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HTML and Flash – the aftermath’s aftermath

I’ve had a very exciting few days as a result of my recent HTML/Flash post. Clearly there is still much to discuss on this subject! I had over 140 comments in the end, although at least half were probably from me. 🙂 I was so delighted that there were many eloquently expressed viewpoints and a measured and reasonable discussion.

I’ve attempted to summarise the conversation as best I can, but it was huge – some comments were even longer than the original blog post! But let’s start with those of you who are way ahead of me…


Comfort zone? What comfort zone!?

“I play around with many other technologies and languages. It’s part of being a good programmer (at least, I tell my boss I’m good 😉 )” – Mnem

“ I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Flash developer who just ‘does Flash’” – Joseph Labrecque, elaborating further in his blog post.

“Seb: the Flash community embraces new technologies, like HTML5, CSS3 and WOFF” – Jerome

I’m very very glad that there are many Flash devs exploring all new options.

Flash abuse

“When I hear a web developer trash talking Flash… they are… devaluing the creativity… of extremely talented and smart people” – Dave

It’s important that we try not to take these things personally, otherwise we’ll get angry and that will only hold us back. If we shut ourselves off to changes in our industry, we’ll suffer for it. I try to understand why people may feel that way. Once you can communicate from a position of empathy you have more chance to prove your point.

“Is it just my impression or is the “open web” crowd a little more fanatical about dismissing the Flash world than the other way round? … I’d love to see everyone focus more on building cool stuff than what particular technologies get used to do it. ” – Peter Elst

I wish that we could separate the “cool stuff” from the technology that we use to create it. It’s when the technology stops being transparent that we have a problem. And when Flash is misused, it’s anything but transparent. I’m certain that a few misguided web developers will equally misuse HTML5 and JS. Sadly, native browser tech isn’t as easily identifiable as Flash and more of the blame will be apportioned to the coders than the technology they’ve abused. It’s unfair but there’s nothing we can do about it.

“your tone comes across as chastising the Flash community more than promoting open standards” – Andrew Odri

That’s a fair point. I always assume that most of my blog readers are Flash people so feel a need to provide the other side of the argument. When I’m with web devs I argue the case for Flash. Like I said, I don’t fit in. 🙂 I could have given more of the Flash side of the argument, I just assume you all know that already. 🙂

Flash or HTML – How to choose?

“Even as a JavaScript nerd, there are still times when I say… ‘this needs to be done in Flash’. …Once we needed Flash for complex animation, now we don’t. What we need flash for is rich interfaces, 3D animations and other complex interactions…Flash developers should be pushing… the next set of milestones for us… If we kill Flash, JavaScript might get stale… we shouldn’t Flash-bash. Flash is good. It just happens that it is often used for evil.”
– Clinton Montague, a ‘JavaScript guy’

“What’s worrying for me, is that the negative connotations for Flash have recently left the relatively insular world of web developers. Now agency clients are avoiding flash, in cases where it would be the best tool for the job, due to a general perception that Flash is a technology on the decline. “ – Lawrie

There is absolutely no doubt that bad Flash PR is having a huge impact and that is colouring agency clients’ demands. We can’t ignore this, but equally we probably can’t change it! The decision about using one over the other is easy :

If what you’re doing is simple – then use JS/HTML. Because if you can do it in a way that will work on iOS then you might as well.

If it’s more complex then you genuinely have a choice between Flash and HTML5: rich media performs very badly on iOS mobile Safari. So whether you do it in HTML or Flash it still won’t work. This will probably change over time as new iPads are released, but right now it’s very hard to get performant iOS rich browser content.

“You often want to build a website that is a combination of expressiveness and usability, if you feel you can express yourself using Flash, then… The trade off is usability sometimes.” – Gary Paluk

“And what’s wrong with Full on Flash sites? What’s wrong with the 99.99% percent of FWA? NOTHING!” – Giorgos

My personal opinion is that many of these full Flash sites are a little overblown and stylistically seem dated. But that’s just what I think. For my web usage I prefer to get the information I need as quickly as possible. And I get annoyed at sites providing me with an experience at the expense of usability. Call me boring. 🙂

Gaming

“Have you seen what games are possible with JS already… I don’t see the need for Flash anymore. ” – Mike

JS gaming is getting better, and there are some impressive browser based games. Writing a JS game isn’t without its challenges but it’s becoming possible to make half decent games. But this doesn’t mean that HTML/JS has “won” and Flash will disappear. As long as Flash penetration rates continue to be high, and in-browser capabilities continue to improve, developers have a genuine choice between the two technologies.

I’ve tried both and it’s still easier to make a game in Flash. There are many things that browsers simply can’t do reliably yet. Of course that will change over time and if JS is capable of doing what you need now, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore this. I certainly am!

“If you are a Flash developer and still have a full roster of work, you have absolutely no reason or obligation to learn JavaScript. Keep doing what you’re doing, raising the bar of innovation and creativity.” – Iain Lobb (game developer extraordinaire)

Of course you’re under no obligation to learn JS – it’s just a suggestion, take it or leave it. It can only be positive, even if you don’t end up using it.

There are huge opportunities for people like you (Iain) who can make games. And sure, JS/HTML is pretty primitive now, but that’s changing all the time. And just because it’s primitive, doesn’t mean you can’t make a fun game with it. We used to make excellent Flash games when it was way less powerful. Just because we have an XBox doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have fun with a Flash game.

In the rest of the web dev world, clients are demanding non-Flash websites (see Matt Hamm’s comment below). I expect clients are also demanding non-Flash games. Right now we can say “no way, it’s much better in Flash. And iPads are too slow to run HTML5 canvas games any more complex than tetris”.

But there will be a threshold. The new iPads will come out. Browser capabilities improve. You can be sure that at some point, there will be someone offering your client an HTML5/JS game. And we know it might run better in Flash. We’ll know the tools and the language are more powerful and more mature. But your competitor won’t care about that. And nor will your client. It will be good enough to make a fun game.

Of course Molehill will have an impact and Flash will continue to get more awesome for gaming. It’ll be interesting to see how that one plays out. You know me – I love new stuff and will enjoy exploring the new hardware accelerated Flash features.

But if you can also make make JS games, your highly specialised skills will be hugely in demand in the coming months and years.

Molehill

“Watch what is coming with the next release of Flash [hardware accelerated 3D with Molehill]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcKvS983K8c&hd=1 Can you run this with WebGL ? When HTML5 will become a standard, where will be Flash ?”

WebGL should in theory be comparable to Molehill, but of course there are cross browser issues (astonishingly, no support in IE9!). FlashPlayer should be the widest supported method to get hardware accelerated graphics in your browser. Let’s see how that one plays out!

iOS

“Bottom line. Apple reports 160 million iOS devices sold. We know none of those devices have Flash, which means consumers are doing just fine without. To me, that sends the ultimate message.” – Chuck

iOS has clearly made a huge impact: website owners have had to ensure that their sites work without Flash. I have an iPhone and I very rarely find a site that doesn’t work in my day to day browsing.

“And yet I’m wondering how many of those 160 million users would install Flash if they had the option.” – 0L4F

Good question to which I genuinely don’t know the answer! And my guess is that we’ll never know. Presumably a proportion of the people that buy non Apple iPhones and tablets will be doing so because of Flash.

“…All my clients demand that websites function completely on iOS devices and even that the layout/style of the site responds in appropriate ways according to screen size.” – Matt Hamm (web designer)

I really appreciate Matt sharing his view as a web designer. It seems that the majority of website clients want their stuff to work in iOS. If we want to use Flash, we have to have a very good reason to do so.

“Since the iPad, there is now no way to build once and deploy everywhere (for a complex animated site or game). IMO that was the greatest strength of Flash…” – felix

I’m fascinated that the write-once run anywhere ideals of run-times haven’t quite materialised and I’m not just talking about Flash. Probably a huge subject to investigate by itself.

“The iPad is actually not powerful enough to handle any but the most trivial animations/games [in HTML5]… A JS/Canvas block running in a website is no more accessible or ‘semantically correct’ than the same content running in Flash.” – felix

An excellent point that the open web dev community often miss.

Javascript/browser difficulties

“Do you know how bad the cross-browser functionality for HTML5 is?” – Tomas

“JavaScript is shit / doesn’t have strict typing / OOP / mature IDE etc etc “ – various

I’ll let Andy Hume (a front end developer from ClearLeft) answer that :

“implementations of JavaScript are messy within web browsers. But over the years we’ve learnt… good programming patterns… prototypal inheritance… etc… We’ve developed libraries like jQuery, which have then gone on to inform the design of standards and browsers themselves.

“Web development is a young industry. The technology we’ve got… is advancing… we’ve overcome huge difficulties in building web products …It’s almost difficult to comprehend how far we’ve come. And we’re continuing to move forward little by little, day by day.

“It’s far from perfect. But if you work on the web you get used to it, you learn to embrace it, and actually I think you grow to love it.” – Andy Hume, ClearLeft

And I can only add : If there’s a good reason to do something in JavaScript then we can work around its limitations. The fact that there were better languages around didn’t stop us using AS1 or AS2. We used it because we wanted to deploy to swfs. I can’t say I love ObjectiveC but I like building things for iOS. If there’s a good reason to make stuff with JS, then we can do it. We’re very experienced programmers. We’ve done harder things than this!

“With Google’s GWT http://code.google.com/webtoolkit/ you can code in Java (typed) and compile it to JavaScript. Cross browser issues can be solved very elegantly with so called “deferred binding”: the compiled JS “chooses” the correct code for different browsers.” – Tim Knip

Worth looking into I think!

“…horribly slow JavaScript…” – Gary Paluk

JavaScript performance is leaps and bounds ahead of what it used to be and is actually comparable to AS now. It’s anything but “horribly slow” these days.

“HTML5 is a working draft, which means you can wait before all the functionalities work on all browsers.” – Sébastien D

HTML is always a changing standard, but it doesn’t stop anyone using it. More information about this at the WHATWG and yes it’s not HTML5 any more. 🙂

“Advocating for the use of Javascript in the name of progress… is not cool. I’d call that programmer-abuse.” – scriptkitty

I find the extreme reactions to the idea of learning JavaScript somewhat amusing (I’ll never forget Iain Lobb’s “I’d rather die than go back to a non data-typed language!”) I’m not sure my recommendation equates to programmer abuse. Seriously though, it’s just a suggestion. Ignore it if you like. 🙂

Apple hate

“just one thing kill your ipad” – io

“your enthusiasm for html5 and apple is pretty clear but not particularly well supported by the facts… apple has made a mistake over flash; it takes an apple fanboy to deny it.” – joshW

Seems there is still some Apple hate in the Flash community. Luckily for the haters, it’s possible to build a completely successful programming career whilst completely avoiding anything remotely Apple related.

But if you’re making websites, you can be sure your the vast majority of your clients will want their sites to work on iOS.

In my “What the Flux” survey of 300 (mostly) Flash developers, 60% have been asked to make iPhone apps, and 60% agree that the iPhone has the best UX. Like it or hate it, they’re doing something right. You can avoid it but, if you’re in this field, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least study what they’re doing and understand why it’s popular.

Flash can be fun

“Good Flash has always been about throwaway entertainment that puts a smile on people’s faces… So your Macbook fan revs up a little when you’re watching kitten videos… so your browser crashed when you were planting aubergines in Farmville… who bloody cares really? World’s smallest violin. Nobody got hurt… If it bothers you that much then turn off your computer, go outside and climb a tree or something.” – Mark Burville following up in his blog post.

Classic quote about the tree 🙂 Thanks Mark.

Religious wars

“… Flash bashing comes from ignorance. But so does the web standards bashing. Both sides have a lot to offer the other. And isn’t it silly sometimes that there are sides at all? Learning JS or whatever else isn’t necessarily advice to prepare for the death of Flash. (because, honestly it’s not going to die) Being open to whichever new things might apply to us is only going to be a good thing.” – Val Head

“There are very few people at Adobe that ‘hate’ any technology. Flash itself is a collection of technologies, and a multi-billion dollar global industry driven by creative talent and some of the worlds largest businesses… Now, as someone who grew up in a real religious war, I will offer this advice… Keep an open mind, and move past those who demonstrate the will to stop you forming your own opinions.” – Mark Doherty, Adobe

“…I’m ready to switch over when JavaScript grows up a bit.” – John Davies

It’s not necessarily a question of changing sides, more exploring all possibilities to make you a better developer. I certainly not leaving Flash any time soon!

Everythings fine! La la la…

“I wonder how necessary this post really was. A Flash developer would have to be living in a cave not to have heard much of this already… My sense is, given the constant barrage on sites like Techcrunch and elsewhere, that the Flash community really didn’t need another reminder.” – Brian Rinaldi, Adobe

I hope that my blog post and subsequent discussions are nothing like the kind of horrible ignorant Flash-bashing that happens at Techcrunch. If you feel the Flash community is so sensitive that they can’t handle a reasonable, informed and intelligent discussion of the benefits of JavaScript, then you’re massively underestimating them! 🙂

Join with us!

“Do I care that I’m not working in AS3 as much as I’d like? Yes, a little. But now I find that I can [do] a lot of ‘Flash’ things with CSS, Javascript and Typekit… I still get to explore and try new things… For the record, ex-Flash developers make MEAN html developers. I encourage you all to jump in the arena and give the regular html guys a run for their money.” – Craig Anthony

“…I would love to see more Flash developers like Seb and I attending events like New Adventures to talk to the wider web community about how [our] skills… are transferable. If we become one side, one community I think we will see some really rapid advancements in the non-flash graphics programming on the web, which I for one would be delighted to see.” – Ringo Moss


Whew! That was a lot to get through! I think I just about touched on all the most commonly expressed views.

I’m sure that you have plenty more to say on the subject! The only thing I ask is please try to be succinct! And thank you for your continued reasonable anti-inflammatory non-angry discussion. 🙂

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