Hi, my name is Timo Ernst and I am a web expert.

Flash is as open as HTML

Posted on: May 14th, 2010 by Timo

What most people miss-understand is: It’s not the Flash Player which is supposed to be “open” or not. It’s the Flash/SWF specification, which is open. The Player is not and no-one said that it is.

Think of it like this:

  • HTML is based on an open specification made by the W3C. Browsers interpret HTML in order to provide web content.
  • Flash is based on an open specification made by Adobe. Flash Players can interpret SWF in order to provide web content.

The fact that Adobe’s Flash Player is the most spread doesn’t make Flash a “bad” technology.
Some years ago, the Internet Explorer was the most dominant web browser on the web. It was buggy (and still is) and proprietary and all but did anybody blame HTML on that? I’m sure no-one did.
If people say now that the Flash Player should be open: Is every browser manufacturer in the world now supposed to open their browser source as well? – I don’t think so.
It’s the same with Flash. The format is open, the Player is not.
It’s not Adobe’s fault that there are no other competitors which offer versions of Flash Player that can compete with the original one by Adobe.

Flash is not contra-productive to an open web
Don’t get me wrong. I personally don’t like proprietary systems but I can understand companies that don’t want to open their software.
For an open web, this isn’t important though. What needs to be open is the format, not the player/browser which renders/interprets the content.

Just to make things clear

  • I am not an Adobe-fanboy.
  • I hate the Flash Player, but I love Adobe’s tools to create content of any type.
  • I am not an Apple-hater. I own a Macbook myself and I love it.
  • I want as much control over my devices as possible. Thus, I own an Android phone.
    No company in the world should be allowed to tell me what I should install on my phone and what not.
    I can’t install Flash on an iPhone? – Won’t buy it. That simple.

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8 Responses

  1. Excellent post. I agree 100%

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  2. Oli says:

    You are right. And OOXML is open too ^^

    There is a huge difference between the flash specs and the HTML specs: the complexity.

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  4. Timo says:

    Gruber has an interesting post about this: http://daringfireball.net/2010/05/flash_almost_as_open_as_office

    I think he is right that the borders of the definition of “openness” can blur out pretty easily.

    @Oli: The complexity of a specification doesn’t make format A less or more open than B.
    As bad as OOXML (and its specification) is, I’d probably call it “open”. The Microsoft Office suite is not open, of course.

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  5. BryantAvey says:

    I wrote a fairly extensive article on my blog at http://BryantAvey.com about this, so I won’t rehash it all here. But I think a few of the interesting points are that over 75% of the web has some sort of Flash on it. All the talk about the instability and security issues and poor battery life of running Flash are irrelevant. HTML 5 or any other technology won’t resolve the battery life issue. In terms of Flash having a lot of issues, we all know that to be true, yet there are still 75% of all websites using Flash, and not just for video.

    Sure there are other solutions and competitors to Flash, including HTML5 and more impressively, Microsoft’s Silverlight product. However, when I can’t browse the web and get anywhere near the same experience on my iPhone or on an iPad, as I can on my PC, then that’s a major issue.

    Also, If I’m being forced, as a developer, to use a particular tool set to design and build apps for a platform that won’t work on 75% of the sites on the web, then I’m not very inclined to side with Apple.

    Having said that, Adobe does need to address it’s issues, or it will quickly be replaced, as Microsoft reaches critical mass later this year with their Silverlight powered Windows Mobile platform..

    This tech war is all about innovation as both Adobe and Apple struggle to keep their technology significant and differentiated. I don’t believe it’s really a war over open vs. closed systems, unless you’re talking about freedom of choice for developers. The mass public only cares about apps and functionality.

    Please read my blog article titled “There’s Not an App for That! Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?” and let me know your comments on that side of things. I’d love to hear what you all think.
    http://bryantavey.com/2010/05/14/no-app-for-that-is-steve-jobs-is-failing-apple/

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  6. Timo says:

    I can only partially agree with you:

    Regarding battery life: A website entirely written in Flash would probably need more battery than a site completely made using HTML. That’s because Flash is basically nothing more than a rendering engine, which keeps refreshing the screen in order to hold a certain frame-rate. HTML doesn’t do that except for the canvas- and video elements as well as JavaScript- and GIF-based animations.
    Thus, I think that battery life should benefit from non-Flash websites.

    The fact that (still) lots of websites use Flash doesn’t make Flash a good or bad technology. It’s just well-spread. That’s all.

    Silverlight, basically, is just the same as Flash: It’s a plugin-dependent rendering engine using parts of the .NET api so that people can code using C# and XAML. But that’s it. I don’t see a reason why I should use Silverlight instead of Flash if I ever had to write a plugin-based application.

    I absolutely agree with you that it’s a shame that Apple refuses developers to choose the development platform they like. XCode, as well as Objective C aren’t my favorite tool and programming language.
    Thus, I stopped developing for iPhone/iPad and focus now on Android, which requires only some basic Java knowledge.

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  7. “The fact that (still) lots of websites use Flash doesn’t make Flash a good or bad technology. It’s just well-spread. That’s all.”

    The reason why it is well spread, probably is because there is some serious goodness in it :) it’s the lightest plugin offering designers and developers the opportunity to quickly deploy interactive richness. That’s goodness :)

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  8. Timo says:

    Imho Flash is just that well-spread because of Youtube or, better said, video playback on the web in general and richly-animated advertisement banners. Flash video players simply tend to load fast while the quality doesn’t suffer. Further, they all run on a consistant platform without codec-issues and other similar problems.

    What would be Flash today without Youtube?

    There were simply no alternatives to Flash video playback and animated ad banners until HTML5.

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