Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Adobe Flash on its way out?

There's been a lot of movement lately on the HTML 5 front. Google has begun to roll out HTML 5 based video players on their wildly popular YouTube site, Microsoft has finally joined the SVG, and more and more browsers and slowly but surely adopting HTML 5 as a standard. This all begs the question "Is Flash on the way out?"

Adobe Flash has been, over the years, a technology we all love to hate. It's a resource hog, prone to crashes, and often doesn't play nice with other plug ins, but it also allows us to do things like play web games, have cool animations, and, until recently, watch video and audio on the web. Sure, there were a few other technologies that allowed many of those things, but with a 98% install base, nothing even came close to touching Flash.

Along the way, there have been problems though. Apple refused to support Flash content on any of its mobile devices aside from laptops, and users of slightly aged hardware often found their Flash experience much more annoying than engaging. Companies like Microsoft tried to fix some of what was wrong with Flash by releasing competing technologies like Silverlight but, still, the problems remained simply because the userbase remained. Adobe held us captive and enjoyed a good long run while doing so.

That might all be changing soon as more browser makers adopt HTML 5 as a standard. Using HTML 5, developers can do things like play audio and video content, create really compelling graphics and animations, and do nearly everything they could do in Flash but without all the weight.

HTML 5 promises to bring a new era for developers who've long been frustrated by the necessary evil of developing Flash content, knowing their users could have a horrible experience, but not having a better technology with which to work. Already, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all support HTML 5 to some degree and it's expected that Microsoft Internet Explorer will begin adopting the standard in the very near future though, to what degree, is still uncertain. Does all of this spell the coming demise of the lion that is Flash?

Let's be clear: Flash has served us well. Even though it's been frustrating, it's allowed us to do some amazing things. I don't think Flash necessarily has to die a horrible death if Adobe is willing to get its head out of the sand and quit pretending everything is alright. Users not having a choice except to use your technology is not the same as user loyalty. Flash users have already proven they're willing to jump ship to something better and HTML 5 might just be the something better many developers need.

Will Adobe put in the effort required to fix their ailing technology? That remains to be seen. There are rumblings that Adobe itself is looking to replace Flash with something better but what that may be is unknown. One thing is sure: Flash will probably be with us for a few years to come. After that, who knows? Maybe the answer isn't HTML 5 and maybe Flash's replacement doesn't yet exist. But make no mistake: Flash, as it is now, is dead in the water. People hate it and want to replace it. It's just a question of what to replace it with.

What are your thoughts about Flash's death? Overrated? Coming soon? And what do you think Flash's replacement will be?