Monthly Archives: February 2010

Flash “vs.” HTML: the shadowboxing continues

The shadowboxing between Flash and HTML 5 is getting pretty serious. A lot of people are using “HTML 5 video” as a shorthand for “non-Flash video technologies which HTML 5 facilitates,” and Adobe is clearly worried.

An article by Justin Nichols regards HTML 5 and Flash as competitors, and that article is showing a solid five-star rating on feeds.adobe.com, though it isn’t written by an Adobe employee, so it probably expresses a view that’s popular at Adobe. It refers to Flash as a “platform,” and that may be the key point; there’s an unstated suggestion that it can’t just live inside standardized HTML elements. But if it can’t, we’re in for still more rounds of browser incompatibility. Just as “the end of history” when the Soviet empire collapsed was a delusion, the “end of the browser wars” is most likely another.

A New York Times article on the lack of Flash on the iPad is entertaining for its disclaimer at the bottom. The body of the article says:

But concerns over the lack of Flash in the iPad and iPhone may be short-lived. Many online video sites have been experimenting with a new Web language that can support video, called HTML5. Unlike Flash, which is a downloaded piece of software that can interact with a computer’s operating system, HTML5 works directly in a Web browser. And although this new video format does not work in all browsers, it will allow iPhone and iPad users to enjoy more Web-based video content.

Then in a correction it notes that that was wrong:

An article on Monday about the absence of the multimedia software Flash in Apple’s new iPad tablet computer referred incorrectly to the Web language HTML5. While HTML5 can support video, it is not itself a video format. The article also misstated the ownership of HTML5 patents. HTML5, like other versions of Hypertext Markup Language, is open source; it is not owned by a group of companies, including Apple.

Can I hope they learned their error by reading this blog? Probably not. Even the disclaimer isn’t completely right; HTML 5 is a specification, not a program, so it’s meaningless to call it “open source.” Some implementations of it are open source, and others aren’t.

Standardization of the means of embedding video is a good thing. If that has Adobe worried it will face competition, that’s a good thing too.

iPRES 2010 call for papers

iPRES 2010 (September 19-24, Vienna) has issued a call for papers. Submissions are due by May 5, and final versions by July 11.

Flash “vs.” HTML? Not so.

CNET has a rather confused article titled “HTML vs. Flash: Can a turf war be avoided?” This is like asking whether a turf war can be avoided between mixing bowls and batter.

The article says: “Bruce Lawson, Web standards evangelist for browser maker Opera Software, believes HTML and the other technologies inevitably will replace Flash and already collectively are ‘very close’ to reproducing today’s Flash abilities.” Further on: “Perhaps the most visible HTML5 aspect is built-in support for audio and video.”

This is complete nonsense. HTML 5 does not include “built-in support” for video. All that it does is provide a standardized means for browsers to support it. The video and audio tags provide a standardized means of expressing video and audio content, but don’t define any means of interpreting the content. That’s left up to the browser, just as it is with HTML 4 with its lack of standardized media tags. The browser can support MPEG 4, Flash, Ogg, all of them, none of them, or something else entirely.

Perhaps author Stephen Shankland is thinking of a different issue. There are some Web pages whose content is made up entirely of Flash. If you bring them up on a browser where Flash support is lacking or disabled, you generally get a blank page, not even a clue about what’s wrong. This could be considered Flash vs. HTML competition, but it’s an area where Flash has no excuse for being there and deserves to be beaten. The appropriate use of Flash, to present animation and video, is actually better supported by HTML 5 than by earlier versions, and the idea that the technologies compete is meaningless.