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Will Flex go down with Flash?
Adobe Flash has featured prominently in recent blogs and press, and it is not all good news for this ubiquitous technology. With the native support for video content in HTML5, Google’s initiative to offer video content through the YouTube HTML5 Video Player and Apple’s open criticism of Flash, to the extent of refusing to support it (so far) on iPhone and iPad, dark clouds are gathering over Adobe.
It is still too early to write-off Flash and there are many arguments for and against its future. In a recent blog John Gruber makes the interesting observation that “Flash is the only web standard based on a proprietary technology” and points out the advantages of adopting an open standard for video content on the Web. Steve Jobs did not mince words either and had this to say about Flash and Adobe.
In a rebuttal, Adobe posted this blog in which it points out that 85% of the top web sites contain Flash content and Flash is running on over 98% computers on the Web and, when it comes to developing content, there is really little alternative to the Adobe tool set.
I do not believe that the sky is falling and Adobe will disappear overnight. But in the long run Adobe must come up with a better argument than its installed base and available content. Once all browsers support HTML5’s native video format, then by definition, their installed base will be 100%. As for content, Google controls the lion’s share of video content by virtue of its ownership of YouTube and is already moving content to HTML5 format.
Of course the mom and dad users are blissfully unaware and unaffected by all this. They can watch YouTube on their iPhones which does not support Flash and would not notice if the sky actually fell. Indeed if you ask them “What is Flash?” their answer will vary from “A camera accessory” to “An act of misdemeanour”!
However, the future of Flash is of utmost importance to web developers – Flex developers to be exact. First released in 2004 by Macromedia, and one of the reasons why Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, Flex has carved a respectable niche in the rich web content market. While itself an open source standard, Flex is 100% dependent on the proprietary Flash. So the question Flex developers have to ask themselves is ‘What will happen if more and more devices drop support for Flash or at best Flash becomes just another player with far less market penetration that it currently enjoys?’
The predicament of Flex developers makes me ask myself the question “Is it better to have an open source development tool that has a proprietary output or a proprietary development tool that has an open source standard-based output?”
I will address this question in one of my future blogs.