Flash alternatives raise bar for Adobe

Alternative technologies to Flash typical in development cycle of technology commoditization and proprietary vendors will have to outpace them to survive, say industry watchers.

The emergence of alternative technologies to Adobe Flash is part of the typical pattern in technology commoditization, according to industry voices who say this trend underscores need for proprietary vendors to jump through higher hoops to remain competitive.

In addition to evolving Web standards such as HTML5, other offerings have surfaced as potential threats by positioning themselves as alternatives to the feature set found in Adobe's popular Web player.

An effort called Smokescreen, for example, offers a Javascript player that can be written into a Web page and is capable of playing Flash files. A Flash plugin is required to be installed on user systems for the machines to run Flash files.

Another effort is the Akihabara set of Javascript tools and libraries, aimed at allowing fast game development with HTML5. The games and apps made with the Akihabara suite will also run in browsers without the need for the Flash plugin.

Akihabara's creator, Francesco Cottone, said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia that he decided to put together the toolset to enable apps to run in any browser.

"I needed something that doesn't require large devkits or IDEs (integrated development environments)," Cottone said, adding that he was inspired by the capabilities of HTML5's canvas element. The tag defines a drawable region in a site's HTML code, and developers can use the area to create graphics and animations using Javascript.

He said the emergence of browsers that challenge proprietary technology both on standards and performance has been a boon to programmers who will benefit from increased interoperability across systems.

While Javascript libraries, such as jQuery, have allowed developers to perform numerous powerful functions, different standards implementations made it harder for coders to ensure wide compatibility, he explained.

Cottone said the evolution of technology is also allowing tasks to be done faster and cheaper, and it is getting tougher to "do something that wows users".

Proprietary vendors must stand up to challenge
Tony Baer, senior analyst at Ovum Software, echoed the need for proprietary vendors to do more to excite their users.

"In general, HTML5 will force Adobe and Microsoft [with Silverlight] to jump through higher hoops as the standard gets refined and gains browser support.

"This is part of a typical pattern as proprietary technologies get commoditized, leaving proprietary vendors to innovate at the edges or exit the market," said Baer via e-mail.

While HTML5 and the frameworks around it will not replace Flash or Silverlight overnight, support for the Web standard's development over the next two to three years will make it a viable alternative to these proprietary plugins, said the analyst.

Another vendor that has been vocal with its support for both Flash and HTML5 is Google. It recently set up an online resource called HTML5 Rocks, aimed at getting developers up to speed quickly on the developments surrounding the markup language.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, a Google spokesperson pointed to the company's support of Flash, as shown by its recent integration of Flash player into the Chrome browser. Its mobile platform Android 2.2, or Froyo, also supports mobile Flash, she added.