Flash is going down for the count -- but slowly

Developers will have new HTML5 world to deal with when the smoke clears

Last week saw Adobe pull the plug on its Flash Player mobile browser plug-in and its plans for Flash on TVs, opting instead to concentrate on HTML5 and the Adobe AIR environment for mobile device applications. Once hailed as the company's cherished solution for getting Flash onto mobile devices, the Flash mobile software joins HP's TouchPad tablet as recent additions to the graveyard of highly touted but quickly abandoned products. In the aftermath of Adobe's announcement, it appears the writing is on the wall: Flash itself is on an inevitable, albeit slow, decline on all platforms, not just mobile.

I've speculated that HTML5, as a standards-based solution for multimedia Web applications, could eventually mean curtains for Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe's chief rival in the proprietary rich Internet plug-in space. Now, that speculation is starting to come to fruition. With even Adobe, the owner of Flash, recognizing HTML5's acceptance on mobile devices, how much longer can it be before Flash Player is gone from the desktop, too?

After all, HTML5 already has become well-established in desktop browsers like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox. Even the HTML5 laggard, Internet Explorer 9, backs HTML5's geolocation APIs, video and and audio elements, and the Canvas 2D element.

Besides, users are spending more and more time with devices -- where Flash has not gotten traction -- and away from the desktop.

Still, despite the HTML5 juggernaut, it might actually be a while yet before HTML5 alone is all that's needed. "Nothing dies in this industry. I expect Flash to continue to provide a 'premium' browser-based desktop experience for many, many years. I do not expect use of Flash to grow, however," says John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Flash has an established track record as an application delivery platform, whereas HTML5 still is getting off the ground and is not even a finished specification. However, Rymer says HTML5 can match Flash in its app-making abilities as well.

With the standards-based technologies getting better; with Apple having already banned Flash Player from its popular iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad; and with Microsoft declining to support Flash in Windows 8's mobile-oriented Metro interface, it certainly looks like Flash's days of glory are behind it.

Developers used to relying on the ubiquitous Flash Player will have to keep getting used to HTML5 as the mechanism for video or multimedia in their Web applications. It will be a standards-based world for developers, emphasizing HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets, and JavaScript instead of Adobe's ActionScript.

For its part, Adobe pledges to continue with Flash technology on mobile, but via AIR, says Thibault Imbert, Adobe's senior product manager for the Flash Runtime, in a blog post. Developers, he says, can "create super-nice Flash-based apps packaged with AIR" and deliver them to app stores across iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices. Developers also can leverage their ActionScript-based skills, he says.

Still, Adobe's cancellation of its mobile Flash Player is just the latest in a continuum of good news for developers: Instead of learning proprietary vendor-specific technologies, standards will rule the day.

Adobe itself will march on, says IDC analyst Al Hilwa. "Adobe makes its money [through its] suite of development and design tools, which as long as they are seen as compelling, Adobe will do fine. Adobe has been an early investor in tooling for HTML5, so this is a managed transition for them."

This story, "Flash is going down for the count -- but slowly," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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