Lights out for Flash and its RIA brethren

Apple's ban on Flash for the iPhone is another nail in the coffin for proprietary RIA platforms -- and good riddance

It's make-or-break time for Adobe. After a stinging rebuke from Apple CEO Steve Jobs that seemingly slammed the door on any possibility of Flash on the iPhone or iPad, Adobe has asked federal regulators to investigate Apple for possible antitrust violations. If such an investigation proves fruitless, however, this could be the swan song for Flash -- and for the concept of RIA (rich Internet application) platforms in general.

Today Flash, along with its related technologies Flex and AIR, is far and away the most popular RIA platform. Boasting a user base in excess of 90 percent of all PCs, it continues to beat out big-name rivals such as Microsoft Silverlight and Sun JavaFX and soundly trounces smaller players such as Curl.

[ Keep up on the latest developments in software development with InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. | InfoWorld's Paul Krill explains in detail how HTML5 could kill Flash and Silverlight. ]

Still, that's not saying much. Even as RIA tools have matured and grown ever more sophisticated, the concept of RIAs has never quite caught on with mainstream users. From hassles associated with installing plug-ins and runtimes to unexpected crashes, memory leaks, and security vulnerabilities, the list of gripes is innumerable. Given the choice, a great many users say they'd be happy to do without Flash altogether. And with Jobs publicly backing HTML5 on the iPhone and iPad -- to the exclusion of Flash or any similar RIA runtime -- it seems that on Apple's platform, at least, they will get their wish.

That puts a serious damper on Flash's cross-platform capability, which Adobe has long touted as one of its key features. Lacking a clear path into the world of mobile devices, and with HTML steadily gaining capabilities, the value of Flash or any similar tool is called into question. Are RIA platforms themselves a concept whose time is past?

Flash: The value isn't there
Jobs says yes. "Flash was created during the PC era," he writes, implying that while the industry has moved forward, Flash has not. Though not everyone agrees -- Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen was particularly adamant, and even InfoWorld editor in chief Eric Knorr thinks the Flash-bashing has gotten out of hand -- there's a strong case to be made that Flash has indeed outlived its usefulness.

Most of Jobs' arguments center on Flash's unsuitability to mobile platforms, including poor performance, lack of hardware acceleration for video, excessive power consumption, and inadequate support for alternative input devices, such as touchscreens. "We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now," he writes. "We have never seen it."

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