Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Future of Flash

Since the release of the iPad just over a month ago much has been said about the future of Flash. Apple and Adobe seem to be trading barbs back and forth almost daily in the media. In my opinion Flash is an old technology that served a purpose at the time and modern developers have gotten a little lazy and over use the tool.

When Apple first introduced the iPad and said it wouldn’t support flash there was an immediate uproar. Critics attacked Apple saying you can’t have the whole web in your hand without Flash. Apple’s calm reply was we support HTML5 and that is the future. Flash is old, slow, buggy, causes the browser to crash frequently, creates too much load on the processors and drains batteries too quickly creating a bad experience for the users.

To that I say Apple has a good point. I did have frequent crashes and slowness in my Firefox browser on my PC at work and in the Safari Browser on my Mac at home. When the debate first started I decided to try an experiment. Could I live Flash free on my laptop browser? So I downloaded Click To Flash http://clicktoflash.com/ and installed it on both computers. The difference was night and day.

My browsers seemed to load faster, my CPU load was lower and best of all I wasn’t seeing the random browser crashes any more. Most of the sites I visit I couldn’t tell a difference with the exception of few ads loading. In place of flash content I just see a white box with the word Flash in it. If I choose to load the flash content I just right click and choose Load Flash. I can also white list an entire site where I want to use flash every time I visit. The White List feature I really don’t use, I haven’t found any sites with content compelling enough to turn it on.

When I visit You Tube using Click to flash I get different options. First I joined You Tubes HTML5 public beta. So many videos load using HTML5 and just play with no problem. The videos that are not available on HTML5 can be played back using H.264 through click to flash. The same technology that allows you to watch You Tube videos in the application on the iPhone and iPad.

In the month the iPad has been out and this argument has come to a head Steve Jobs released an Open Letter regarding Flash http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/, and Dean Hachamovitch from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer group jumped in on Apple’s side of the argument http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2010/04/29/html5-video.aspx. Both companies agree H.264 Video and HTML5 is the future of the Internet.

Websites are rapidly jumping on the band wagon and making new sites that don’t use flash or at least alternatives to flash so that iPhone, iPad, and Click To Flash users like myself still get a great web experience without the cost to our processors, batteries, and system stability. Maybe we should start calling it the Flash Tax. Vimeo, You Tube, Zinga and others are already giving us HTML5 playback options that look as good or better than Flash and use a fraction of our computers CPU.

We still have some sites that are moving more slowly. Mostly restaurants that have menus online done in Flash. Dave Hamilton of The Mac Geek Gab http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/features/mac_geek_gab_free/ commented last week the lack of Flash was a huge limitation on the iPad. He was traveling with his family in DC and looking up restaurants on the iPad was a problem because most of the sites were in Flash. Of course most of the time if you are looking for a restaurant you are most likely to be on your iPhone, iPad, or Android mobile device. None of which provide support for Flash.

There are some hacks you can do on the Android to load a Flash player and Adobe has announced their player will be built into future releases of Android later this year, however a number of functions in Flash like Mouse Over don’t exist on a touch based device. So even if you have a Flash Player you still may not be able to access Flash content. So for mobile users even if we did have Flash and you could surf quick because it is going to kill your battery much faster and then leave you without a phone until you can recharge.

So sorry Adobe you didn’t do a good job growing your Flash technology your new beta version for the desktop http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/gala/ that utilizes Graphic Hardware Acceleration is nice but I am afraid it is too little too late. The beta software does use less CPU resources on my computer and moves most of that load onto the idle graphics processor and it looks good but I can’t tell the difference between the latest flash and HTML5. Until I open the site on my iPad and I see a blue puzzle piece where the Flash content once was.

The Wall Street Journal Interview with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen http://online.wsj.com/video/adobe-and-apple-ceos-square-off/5C074A32-B7A3-47EC-9B53-E7A8A5A04E49.html just proves that Adobe has really lost touch with the rest of the world. Flash is ready to go the way of floppy disks, Parallel Ports, Serial Ports, and other technologies that were great in their day but the world has moved on to bigger, better, faster things. HTML5 and H.264 are the future of the web and I bet we see a huge shift this year away from Flash and onto the new standards being developed by Apple, Microsoft and others in the W3C consortium. Soon we will have access to any content, any time, any where, on any device we choose and that will be exciting.

Skyfire http://www.skyfire.com/ has announced they are releasing a browser for Android and submitted one to Apple that when the browser detects Flash content the flash content is sent to skyfire servers and converted to HTML5 and streamed back to the mobile device which will give mobile users access to Flash content without the flash actually having to be run on the mobile device. That will give users the best of both worlds, at least until Flash finally goes away.

Yes, I know the Google Phone application for my readers to call me on the bottom of my page is in Flash. As soon as Google offers me an HTML5 I will happily go Flash free on my site too.