Is it time for the Web to abandon Flash?

The clash between Apple and Adobe over Flash on the iPhone and iPad raises the spectre of Flash's potential demise

The public battle between Adobe and Apple over bringing Flash to the iPhone, and now iPad, platforms has heated up the debate over the life expectancy of Flash as newer technologies, specifically the emerging HTML5 standard, enter the scene.

Adobe Flash helped to fill a void for a cross-platform multimedia experience on the Web. With the glaring exception of the iPhone and upcoming iPad, Flash can be found on virtually every other operating system--desktop and mobile, and for every Web browser.

Flash is almost a standard in and of itself. Just try surfing the Web without installing the Flash Player software and you will quickly see just how pervasive Flash is. As close as it is to being a standard, though, it is still a proprietary technology from one vendor.

The advantage that HTML5 has over Flash, and other proprietary Web development platforms like Microsoft's Silverlight, is that it is a protocol standard--or at least it will be once it's finalized, not a single-vendor solution.

Small and medium businesses (SMB's) pay huge sums of money, at least huge to them relative to their overall budgets, to developers to create and maintain Web sites. Many of those Web sites rely heavily on Adobe Flash to provide animations and other cool, interactive content.

Abandoning Flash would require a Web redesign, which can be a formidable, frightening, and costly undertaking. However, if Flash is dying a slow death SMB's might be doing themselves a favor by hitching their sites to a rising star like HTML5--even if only by attrition rather than a complete revamp of the site.

Flash isn't truly dead yet, though. In fact, it could be a long while before HTML5 gains enough traction to truly threaten Flash.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Naranyen said during the Adobe Q2 2009 earnings call "I think the challenge for HTLM 5 will continue to be how do you get a consistent display of HTML 5 across browsers. And when you think about when the rollout plans that are currently being talked about, they feel like it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers that are going to be out there."

HTML5 has been under development since 2004, and only now is it becoming mainstream enough to start showing up in Web browsers and Web sites. But, the current versions of the top three browsers--Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome--all contain elements of HTML5 compatibility.

HTML5 doesn't have to mean the death of Flash, though. There is also an opportunity for Adobe to adapt and evolve Flash to continue playing an important role even in an HTML5 world. HTML5 may deliver much of the same features and functionality that developers rely on Flash for today, but HTML5 won't be perfect and it won't do everything, so Adobe can reinvent Flash to fill a new void.

Still, Flash is a single-vendor solution that requires users to install additional software in order to view it, and the battle with Apple illustrates why Flash may not be available for all platforms. Small and medium businesses should seriously look into migrating to HTML5 for future Web development projects to embrace the coming standard and stay ahead of the game.

Tony Bradley tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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