A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

Summary: Poorly-coded HTML5 content will send the Web into the dark ages.

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Jason Perlow: I received the following e-mail from a web and Flash developer that works for a large advertising/media production agency. With the exception of some minor editing to flow for style, the content is identical.

As a developer for a pretty large agency, I would like to put everything out on the table... it isn't pretty for Adobe, Flash developers or even the general public.

In a nutshell, Adobe really screwed up the messaging. They left the entire community and evangelists in the dark/unprepared for this news and the developers are very pissed. That's the real story here.

Despite what the industry will tell you about how bad a solution mobile Flash was, I have actually created screaming fast mobile Flash content for the browser... It's completely possible! But not likely for most people.

I know and many other experienced Flash programmers know that the technology actually worked very well. The problem was that legacy content could never all be re-optimized/re-published for it.

There are literally billions of old, badly coded SWFs out there!

Creating well-performing interactive web content requires a serious understanding of things like blitting and other really difficult computer science concepts that current designer/psuedo-developers do not understand because they were never trained in those disciplines.

This means generally every piece of old Flash and uneducated Flash piece was viewed to be sub-par, hence Steve Jobs objection to using it in Apple's iPad and iPhone.

On top of that, we have to add the fragmentation of the Android platform... Adobe literally couldn't afford to keep up with the devices anymore considering developers were never targeting Flash Player for mobile anyway.

It was purely a financial decision on Adobe's part to place the onus on the OEMs to continue maintaining the Flash player. Thats right: they stopped creating Flash for the mobile browser, but OEMs will now be in charge of implementing the player on their devices.

That's another thing Adobe screwed up in their communications by just passively mentioning it!

So what does it all mean for desktop Flash? I'm not gonna lie, its not good. The damage is done. Most clients will be clamoring for the new HTML5 specification to be used in their sites from here on out.

Unfortunately, we can't sell it to them yet. HTML5 isn't ready for the desktop and clients don't want to pay for two sites. So, instead, we will be falling back to DHTML and things like JQuery for both mobile and the desktop.

It stinks, but that's the way it is from now on. You can now look forward to a lame internet.

As far as performance goes, Flash really is fast when developed correctly. JavaScript is faster only in computation, not rendering speed. But the next versions of the Flash player for the desktop are including real concurrency and performance on par with Java. Really, I'm not kidding.

In fact, you will see some of that power with each dot release of 11, 11.1 and so on... but an order of magnitude faster in future versions. I know this because I am a beta tester. Video performance, however, will not be addressed until version 12.

AIR 3 for mobile, TVs and oodles of other devices is amazing. The apps are already among the top performing apps on the App Store, and its a real shame Adobe's abysmal marketing team isn't getting the message out.

AIR 3 addresses every single issue its predecessor had with performance, captive run times and native extensions.

HTML5 tools are severely lacking right now. I have been playing around with Adobe Edge and Muse, and I have to tell you they pale in comparison to the features Flash has. What you can produce with these tools today is more more like what Flash 4 content was years ago.

The code it produces is not desirable by our current developer standards. And the files these tools produce are much heftier than their Flash counterpart. Adobe recently featured a banner ad created with Edge that was 1.8 MEGS! A similar Flash advertisement would have been around 25 kilobytes.

Bandwidth caps for mobile will explode if we have to use HTML5.

A side technical note: The reason for this vast difference in terms of file compression between Flash produced and HTML5 content is that that Flash can rely on vector artwork easier, and even their bitmaps are more optimized than HTML.

PNGs in Flash utilize JPEG compression on top of the PNG even with an alpha channel. This means that PNGs in Flash are literally 20% the size of stand alone PNG! JPEGxr has been added to the list of supported formats, meaning Flash Player 11's JPEGs will be 60% their current size with no loss in quality.

HTML currently relies on many images, image sequences and paltry primitives for vectors. HTML5 will have exponentially more code too for describing motion. I'd rather see plain DHTML content then that animation.

Regardless of these technical issues, we really need competent HTML5 tools for visual editing. Our HTML5 projects are costing 3 times as much as traditional HTML and even Flash. Most of it is in cross-browser fallbacks and QAing.

HTML, JavaScript and CSS are simply too verbose to handle huge applications. JavaScript was never really meant for giant applications that truly require Object Oriented Programming.

Traditional web developers that will take to these web languages are not fit for real application development. It requires a lot more work to describe motion, interaction and application states.

Unfortunately any resulting object code that gets spit out from these next-generation HTML5 designer tools will be a rats nest. But it will definitely happen.

Designers will get their HTML5 tools, and the results will be exactly what we saw with early Flash sites. They aren't computer scientists, and while they won't necessarily make the same mistakes Flash developers made in the early days, they will make very poor decisions that everyone will pay for.

All of that being said, I do believe the Flash player's image is too far gone now. HTML5 isn't a good replacement but it's all we have to look forward to for the Web. Except for games... it really cant handle it, so Flash Player will stick around for that and HD video and surround sound.

AIR is going to be a goldmine though. Since I am losing interest in web development, I'll likely move solely in that direction as I'm sure many Flash developers will.

AIR is Flash's phoenix rising.

Will poorly coded HTML5 content throw us back to the late 1990s? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Software Development

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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85 comments
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  • Apple.com proves that HTML5 is ready enough; however, if the developer ...

    ... wants messy "rich" sites instead of classy jobsian minimalism, then the content creation tools might be yet not that developed (though Adobe itself works on this).
    dderss
    • JavaScript was never really meant for giant applications

      That guy gets it. Javascript is completely a joke when used as a platform language.
      LBiege
      • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

        It???s like we are taking massive steps backward in developing sound applications. JavaScript is just not a pancreas of a good development stack. JavaScript is so misunderstood by so many developers developing with it???s a crying shame. HTML5 its self has started down the road of fragmentation we have seen with IE6; Standard isn???t even finished it???s in Final Draft for another almost 18 months. Yet browser manufactures are offering full support for HTML5???? As you said @LBiege at least you and the writer of this get it.
        thugbot@...
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @dderss Well, you don't expect "jobsian minimalism" when checking out say the website for the Mission Impossible movie. Audiences and companies hiring developers want more rich content in specific cases such as movies, bands, car companies, etc.
      Matt_Fabb@...
      • Toy Story HTML5 site was not poor, but still had clean, not messy design

        @Matt_Fabb@... So even "Mission Impossible" could follow that example and have site which does not have overload of "richness" and whistles.

        However, for classy and cleanly designed sites to be really seen as classy and clean, messy sites are needed. So, I as wrote above, more developed tools might be required. But, again Adobe works on that -- HTML5 tools business will grow.
        dderss
      • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

        @Matt_Fabb@...i completely i agree with you.
        Hussein.khraibani
    • JavaScript has always been a bane and a security problem

      @dderss JavaScript (jQuery) has always been a security issue. And experienced programmers loathe using it because of its limitations. Flash developers will fight back by teaching average users how to turn "off" JavaScript in their browsers. Then we will watch HTML5 purists squeal, as much of the JavaScript crutch code they rely upon to patch sites together and use animation for, will go bye bye.<br><br>Adobe Flash security issues = 96<br>Average browser security issues w/ JavaScript on = 237<br>All five major browsers w/ JavaScript on = 1,185
      Razorz1
    • Apple.com?

      @dderss

      Not seeing what is so special......
      rhonin
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @dderss If rich equals messy in your opinion then http://www.mercedes-amg.com/ is one of them! Maybe a designer portfolio will fit your 'jobsian minimalism' but no rich content website/showcase for movies, cars, etc.
      Welcome back to AS2 flash sites with html5/js rebirth!
      Hussein.khraibani
  • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

    I am sorry to say HTML 5, especially Javascript, is not a mature object oriented language : no strict typing, no classes, no consistent API. That's why Google is building Dart to wrap it up: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dart_" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dart_</a>(programming_language). Then there is the spotty browser support. I am appalled when I read such a bunch of code as HTML 5 is considered as a viable alternative to Flash. In any case it won't be a cheap development alternative.
    JB5645
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @JB5645 Hmmm C# has been moving towards scripting for a while now. You can have javascript like "var" variables [though compiler would infer it for you], dynamically add methods similar to prototype in Javascript. Moreover, one can write Object oriented code in Javascript - we can handle strict typing, create classes - Look at EXT JS
      browser.
  • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

    As with any dev tools, you'll have good and bad programmers. Writing code is actually not that difficult. Writing high performing code that's scalable and maintainable is really difficult no matter what dev platform you use. So I don't understand the author's argument that poorly coded HTML5 will be its doom. Just think of it this way. A paintbrush in the hand of Picasso produced master pieces. In the hand of you and me, not so much.
    m0j064
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @m0j064
      No, actually, it will be far easier to produce bad code with HTML 5 than with Flash Actionscript, which is much stricter.
      JB5645
      • Far easier to produce bad code with HTML 5 than with Flash

        @JB5645 Now that IS the truth.
        Razorz1
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @m0j064 What he's saying is the lack of mature tools, lack of experience in using HTML5 will result in a lot of bad content, repeating the early days of Flash. There will be some good stuff, especially from the larger software companies that can afford to spend the money, but there's likely to be a lot of bad content, or content that crashes your browser, consumes too much CPU, etc.
      Matt_Fabb@...
      • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

        @Matt_Fabb@... Agree. Browser says,"unresponsive HTML5, force close HTML5",..LOL. HTML5 just like flash in different name, if poorly coded.
        Poside
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @m0j064 Agree. Very well. You hit the nail. HTML5 has what it takes. It just won't tolerate bad programming, but this will be a lesser risk. I doubt that lazy programmers will want to take shortcuts with HTML5. At least for now, we'll mostly see the work of the pros.
      Brutusbiker
    • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

      @m0j064 What tools you use matters. Bad languages make bad code much more likely. Writing scalable and maintainable code is much easier if you use a language that is designed for such.

      Incidentally, your analogy is off:

      "A paintbrush in the hand of Picasso produced master pieces. In the hand of you and me, not so much." -- Poor artists blame their tools. Great artists pick the right tools for the job. Whether it's painters, musicians, photographers, or whatever, you will find that serious artist are generally very serious about their choice of tools. Sure, they can use a cheap brush better than you can, but they'd rather use the right brush.
      Xenia Onatopp
  • RE: A Web Developer Speaks: Flash Player is Dead. HTML5 isn't ready. Long live AIR!

    Poorly coded anything will send computing into the dark ages. Just look at pre-Vista Windows.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • XP still works wonderfully, and it's being replaced, not because it was

      dark ages software, but because the powers-that-be at MS wanted to move on to a slightly more modern computing age. But, for most of what people do now with Vista/Windows 7/Mac OS, XP is still as capable.
      adornoe