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HTML5 VS Flash: Not a war

I've been waiting a while before writing something about the subject.  There have been some kind of war going on over the future of the web, with HTML5 trying to replace Flash for multimedia purpose of the browser.  Or is it? The whole thing is a vendetta created by online media news sites to have something to write about.  And I'm sick of that.

In fact, if you actually read someone saying that "HTML5 is the future and you don't need Flash", don't get fooled so easy, this person probably never read a book about HTML5.  If you read "Ipad and Iphone don't support Flash, there's a reason", don't take this for granted, it's always a question of business.  Instead, ask yourself: "Why is the HTML5 standard, that was started in 2007, still not replacing Flash everywhere if it's so incredible?"

The truth is, HTML5 is nothing more than an upgrade of the HTML code you already know.  Yes, it has some nice features like the ability to improve style rendering, create offline applications, drawing simple graphics on canvas, communication with a Web Server using JavaScript and playback videos without plugins.  But these features come at a price and it's lacking a lot of things.

1) Browser support

First, HTML5 is not even supported by all browsers.  Not only a site developed using HTML5 might not work on all computers, but it's up to each browser to support the features they want.  As a user standpoint, you might miss some content while looking at a HTML5 site.  As a developer standpoint, this means a lot of headaches to widely support all visitors and a lot more work.  From a business point of view, using HTML5-only features is a bad decision if you are trying to reach your customers (and I can't imagine a company that doesn't care about its customers).

With a 98% penetration market, Flash is still considered a safe business development tool for any website that wants to do real business.  Of course Flash is not on the Ipad or the Iphone, but this also means that those users can't do the same things as a desktop computer.

2) Lack of features

No matter what great features HTML5 is bringing, it's still lacking thousands of other features that only a browser plugin can bring.  Let's talk video.  Yes, HTML5 can playback video.  You say "That's awesome".  I say, "Give me a break".  It's like saying you can display a text line on your old MS-DOS computer using the "printf" command.  Playing a video is just the start, but there's a lot more to it.  Can you do adaptive video streaming? No.  Can you protect the content you playback with copy protection? No.  Can you do video recording using your webcam? No.  If you say "Who cares" about all those features, then you don't know how a business works.  If you are a business, you do care about all those things, because they mean money in the end.

Browser plugins like Flash and Silverlight offer this kind of features that are lacking from HTML5.  Businesses are the one in the end that decides which technology will live on.  Look at a video on YouTube in your Chrome browser on your Windows computer.  Is it played back using HTML5? No, because they can't control playback using HTML5.  And this won't change anytime soon.

3) HTML5 is a standard

I think the whole mess that got started is that most people don't understand that HTML5 is a standard.  It's an improvement over an older standard.  This means that it can be interpreted and implemented differently by different browsers.  As such, things are a bit different when looking at a HTML5 site on Firefox than it is on Chrome.  And it will always be.  A problem with standards is that they can't evolve fast enough to follow technology.  If HTML5 looks cool today, it won't tomorrow.

Flash is a privately owned technology (just like Silverlight is).  Even if we don't always agree with the high prices for developing on Flash or even the features/bugs that they put in there, we all must agree that they keep on evolving the software while keeping an impressive backward compatibility.  Tell me how many companies can do that?  Twitter?  Come on, if you even developed something using their API one year ago, you are already out of luck today.  Yes, Flash cost money for developers, but that's also the reason why it's still working.

4) Evolution of the Web

To all those writing that HTML5 will kill Flash, I say: "You are missing the point".  Sure, HTML5 include some features that make Flash not needed for some simple cases.  But to the point of entirely replacing Flash, no.  All those articles on TechCrunch could not predict that today Epic Games would announce the release of Unreal Engine 3 (the most used game engine) for Flash.  Watch the video below.

If Flash is supposedly dead, this really sounds like resurrection to me.  You think that you can do that using HTML5?  Don't hold your breath waiting for the 3D API of HTML5.

To conclude, I would say that HTML5 VS Flash is not a war.  If you get stuck in between, you should just say "So what?".  HTML5 is a standard, trying to bring basic HTML to a new level of functionality.  And that's just fine with me, we need that.  I want to be able to do Photoshop-like text effect on my web page.  I want to be able to draw basic graphics using a canvas.  However, I don't want to just stop there.  I want to be able to add incredible video playback that I can purchase as I play.  I want to be able to play high quality 3D video games from my browser.  I want to use my webcam to do live streaming.  For that, I need a plugin, I need Flash.

Eliminating Flash would be like going 5 years back in the browser history.  What we need is to use both.  HTML *AND* Flash.  One can live with the other.  It's not a war, so make peace!


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