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Web Trends: Flash And HTML 5

Updated on July 3, 2011

When I was a young man in high school, HTML was the thing to learn. If you knew HTML, you were the pinnacle of man. I was the envy of many of my classmates. Loved by all the women. As I flexed my mental muscles at an early age, my first website was built, hand-coded in notepad. They were all jealous. Among HTML, there were a few other web standards an aspiring webmaster needed to familiarize himself with. It was CGI, which usually came in the form of Perl, and Adobe Flash. Today, you don't need to learn HTML in order to build a website. In stereotypical nerd fashion, I set off to learn as much as I can about the latest web technologies. As the web started to evolve, it became clear that Flash is becoming more obsolete.

Why? What is wrong with Flash? And why do we need to get rid of it?

Instead of writing a “Top 10 Reason Why Flash Sucks”, I'll give you my thoughts. Let's step outside the box and answer these questions from a different perspective. Let's keep an opened mind.

A Flash of Light

Let's think of Flash as a fuel. Flash was the fuel that powered many artists' creative imaginations. Flash spread like wildfire in the late 90's and early 2000. Back then, it was the brainchild of a company called Macromedia(nerd points of you knew this). Adobe was on the other side of the creative fence building their world famous “Photoshop” line. They ended up buying Macromedia. There was a period of explosive web growth. It seemed the name “Flash” was quite fitting. Flash took over the web in scintillating fashion. It began as a cool feature and exploded into a web standard.

After giving us nice animations, cool games, and video, Flash is beginning to show its age. There are many problems with Flash and they've been more apparent these last few years. Flash sites are heavy. They take longer to load compared to a standard webpage. Flash sites break formatting. While some may allow you to copy and paste, most won't. They are also horrible for search engines. Because they break formatting, it is difficult for Google to index flash pages because the content is mainly embedded animations. Flash is a mess. Their lack of standardization means fancy menus that look pretty but are hardly useful and never the same from site to site. This is great for certain aspects such as artistic freedom, but for everyday web browsing, this is a pain. This is why you see Flash used on big corporate websites and not small blogs. Big companies like Infiniti can use Flash because people that go there are interested in their cars. They don't need their content(text) indexed by Google. They get enough attention from other media outlets. Imagine a new blog made entirely of Flash. It's like a message in a bottle floating in the Pacific.

This is where Flash becomes a problem. Let's look at the politics of what I said earlier. Flash favors larger, more established corporations. The little guy needs to use plain old HTML or PHP in order to get noticed while the big dogs can use it on their large sites. It seems as if you have to have an established website in order to reap the benefits of Flash.

Flash For Media Consumption

For the most part, Flash is used for consumption. Media consumption with videos and games and this is reflected by the sites that use it. YouTube is one of the biggest sites on the web and its content is almost entirely Flash based. I mentioned earlier that Flash is starting to show its age. With the increasing rise of smart phones and mobile computing, Flash is looking more like an old lady than a sexy MILF. Flash uses lots of computer resources. It significantly drains the batteries of smart phones and laptops. HTML 5 is suppose to make Flash obsolete. At least that's what iJesus aka Steve Jobs thinks. You know what? I'm betting on it too. HTML 5 has everything to make Flash obsolete but that's not the question I want to answer. The real question is why? If HTML 5 is going to kill Flash, why is it still here? Why are smart phone(iPhone) users demanding it?

The answer is simple AND complicated. Let me give you both versions at the same time. Remember when I said Flash is like fuel? The web's addiction to Flash is like America's addiction to oil. We can stop using it. We can force ourselves to use other fuels. The problem is we are so dependent on Flash that just by disabling it, our web experience is crippled. This is why mobile phone users crave Flash. It's like a drug. They don't want to load an app to play YouTube videos. They want to play these videos straight from their browsers. We need it to get the “full” web experience. Just like oil influencing the world, Flash has shaped the web to what it is today. They are both powerful but also crude, inefficient, and obsolete. We need a new way. Although it is more comfortable maintaining the status quo, the web is changing and Flash may or may not stay.

Final Thoughts

Is HTML 5 the answer? More people are starting to think so. Performance on non-Windows computers have been sub-par. Mac and Linux users sometimes experience Flash crashing. This forces us to restart our browsers and possibly, losing our tabs, work, and other tasks we were doing. Not only is hardware acceleration not supported for Mac and Linux, but with the increasing trend of mobile computing, efficiency has become a higher priority over raw performance. For me, all I want from Flash is stutter-free performance. If HTML 5 doesn't deliver, there's always Microsoft's Silverlight.

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    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 7 years ago

      JD, I left my conclusion open-ended for that reason. It took nearly a decade for Flash to get to this point and it still isn't good enough (for me and Mac users).

      Enterprise and indie developers rely on titles, tags, and keywords for their videos to get indexed. Post a kick-ass video on YouTube with the title as MOV4141.MOV, leave everything else blank and see if it gets indexed. Unless you have a strong presence in social networks, consider that video dead in the water.

      @smiling man,

      Flash pop ups and ads are even worse. This makes using popular adblock extensions useless on YouTube and other Flash heavy sites.

      While I can't deny that Flash is here to stay, I can't help but feel cheated. While Flash is optimized for Windows users, why should I(and Mac users) suffer from piss-poor performance? If the answer to that is market share, then I welcome a new way that won't discriminate based on OS. Now if only HTML 5 can get their act together.

    • The Smiling Man profile image

      The Smiling Man 7 years ago from USA

      So true. Whenever I browse the web and come across a small site with flash, unless it's important, I usually X it out. I only put up with fancy, slow flash sites because It's absolutely necessary (usually big corporate sites).

    • profile image

      John Dowdell 7 years ago

      "Flash sites are heavy. They take longer to load compared to a standard webpage."

      For comparable media loads, Flash loads faster... fewer HTTP connections.

      The SEO claims haven't been true for a decade. While enterprise uses SWF, so do many indy developers, and look at how video has been freed.