are greater than the possibility to embed font outlines with Flash.
But most implementations I have seen of for example slideshows and menus does not offer any advantages what I can see. Implementing them in Javascript still performs worse, gives you less possibilities and makes it less accessible.


When it comes to video on the surface I cannot see any reason why a video playback native to the browser would be preferable.
Of course one could argue that since you have a limited choice of compression formats with Flash it would open up to more options there. But to deploy content you will still have to make sure you use a codec that is included with a majority of browsers. It remains to be seen if it will mean much of an improvement in practice, and personally I do think that h264 is quite satisfactory.
All the above is true for the HTML5 audio element as well.


Of course the technical merits is only a part of the parameters that decide the acceptance of a technology. There are a lot of developers that really dislike Flash for various reasons and they are just really happy that they now can do the same things as has been possible for a long time with Flash.
The fact that it can be more tedious to implement and performs worse is not as important as various factors like avoiding proprietary formats or using a environment they are already accustomed to.


But even if Flash is not necessary to do a lot of things that previously was it’s exclusive domain to me it seems like it’s constantly gaining acceptance with developers.
Flash is still quite far ahead of the capabilities of DHTML/AJAX and how long will it take before HTML5 is widespread enough to make it a viable option?
Flash is still developing rapidly and the new versions of the plug-in is spreading extremely fast, so by the time HTML5 capable browsers is widespread enough probably 95% will have the Flash 15 plug-in installed.


I think the main issue here is the different ways in which Flash and HTML is being developed.
A lot of the hate against Flash is based on the fact that swf is a proprietary format, and even if that is not entirely true any more it’s certainly not based on an open standard.
And that what makes it possible for it to stay on the cutting edge, and that’s why the capabilities of DHTML, XHTML, Javascript, SVG etc. always is one step behind.
Even if I prefer open standards in theory it just doesn’t seem to work as well in practice.
Rather than being impressed how HTML and Javascript is catching up with the capabilities of Flash I’m continuously surprised at how slowly it’s happening.


I have been fanatic about Flash since I first discovered it in 1999, and I really have trouble being completely neutral even I try. But IMO Flash is not going anywhere. With AS3, AVM2 and FLEX a lot of new possibilities has opened up that DHTML will not be capable of any time soon, like for example decent 3d engines, socket connections and sound synthesis.
Overall I do see a trend though that the web is getting less and less fixated with certain technologies.
On the server side we have seen Python and Ruby gaining acceptance. MS will be trying with Silverlight to present an alternative to Flash and HTML will be able to compete as well.
But it’s not a war where anyone has to die…there is certainly room for more than either ASP, perl or PHP on the server and HTML, Shockwave or Flash on the client, which pretty much used to be the case.

Sep 162005

I had look at the video presentation for MS sparkle, or as it’s officially titled, Expression Interactive Designer.

Previously when hearing about sparkle I figured it would probably not be anywhere close to living up to what it’s many times refered to, a “Flash killer”.
The picture I got in my mind was somewhere close to how the sparkle vs. Flash fight is portrayed in this animation.

Now I must say that I’m very impressed with what was shown of the application.
It sure don’t seem like a Frontpage vs. Dreamweaver scenario to me anymore, and sparkle does have some very tempting aspects to it that could make it a worthy competitor to Flash in some aspects.
Honestly I hardly considered the option that it could be better than Flash and that I would ever contemplate to use it.
I don’t hate MS for any other reason than that all the apps I used from them have been awful, and if they start putting out good applications I will not be adverted to them based on sentiment.

What really impressed me was the integration between code and design.
For me at least being able to see alterations made in code reflected instantly on the stage would be a great improvement for the workflow.
The resizable toolbars and pallets is a innovative feature, and although not that vital it’s a nice improvement to the usual workspace in most graphics apps nowadays.
I don’t get all that excited about the hardware acceleration and 3D capablities since I would normally not have that much need for them, but it’s of course welcome with any performance boost and the 3D stuff will come in handy in some cases.

Of course Flash will have the edge for web applications, at least for a few years to come.
That means that MM will have a chance to catch up in some areas where sparkle seems to be ahead.
I doubt sparkle will ever be able to get to a state where it has the same universial deployment capabilites as Flash, which is really the prime reason that I got into Flash in the first place.

Dissolving the borders between the web and desktop as well as between different platforms is where the future is at, and I don’t really swallow the talk about sparkle being for a different purpose than Flash.
For the user an application is an application, and if it needs to be downloaded and installed before it can be used or can’t run on certain platforms it’s just a drawback for that application.
In some cases you of course need access to the system in a way that would not be suitable to permit for web based content, but it’s for sure not two separate worlds anymore.
To be able to do like with a Flash based app and decide that “hey, I need access to the file system, so let’s publish this as a projector instead” is much better way of dealing with the separation needed between web based and desktop apps compared to have to use differrent tools and languages.
And no matter if you are targeting the desktop or the browser, universial deployment is in most cases a big bonus.

But of course MS want to tone down the “Flash killer” talk and focus on what sparkle actually might be capable of at the time of release.
That will be to enable developers used to the MS framework and designers to work better together to deliver products tageted at the newest generations of windows desktops.
Their long term goal is surely to be able to have a product that can rival flash as an application for merging the desktop and the web, and I’m sure they would love to have it working well on mac as well, just like with MS Word and IE.

I’m actually happy to see that it seems like Flash is getting what seems like it might be a worthy competitor, and I can’t wait to see what developers using sparkle will come up with when it is eventually released.

Aug 232005

According to an article in Microsoft is about to announce their developer-oriented graphics tool, code-named Sparkle.
The name oozes desperation I must say.

Surely being an MS product it will gain a foothold in the market, and better late than never, but I will sure not worry about the future of Flash.
It will be interesting to see what Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), formerly known as Avalon, will be capable of though, and some competition is always healthy.

But I guess it will time before the solution is compatible with enough browsers out there to be worthwhile.
Apparently there will be an update to XP so WFP technology will not only work with Vista. But for many years to come it will still be only a small share of users that will be able to view content created with WFP I guess.
And MS client side solutions hardly have a record of taking the world by storm with their limited support outside IE.

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