Flash Is Not Ready to Die Yet!

The naysayers might disagree with this one

November 21, 2011

After the furore of the direction Adobe are taking Flash with the Cancellation of Flash on Mobile platforms and the submission of Flex into the Apache Software Foundation. Myself, after many years can see the reason why it is on the downward spiral. When Flash was launched back in the 1990's, it was the best way to use animation and have interactive features on the web. Fast forward towards 2012, HTML5 has changed the landscape in regards to interaction on the web with open standards which can be deployed on the most modern web browsers; and at the same time not depend on critically compromised plug-ins. The one thing at the time of release of this article that HTML5 falls short on compared to Flash is the streaming capabilities; it is not the case that it is not capable, the issue that stands in the way is the different members of WHATWG coming to a consensus on how to implement a standard which all can adhere to. Look at the hassle set by the standard of which video format can play in the video element. In time, things will be sorted out on the HTML5 side of things.

Now with the main point, Flash might not be the power it once was, but it will be with us for many years to come. I don't think it will be around on the web as it was before, but i feel it will still have a place for many things like interactive kiosks, AAA Game UI, Standalone games (as the number of Flash games is absolutely huge, and there are still many to be published), and more importantly for many Flashanistas; live streaming. Companies use Flash not only for streaming, but also for DRM, and adding a few advertisement banners. When Steve Jobs banned Flash from the IOS devices, it could be said that the intention was that Apple could have full control of the Web Apps (poor flash ports, quality control,etc); I remember his explaining that he feared the security flaws, and now 20 months later he was proved so right. Sadly, he is no longer with us, but it seems his hand is dragging Flash down with him slowly to the other side where there is no coming back. I find it funny that man responsible for the demise of Flash mentioned back in early 2010, that Open Standards HTML5 should be used for all future web specifications; yet at the same time wanted to have proprietary .h264 video formats with HTML5. Sadly that is the state of today's conglomerate I.T. industry, confusion, contradiction and contrived situations which lead to a unnecessary intangible mess. I am no advocate of any persuasion or political leanings, but I just want things that work, and I think 99.99% of developers want the same.

Slow to move on...

It is proprietary, and that is a problem for many. I have met many people on the net, who will only confide in something that is well known and easy to deploy; and for those individuals Flash is that. I remember speaking at a meeting in January 2011 to a I.T. business woman (who i won't name to save her blushes), she was stating that Flash was the future. I had to politely rebuff her, and explain that it is not 2000. I expected back 11 months ago that Flash with all the slow patches on its critically flawed player was on borrowed time on the web browser. I explained about HTML5 and she was a bit sheepish towards it. I wonder if she feels the same as even Adobe has finally decided to concentrate on HTML5 authoring tools and admit, Flash as a platform has no future as a web player. Adobe has wisely thrown its hat into the HTML5 content arena early with Edge, which looks very promising indeed.

Business has to embrace and be beware of the future...

In my country the U.K., there is a slow realisation that the web and I.T. in general is changing to a more open-standard infrastructure. Many companies buy into the marketing and all that jazz, spending on expensive software to do nothing more than what Jquery can do in a few lines of code. It is great to live in the world of the web as other developers from around the world have the same feeling about how we can go forward. Sometimes I hear people bemoan that they hate flash because of the slow bloated SWF file and general sloppy flash performance. Like any high-level programming language that is because there are more poorly unoptimised programs in Actionscript; usually done by designers who learn to program in a weekend class and write pretty, but bloated apps, which on any system is going to slowdown. They do not appreciate that creating objects in a OOP language take up bytes and they add up, with copy and pasted code which they do not understand; but they put in anyway. I have seen it with my own eyes when I had to analyse codebases. I mean you get that with native apps, even C++, Java, etc; yet no one blames those languages or compilers. Ive seen flash apps that are surprisingly fast, so that performance argument is not really valid. Sometimes you feel people are racing to be at the forefront of the 'next big thing' without knowing what the focus is to move on; while at the same time disregarding what is here today, here and now. HTML5 is still a working draft, as i have noticed some of the API specs have been omitted this year alone. And trust me, as there are bloated Actionscript code in Flash, you wait until you see unoptimised Javascript code with HTML5/WebGL. Seriously that scares me, but hey it is part of what makes the web interesting and scary at the same time.

Self Fulfilling Prophecy!

Those writing premature obituaries for Flash, have to remember while Flash 'is so 1998' to people like ourselves; remember businesses over the last ten years have developed web apps, CMS, intranet, and other systems that are built in Flash which are used within their business I.T. eco-system. With cost and uncertainty, these businesses would be resistant to change. Even though you know that there is not anything HTML in general cannot do that Flash can do with web apps, companies depending on these flash infrastructure will not throw away a system which will cost ultimately a lot of money to replace. You would be amazed how many businesses I know still have Flash CMS systems, even though AJAX has been around for about 9 years now. Look how long IE6 has been around, only because business cannot be bothered to keep up to date with the latest technology as it costs time and money. A typical business mentality is 'if it works, why fix it?'; it will not only be inconvenient for the company to upgrade to a new system or software, it will be costly too. Even Microsoft wants to obliterate IE6. And Flash falls in the same category. In my experience of working in I.T. for too many years to admit, the amount of companies I know bought someone's marketing bile, and tied to a prison where they cannot upgrade any system is a number I would have to place digits with; the sad thing is they are eternally stuck with Flash based systems and infrastructure without any code or database documentation. I.T companies that lead them down the Primrose path, and making the possibility of them trusting new technologies and other more reliable software developers very unlikely. Remember not all people who want a system built around their business are I.T. sharp or aware as their task is to run the day to day machination of the business, not the geeky stuff. So like IE6, Flash will despite what Adobe hope, will still be around for many years. I haven't touched Flex/Flash in professional software development in years, so seeing the world move on from Flash is sad as I am a sentimentalist. But sentiment does not play out well in present reality. I don't know what the hundreds of games companies that have built games for the web using Flash like Zynga are going to do; I cannot see them abandon the platform for a while, and as with many other social web game developers. These social gaming networks have millions of game players around the world who do not know what HTML5 is, yet they cannot go without Flash for their gaming fix. The average casual game player does not know better than rely on Flash, and they like the business company who will not be throwing Flash away anytime soon. Some people still play Bejeweled on a browser in flash even though the game is over a decade old. There will be ports of some of the classic flash games to HTML5, but not all; and while those games are in existence, there will always be a demand for Flash to play them.

Where does Flash go from here?

With the inclusion of Flex moving to Apache, could there be a more logical step for Adobe to move Flash as a whole to Open Source. With all their eggs in the new HTML5 basket, it would make more sense. They would not have to deal with the continual patch fixes and waste their resources on obsolete technology. Flash nowadays is a platform rather than the pretty 2D animator that it was in the late '90s, no different to Python, or Vala. These technologies have been open source for as long as they have existed and it has been their strength to be open. Maybe patent concerns might be a stumbling block, but I can only see that being a problem with the flv video container. Hopefully it goes that way, and it does become open, as it will keep those who depend on this obsolete technology happy and it will most likely enjoy a renaissance with more eyes and hands to fixing and enhancing a technology which is not going away anytime soon. Desktop might not be fashionable in a couple of years in general computing uses (predicted by many), but the large array of flash games will always be in demand; hopefully on tablet platforms. If Google, Apache or another body regulates where Flash can move forward with initial help of Adobe, that would leave Flash with a clear, bright future.

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