Sure, Flash is dead. But are the Web video wars over?

Summary:Or will HTML5 make them irrelevant?

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Yes, war's won

or

No, heating up

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Best Argument: No, heating up

38%
63%

Audience Favored: No, heating up (63%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Video wars...who cares?

Chris Dawson: Web video wars? Does anyone besides the web video teams at Google, Apple, and Microsoft actually care? HTML5 already supports the majority of competing codecs across most browsers. Sure, Google continues to posture with WebM, Apple is the poster child for vendor lock-in, and Microsoft continues to struggle for relevance on the Web; Mozilla is just trying to figure out who to follow.

I don’t lay awake at night wondering which standard I should use to encode the videos I produce (and I produce a lot of them). The HTML5 tag solves a whole lot of problems by letting web browsers display whatever they support. 8-core processors solve even more by making multiple renderings of web videos in different formats trivial.

In the end, multiple codecs will grumpily coexist, made largely into religious issues for developers by HTML5, and, as long as they can watch YouTube and Netflix, ignored by users.

Flash, as alive as ever

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Yes, we all hate Flash. Even Adobe's not that crazy about it anymore. Too bad. There's still no replacement for it.

HTML5 video you say? What about it?

HTML5's video tag doesn't define which file format, such as MPEG4 or WebM, or video or audio codec, such as H.264 or VP8, are permitted. All HTML5 does is let Web developers set up case statements so that they can supply a choice of various combinations of containers and codecs in the hope that your device can support one of them.

In other words, HTML5 video is just a rug that covers the dirt of multiple video formats. It doesn't replace Flash at all. In fact, you can still use Flash within it. We're a long way from being Flash free.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome!

    Our debaters have delivered their closing arguments and I have now delivered my final verdict.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    More than ready

    Bring it one!

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    I'm here

    Ready for anything

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    First off...

    ... is Flash really dead as we speak?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    No

    There are still many things that HTML5 simply can't do or doesn't do nearly as well as Flash. Real-time interactions in conference applications, rich gaming environments, many screen-sharing and remote support platforms, and and even countless ads still use Flash. Only the latter case can generally be served as well by HTML5. There is also a very large base of Flash programmers reluctant to retool for HTML5 and very large code modules that can be used and reused as long as developers hang onto Flash. Dead? I think not.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Nope.

    Go ahead try to find a major Web site from a company not named Apple that doesn't use Flash. I'll wait for you.

    Yep, that's right Flash is still everywhere. Indeed some sites still (shudder!) still use Flash for their front pages.

    Until the day comes that porn sites don't use Flash—and remember the Internet is for Porn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-TA57L0kuc) like the song says—Flash will live on.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How long before Flash dies on the desktop?

    Flash clearly didn't make a go of it on the mobile side of the equation. How long before Flash dies on the desktop? As long as Club Penguin uses Flash it'll live on in my house.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Flash remains a pervasive platform

    And sites like Club Penguin have been slow to move to Flex and other tools that allow a transition to HTML5. Adobe continues to position desktop Flash as a next-generation platform for extremely rich interactive web applications. We can expect to see developers continue to push the envelope on desktop Flash for gaming and other immersive experiences, including 3D. When will Flash die on the desktop? When WoW, Club Penguin, and many other sites and applications (including the widely used Adobe Connect collaboration tool in the enterprise) stop using it. And that's going to be a while.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Honestly?

    Why do you think Flash is going to die? Has the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) died? Yes, images in GIF are now vastly out-numbered by JPEG and PNG images, but GIF is still there. Flash is, for better or worse, still going to here in 2032. 2052? Maybe not.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Is HTML5 mature enough

    Is HTML5 mature enough to deliver a premium video experience? Adobe estimated Web standards meet 80 percent of Flash's features. Is that enough?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    It's enough for video,

    It's enough for video, if not for many RIAs. The 20% to which Adobe is referring is largely related to interactivity and specific animation, some of which is simply not possible with HTML5; other elements require extensive Javascript and CSS3 coding to achieve in HTML5, while these elements are built in to Flash. Animations created in Flash can generally provide a crisper, smoother experience, as well, given the ability of developers to specify motion in sub-pixel units, rather than relying on HTML5 algorithms to round movements to the nearest pixel. That said, for basic video playback, Flash and HTML5 can basically be considered equivalent.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Oh dear. The question is wrong.

    HTML5 doesn't define any video container or format. You can use such containers (aka file formats) and codecs as Ogg files with the Theora video codec and Vorbis audio codec; MPEG4 files with the H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec; and Google's WebM containers with VP8 video codec and Vorbis audio codec for HTML5. And, yes you can also MPEG 4 with Flash (http://h30565.www3.hp.com/t5/Feature-Articles/How-HTML5-Video-Works/ba-p/5794). So sure, Adobe is moving away from Flash, and I too once thought that meant that HTML5 was going to magically do away with Flash (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/networking/flash-is-dead-long-live-html5/1633). I was wrong. All HTML5 video really does is sweep the question of which video containers and codecs under the the rug. Today, Web designers must support not just Flash, but several video formats to be sure that their visitors can watch their videos.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Are the video wars over really?

    And who are the players and standards to watch?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Video skirmishes, if not outright wars

    Video skirmishes, if not outright wars, will continue to play out among major stakeholders in Web video. The real battles that have been fought in recent years relate to standards and codecs, though, not Flash vs. HTML5. How will video be encoded? How will Web browsers decode it? Will Google's WebM standard win out? How about the H.264 standard that Apple and, more recently in an about-face, Mozilla support? Or Microsoft's own waffling stance on how to implement the WebRTC standard that will most likely power the next generation of Web-based Skype? The final answer here isn't clear; what is clear is that HTML5 will make it easy to decode video using any of these standards with just a few lines of code, regardless of what developers decide to use or what the powers that be in web-video-land dictate.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    It's not even close.

    We've just moved into another phase. The big three combinations I see as duking it out in the next few years are MPEG4 with H.264; WebM with VP8 and, yes, MPEG4 with Flash.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Stakes matter?

    Why do the stakes in Web video really matter?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    In many ways, they don't.

    Will Google ensure that as many people as possible can upload and view YouTube videos, regardless of how they produce them? Yup. Will Microsoft lock users into IE if they want to use Web-based Skype? Ummm, no. Will Apple break access to YouTube or Netflix on their various devices? Negatory. Will 99.9% of end users have any clue about any of this? Absolutely not. The only thing that matters is that video is the new JPEG on the web and its ubiquity puts all of the details around it squarely in the cross-hairs of those who stand to profit the most from it. Adobe has been closely linked to Flash, but has hopped on the HTML5 bandwagon. How has Adobe managed the transition in your estimation? Poorly. Until just recently, Adobe was utterly bullish (at least in public) on all things Flash. Suddenly, they were killing off mobile Flash, developing HTML5 tools, killing Linux support for Flash and Air, and generating a lot of confusion among developers, consumers, and partners alike. Their current positioning of Flash as a next-gen Web application platform makes sense, but given their vacillation, still feels like a face-saving measure (whether it is or not). Fortunately, their tools (for Flash, Flex, and, more recently, HTML5) are robust, easy to use, and appeal to the legions of Flash developers, making their fence-sitting and support for both Flash and HTML5 a reasonable proposition.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    The Internet is for video

    Today, Netflix takes up more bandwidth than any other single Internet application. The Internet may, or may not, really be for porn, but it is certainly for video. Whoever ends up controlling the standard for Internet video ends up controlling how we'll use the Internet. Or, as I begin to suspect what will really happen, we're going to end up supporting multiple formats. If that's the case, Flash is not going to vanish anytime soon.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Was Apple right?

    Apple led the anti-Flash charge. In retrospect, was Apple correct?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Were they correct or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    If countless hordes want iPhones and iPads and neither supports Flash, then suddenly the "death of Flash" comes about and it looks like Apple was correct. However, Apple was instrumental in bringing about Flash's downfall (at least as we know it now and certainly in the increasingly important mobile arena). Promoting open Web standards (HTML5, CSS, and Javascript) over proprietary software (Flash) sounds great in principle. Open, after all, is the name of the game. However, Flash, despite its problems, had a great deal of value as a platform and their insistence on its destruction didn't do anyone any favors, particularly when HTML5 is still not mature enough to deliver all of the features to both developers and users demand.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    No.

    Flash was, and still is, the de facto video standard. Every day I hear from iPad users, and now Nexus 7 users, about how they hate either not being able to see Flash video or having to jump through hoops to get to it.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How has Adobe managed the transition?

    Adobe has been closely linked to Flash, but has hopped on the HTML5 bandwagon. How has Adobe managed the transition in your estimation?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Poorly.

    Until just recently, Adobe was utterly bullish (at least in public) on all things Flash. Suddenly, they were killing off mobile Flash, developing HTML5 tools, killing Linux support for Flash and Air, and generating a lot of confusion among developers, consumers, and partners alike. Their current positioning of Flash as a next-gen Web application platform makes sense, but given their vacillation, still feels like a face-saving measure (whether it is or not). Fortunately, their tools (for Flash, Flex, and, more recently, HTML5) are robust, easy to use, and appeal to the legions of Flash developers, making their fence-sitting and support for both Flash and HTML5 a reasonable proposition.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    I don't think they have.

    Adobe Edge, their new HTML5 content creation tool, is still in preview. I think it remains to be seen what new role Adobe can carve out for itself in the non-Flash HTML5 world.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How was the Android/Flash connection blown?

    Adobe could have used Android as a showpiece. Instead, Flash fumbled.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Devote attention to tools that work

    You know that "reality distortion fiend" that hovers around Cupertino? Whether or not you like the company and its products, Apple sets trends and expectations.Holding up Android (gaining market share through sheer volume of products and aggressive pricing that Apple won't allow on its high-margin devices) is no way to convince a market that Flash is a super great idea. Not only are a majority of Adobe's highest-profile, most vocal users (particularly of their Creative Suite) avid Mac users, but the ability to play Flash applications is not a reason in and of itself to use Android over iOS. Better instead to reorganize (which they did) and devote their attention to tools that work on both mobile operating systems.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    I think Adobe caved too quickly.

    Yes, Apple was keeping them off the iPad, but they could have made a go of it on Android tablets. As I pointed out earlier, it's not like there really is, or is going to be, a one video format for all in HTML5 anyway. Why not keep Flash going?

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Open screen efforts

    What do you think will become of Adobe's open screen efforts?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Unfortunately, the Open Screen Project is effectively dead

    The project is no longer accepting applications from developers for participation and when Adobe stopped developing mobile and connected television-based Flash, there weren't any more screens on which Flash could be open. Additionally, the original early backers of the project were Palm, Nokia, and Motorola.The latter, now broken up and essentially a Google subsidiary, no longer has any stake in the effort. Palm is long gone and Nokia is irrelevant.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Open Screen and AIR are running out of steam.

    When Adobe stopped supporting AIR on Linux, I saw the handwriting on the wall. Sure, there aren't that many Linux desktop users, but when it comes to create movie special effects, the professionals use programs such as Pixar's Renderman Pro on Linux. In other words, if AIR's not on Linux, how much more is going to be created with it on any platform?

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Flash support in Windows 8

    How will Microsoft's decision to offer limited Flash support in Windows 8 affect the Web video market?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    It won't from a user perspective

    From a developer perspective, we'll see the remaining Flash-based sites (still a majority of sites on the Web today) begin making their move towards HTML5. New versions of Android won't support Flash, iOS never has, and limited support in Windows 8 will make it harder to justify continued development. However, since straight video plays well in either Flash or HTML5 containers, all of this will do little to the consumer side of the market. YouTube will still be YouTube.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    I don't think it will make any difference.

    For some reason, and I really don't get this, Microsoft is moving away from supporting video of all sorts in Windows 8. For example, if you want to watch a DVD in Windows 8, you'll need to get a third-party program. I recommend the open-source VLC Player. People will just do what they do now, and download the Flash program.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Adobe has said that Flash will be used for gaming and premium video.

    Do you buy it?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Sort of.

    Adobe went through some very significant internal reorganizations around the killing of mobile Flash. However, desktop Flash remains a priority as evidenced by rapid recent releases with critical features as Adobe pushes GPU acceleration, improvements in audio and video quality, and significant performance enhancement, Flash is also critical to two lucrative Adobe products: Adobe Connect and Flash Media Server. We do also need a product that isn't HTML5 as it stands now to deliver rich games and other interactive apps on the Web. Flash remains well-suited to fill this particular purpose. As noted above though, the general perception is that this is a face-saving, time-buying move while Adobe rolls out HTML5 development products.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Sure.

    Video purists may hiss at Flash, but hundreds of millions of users still use Flash every day.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Security issues

    How have Flash's security issues affected the Web's attitude toward the software and Adobe?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    There is certainly a greater perception that "Flash is bad."

    Of course, that hasn't been helped by Apple's very public opposition to the plugin.Overall, Adobe has done a great job of branding itself as the gold standard for creative software, but when it comes to their plugins, FUD has combined with high-profile problems to badly damage its reputation.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    Clearly, Adobe has had real security trouble with Flash.

    They really need to re-write the entire Flash software system from scratch. I don't see them doing that, so I fear we can only look forward to monthly Flash updates for years still to come. On the other hand, we now accept that, for all of Microsoft's security hype, every 2nd Tuesday of the month is Patch Tuesday and few people move away from Windows even though it's filled with security holes.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Final question....

    What kept Flash from ultimately becoming a standard?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Three words: Adobe And Apple

    Adobe's Open Screen Project was too little, too late, and couldn't overcome the proprietary baggage with which Adobe encumbered it for many years. Apple, the maker of everyone's favorite sexy phones and tablets, didn't have to publicly bash Flash for too long, either, to really undermine the product. In either case, it doesn't take much doubt about the long-term viability of a particular piece of software to kill any chances it has of becoming a standard.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Yes, war's won

    They should have opened the standard ages ago...

    ...and it wouldn't have helped them to open-source the software as well. So long as it was “Adobe Flash,” it was tied to one vendor and no one, especially Apple, likes being locked into one vendor. Had Adobe tried to open Flash and make it a real industry standard, say via the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), we might all be using Flash now on everything from our PCs to our smartphones to our tablets. As it is, we face a future filled with video standards and, oh how I hate to say it, video patent wars that will rival today's mobile software and design patent wars.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No, heating up

  • Great Debate Moderator

    That's a wrap.

    Chris and Steven, thanks for a great debate. Readers, please look for our debaters' closing arguments tomorrow. And I will deliver my final verdict on Thursday.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

Closing Statements

Peace is at hand

Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson: My colleague, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, argued that, in many ways, the Web video wars are just beginning, entering a new phase rather than an actual armistice.Well, North and South Korea are technically still at war, too, and, while tensions remain high, not much is likely to come of it besides posturing. The same goes for the ongoing Flash vs. HTML5 skirmishes and scuffles over competing video codecs. Plenty will happen behind the scenes and the major players (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, and even Adobe) will make much ado about various advances and setbacks.

The bottom line, though, is that no one is stupid enough to jeopardize end users' ability to watch Netflix or YouTube on their particular browser, OS, or hardware. The ultimate goal, after all, is platform market share. All the rest are just details that will be transparent to most producers and consumers of video (who, in 2012, are often the same people).

The war rages on

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

As I think it's become clear Chris and I really aren't that far apart at all. For better or worse, Adobe Flash is going to stick around for a long time to come.

The real problem is that as we turn more and more to mobile devices fewer and fewer of them will support Flash. That's going to end up vexing some users. They, in turn, are going to yell at the Web site owners and they will response by supporting HTML5 video.

Unfortunately, HTML5 video isn't a real solution. It's a band-aid. Under it, Web developers are going to have to support not one but several different video container and codec formats. What they'd like is a single universal and real Web video format so they won't have to go to all this extra effort. They're not going to get it though. We're no where close to such a standard.

Like it or not the closest we've ever come to such a thing is Adobe Flash. The Web video wars are going to keep going on, though hopefully end-users won't see much of it, for years to come and Flash will still be a player in these battles.

Flash will be around for a long time

Lawrence Dignan

Nothing like Adobe's Flash to line up a few good quotes from our debaters. In this one, we focused on the video wars and Flash's future. In the end, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols won the debate even with his rather terse answers. On the desktop at least, Flash will be around for a long time.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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