Flash: I’m not dead yet!

I’m getting a little tired of this topic. I was tired of it about a day after Steve Jobs first showed the iPad to the world, and the infamous blue LEGO appeared where a Flash plug-in should have been. It wasn’t really so much a shock to the world — Apple had been denying Flash applications on their iPod/iPhone platform all along. But this seemed to start off a little maelstrom the likes of which I haven’t read since people argued over on which end to start eating a hard-boiled egg.

The events of the last few weeks have been extremely tiresome to say the least. Far too many people and groups have been  prognosticating  the future of personal computing, and there’s been far too little in doses of reality. The future is coming, but it’s not coming nearly as quickly as everyone thinks it is, and rushing to meet the future will likely only harm the present. A little rational thought would be appreciated.

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room, first. Steve Jobs hates Flash. There, I’ve said it. Now let’s move on.

I’m not here to argue about openness or stability, or any of the claims/counter-claims made by anyone. There’s no point, since a large part of it is highly subjective. Apple will do whatever Apple wants to do, regardless of any other company’s desires, intentions, or abilities. And while Apple might be on the right path to the next major shift in personal computing, we’re still quite some time from critical mass.

Right now, in the industry, we have a need for rich, engaging experiences. These experiences are the things that help capture attention and keep people using a website or service long enough for that website or service to deliver its message and achieve its function. It could be easily argued that a much simpler user interface can do the same thing, but I can also easily argue that there is a wide gulf between utility and ubiquity: I love the simpleness that comes with pure utility, but the ubiquity of “fun” is what wins the day.

As a result of Apple, a lot of people are starting to tout the death of Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Flash. It’s doomed because Apple said so, or at least that’s the narrowly simple version of the story. A longer version introduces the up-and-coming HTML5 standards, which start to blur the lines between what Flash does now and what could be done without Flash. That’s what a lot of the major players (Google and Apple being the two most obvious) are moving towards, and there’s no reason why their direction shouldn’t be taken as the final chapter on Flash, right?

Right?

To the best of my knowledge and five minutes on Google,  there has never been a technology that has up-and-vanished overnight (even figuratively-speaking) merely because one company said so. While I have a significant amount of respect for Apple and their attention to detail, and I nearly worship at the Altar of Google, I’d be quite the fool to be agreeing to abandon Flash.

Yes, you heard me. Dropping Flash is a foolish idea.

I know, I know. Don’t I hate Flash? Aren’t I the one who railed against it for years and years and years. In a word: no. I’m technology agnostic. I’ve been agnostic for a almost a decade. I learned a long time ago that ignoring a solution merely because you don’t like it immediately cuts you out of possible success, and you end up reinventing wheels. I don’t hate Flash — I hate inappropriate use of a technology.

Flash, as a platform for providing a rich media solution, has a place in our industry. For today, tomorrow, and the foreseeable short-term future (I’m saying at least two years, personally), any company pulling support for Flash is being extremely short-sighted. It’s like ditching your extremely reliable car at the side of the road to climb into an open chassis that has no doors, no roof, the colours and interior are still being decided, the engine periodically doesn’t work properly, and you’d better hope the dang thing has brakes.

Yes, you can do a lot without Flash right now. A number of websites (the site for new Nissan Leaf, the HTML5 presentation, HTML5 video, HTML5 audio funkiness) have proven that you can use these new standards quite effectively, and move away from Flash. And to that end, I say “congratulations, I hope you do well”. You’re going to need a lot of help, and pray that you can get away with it.

Why? Well, guess what folks, the HTML5 “standard” isn’t complete — It’s still a working draft. CSS3? Not finished, and not properly/fully supported by any browser. Video? Well, as much as Apple has tried to say that H.264 is the de facto standard, it’s patented, and the license fees will kick in at the end of 2015. Google’s bought On2, with the widely-held hope that they’ll release the VP8 codec openly. Firefox is only supporting Ogg Theora. And lest we forget the Browser That Just Won’t Die: Internet Explorer 6 will make your life a living hell.

Anyone remember the standards fights from the late 1990s? Does any of this look at all familiar?

Okay, so let’s assume that you can develop to some standards. How many authoring tools are you going to need? How many libraries? There’s no one consistent authoring tool, and your developers are going to need some seriously good (and seriously expensive) skills to make it all blend together smoothly.

Now let’s add in the added complication of rights management. Try find that little detail in the HTML5 specs. Go on, take a look, I’ll wait. Didn’t see anything? That’s because it’s not there. Big Media (read: Dinosaur Media) needs this in their vain attempt to keep their archaic business models creaking forward. They need DRM. They need  encryption. They need the stuff built into Flash to keep their delivery systems operating. If for that reason alone, Flash has a long life ahead of it.

I’m not dancing around here with rose-coloured glasses. Flash is dying, of that I have no doubts. As a plug-in solution, its days are numbered. More than likely, it’ll morph into a development system not unlike Microsoft Studio, where it will be a rich media solution system. What it generates as a final product will depend on the need, supporting different outputs is definitely a possibility.

But for now, I’m sticking with Flash. It’s helpful, it’s handy, and it works.

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