The HTML vs Flash debate has been a hot topic for years, but despite industry giants such as Apple calling for Flash’s demise for over 6 years, it’s still managing to cling on.
Will 2016 be the year that Flash finally meets its end? Or is it still too soon to bury Flash?
What’s so Wrong with Flash?
First and foremost: Flash’s security problems are well-known; in fact they’re responsible for several major web browsers dropping Flash support, for example both Firefox and Chrome pulled the plug on Flash following the discovery of a major security vulnerability that allowed anyone to take over your computer.
If you continue developing content in Flash, then you may find that your content suddenly stops working if more web browsers make changes to their Flash support.
Today, Flash isn’t supported by any of the major mobile platforms, with iOS, Android and Windows Mobile all dropping support for Flash over the last few years – largely due to Flash’s security problems.
If you have your heart set on viewing Flash animations on your mobile device, you can get around this restriction by downloading a third-party app, but it’s clear that Flash isn’t the way forward for smartphones and tablets. And with evidence to suggest that more people are accessing the Internet on their smartphones than on their computers, the argument for moving away from Flash is only going to grow.
Even on the desktop, Flash content isn’t easily accessible as many browsers don’t support Flash by default. Often you’ll need to install a plugin, which is more than just an annoyance – your typical plugin requires regular updates and if users don’t keep on top of these updates, they’re leaving themselves open to security vulnerabilities.
Another major issue is vendor-lock in. Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary, meaning that Adobe ultimately have control over any content you develop in Flash. And since Adobe’s Flash tools are closed, you don’t have the option to customise them to better suit your needs, as you can with open software.
So what’s the alternative?
Increasingly, HTML5 is being pushed as an alternative to Flash, and it’s easy to see why.
Unlike Flash, HTML5 is mobile-friendly. Create your content in HTML5 and your users will be able to access it on desktop and mobile devices including iOS, Android and Windows Mobile. HTML5 support is also integrated into all the major web browsers, which eliminates the need for extra plugins – automatically making HTML5 more secure.
HTML is also improving all the time, so there’s nothing you can produce in Flash that you can’t reproduce in HTML5.
If it’s this clear-cut, why is Flash still hanging around?
Why won’t Flash die?
The major factor prolonging Flash’s life, is the amount of Flash content that’s still being created. Many large, frequently-used websites still use Flash in the desktop environment, even though they can produce the same content in HTML5. One example is the BBC website, which uses Flash on the desktop but delivers the same content in HTML5 on mobile devices where Flash isn’t supported.
As long as large websites continue to deliver their content in Flash, people will see Flash as a viable way of creating content, when in reality it’s far from the best way.
Another major issue is that many organisations have lots of legacy Flash content. If they’re still using this content, that means they already have all the software they need to run Flash content installed on their computer. Therefore, when it’s time to create new content, Flash often feels like the obvious choice over HTML5.
People are always going to be reluctant to make the leap from something they’re familiar with, to a new technology. Organisations also recognise that getting their staff up to speed with new technology requires time, effort and money. All of these factors encourage them to stick with what they know.
Despite all the things working in HTML5’s favour, there are some drawbacks.
Although HTML5 is supported by all the major web browsers, each browser is slightly different so your users may encounter inconsistencies depending on the browser they’re using. Testing can help you identify these inconsistencies, but finding and fixing these problems does take time, energy and money, so you’ll need to factor that into your project’s overhead.
The other major problem lies with the fact that Flash is an established solution, whereas HTML5 is a relatively new technology.
Since Flash has been around for a while, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of authoring tools designed to help users create Flash content, often without having to write any code. These tools allow non-programmers to create high-quality Flash content, and help programmers to create content more quickly and easily than if they had to code everything by hand.
Currently if you want to create content in HTML5 then you’re going to have to hand-code at least some of that content, which is more time-consuming and requires specialist skills. For many small development teams and hobbyists, it’s more practical to create content in Flash using an authoring tool, than it is to invest time and energy into hand-coding that same content in HTML5.
This is a problem, but it’s not going to be the case forever. HTML5 authoring tools are already starting to emerge and are only going to get better with time. Plus, since HTML5 isn’t a proprietary technology, eventually they’ll be a much wider range of tools to choose from, so you’ll be able to shop around and find the one that best suits your needs, or even create your own HTML5 authoring tool.
What’s the solution?
The solution sounds simple: stop using Flash! This is exactly what Apple did when they made a clean break from Flash, but cutting ties may not be straightforward or easy for organisations who don’t have the same resources as Apple.
For the last few years, we’ve been committed to giving our users the choice of creating elearning content in HTML5 or Flash. By taking this approach, we helped many of our clients make a smooth transition from Flash to HTML5. But maintaining multiple versions of the same piece of content is time-consuming, costly, and potentially confusing for you and your users.
So although in the past we felt that it was necessary to support both HTML and Flash, going forward we won’t. To make sure our content is accessible across desktop and modern mobile devices, we’re now creating all our content in HTML.
We’re also focused on the open source community, specifically the Adapt elearning framework. Using technology like Adapt, we can create content that responds intelligently to the device’s it’s being viewed on, including smartphones and tablets – something that simply isn’t possible with Flash.
Let’s hope that Flash vanishes soon, as organisations who have already been dependent on Flash for far too long finally find a way to cut ties and make the move to cross-platform alternatives like HTML5.