Talking tech since 2003

A couple of years ago when the rumors of Apple’s then unannounced iPad tablet began to check out and it became blatantly obvious that Apple was indeed working on and planning to release a consumer tablet device there were countless folks out there that were absolutely sure that Apple was finally going to team up with Adobe to bring Flash player over to the iOS platform.  And while this idea made a bit of sense at face value with the iPad having been the closest that the mobile industry had ever gotten to full-fledged workstation replacements, the fact of the matter is – as it still proves true today – that Adobe Flash was never designed or intended to be used on mobile devices.

Sure there are quite a few Android handsets out there that boast Flash support, but people openly criticize the fact that Flash on Android has poor performance; something that not even Adobe’s CEO was able to answer for in an Engadget interview a couple of months back.  But Apple has been able to do without Flash for years now simply by implementing HTML5 support into Safari, sidestepping the need for the retrospectively bulky and resource-intensive Flash Player.

Nonetheless, Adobe Flash remains a pretty big component of everyday life on the Internet.  This weekend I did a clean install of OS X on my MacBook Pro, and out of sheer curiosity I decided to hold off on installing Flash Player just to see how long I could go without using it.  That was on Saturday, and as I write this post here early Sunday evening I have to admit that Flash has been on my system for well over six hours now.  Of course I was able to do a lot without Flash, or at least a lot more than I could have done without Flash only a couple of short years ago.  With popular sites like YouTube supporting video streaming via HTML5, there was a period of time where I actually thought I’d get away without using Flash.  But as I soon realized that little pieces of the Internet seemed “broken” without Flash, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I had to install it.

That said, my respect for Flash and my understanding for its need has grown quite a bit this weekend.

Before I even start off, I’d like to point out that HTML5 is simply draw-dropping when we look at what it can really do and how much of Flash it can replace.  I already pointed out the HTML5 video streaming implemented by YouTube without the need for a plugin, but HTML5 really can go much further than that.  Google’s web team, for example, ported the “Quake 2” video-game over to HTML5 just to show how powerful the once-simple markup language can be.

But as powerful and flexible as HTML5 and even older implementations of the markup language are, the sad reality is that the wide array of web browsers on the market make it hard to do anything really “advanced” with pure HTML/CSS/JavaScript in a dependable fashion.  Why?  What works in one browser isn’t necessarily going to work in all browsers.  And even if it does, the chances of getting one page to look exactly the same using the different rendering engines utilized in different web browsers really does involve a significant amount of knowledge, coding, testing, and debugging.

And at that, you’re assuming that all browsers can render the same content.  Let’s face it though; some browsers take significantly more time to get support for HTML and CSS features that are pretty “standard” in other browsers.  This is a concept that BestTechie contributing author Michael Morris pointed out in an article about Internet Explorer’s burden to web developers in December of 2009.

On the other hand, Flash is simply a plugin, and instead of relying on the browser to render Flash-based content Flash renders it on its own and has the browser display it.  What this means is that incredibly complex web components can be done once, and as long as a viewer has a modern version of Flash installed they can view the content exactly as it was intended; regardless of their preferred web browser.

Things like animations, videos, and non-standard fonts and behaviors can even make a Flash-based website much more interactive than an entirely non-Flash website on even the most highly compatible web browser.

So am I saying that every singly website on the Internet should be done exclusively in Flash?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I think that people should use Flash as sparingly as possible and try to do more without Flash (it actually helps search engine optimization, too).  And personally, when I stumble upon an entirely Flash-based website my cursor hits the back button almost immediately.  But given that a site uses Flash in such a way that it’s not overused and where it’s actually bettering a user’s experience, I really don’t have a problem with Flash anymore.

Try it for yourself.  Disable Flash and see how long you can last.  How much of the Internet just isn’t the same?  Let us know your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments!

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