Adobe Flash, once the popular option for creating animations, websites and games on the net, has recently come under attack by Apple, Google and Microsoft. Is it time to start turning our backs on Adobe, or will the competition finally come unstuck?
Created in 1996 by a company called Macromedia, Flash was originally conceived to allow designers and programmers to bring animated graphics and interactive features to the web. As the web browser of the time (and also for many of the browsers today) did not support Flash directly, Macromedia created ‘Flash Player’, a virtual machine which allowed Flash Animations to be shown on all but a few non supported systems. Flash was not the only tool that gave this functionality and Java created a year earlier also brought interactive elements to the web, but due to coming from programming routes, meant Flash was used over Java to make a pretty web experience.
Even from the first web pages, designers found it hard to ensure web pages that was designed, looked the same on every internet capable machine, whether it was fonts installed, operating system used or just down to the internet browser preferred, this has been an issue that just has not gone away. Even today a created website needs to be tested on multiple platforms to ensure compatibility. Both Flash and Java allowed designers for the first time to get away from these worries and just create the experience. But all was not happy for long. Within a short period of time, there were calls for people not to use Flash, the witch-hunt had begun.
Why would a technology that allows artistic freedom be demonised so much? Simply put, the mechanism used to display the Flash animations was the same mechanism that made the created web pages invisible to search engines and blind web users alike. This came down to when you viewed a website created with flash unlike a conventional web page, you were viewing an animation, all the text was effectively rendered as an image, so when search engines like Google visited your site it could not ‘see’ what information was contained in the page, and could not rank it accordingly. The same was true with blind web users, the devices used to interpret the web page for them were also not able to read any included text, and the website became useless.
Even today, if a website does use Flash, the whole site won’t be rendered in it; often it will be a normal website with Flash element, ensuring Google and Blind users can still make use of the site.
Even with it problems, Flash was seen as a way to bring interactivity cheaply to the World Wide Web. For many sites Flash was the logical choice for creating interactive elements. For most web users their browsers and platforms support flash, and with the event of broadband, Flash has allowed for a truly rich and immersive world that few can resist. In fact it could be argued without Flash, Social Networks like Facebook just would not have the audience they currently do, this is down to the interactive elements each user can enjoy. Who reading this and is a member of Facebook has not tried at least 1 flash game or application?
In 2004 the W3C amongst others started working on a new version of HTML, although the W3C does not control HTML, its ideas and concepts often are adhered to by the creators of the web browsers we all use. There are moves to force Web browsers all to display web pages in the same way, although this may never happen, through their work it is easier than ever before to create web experiences that work on any platform in the same way.
The latest version of HTML, HTML5 looks to address many things including animation, video and interactivity. In short many people see it as an alternative to Flash. The idea is attractive due to HTML being ‘open source’ and that any platform would be able to support it.
Like Java, HTML is a programming language and even with advances in webpage construction, it is still see very much as coding. For the moment Flash is still the de facto way to bringing eye candy to the web.
Apple computers were not the only ones not to embrace Flash, but with the iPhone and iPad, for the first time there were sufficient numbers of internet devices that simply would not display Flash generated content.
There are more than ever before calls for Flash to be phased out, and finally have a internet unified and viewable to all.
Is it possible that a technology that has been with us since 1996 will simply vanish?
Will all web content be HTML5 generated in a matter of years?
I believe the reverse is true, rather than the internet being a platform that every device can use equally, I think that the internet will become more diverse than ever before.
What is true is that devices will become more innovative and useful, more of our life than ever before will be online, the internet will be the default language every device will use, but this does not mean they will all display and use the information in the same way.
In five years time, the internet will have HTML5 content (or maybe HTML6?), there will be flash, there will be Java and maybe even a few more platforms…
While the internet remains open source, only one thing is can be certain, for 95% of users, the experience will be better than before and for the other 5%, there will be an open platform where they can complain about it.