The state of Flash vs. HTML5

The debate about Flash vs. HTML5 began over two years ago. It all started with a public letter by Steve Jobs on April 2010: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

Where are we today?

Flash is still the default technology for most content designed for PC-based consumption… Facebook and other browser games are Flash and web video is still Flash in most cases as well. Although YouTube supports HTML5 i.e. most sites still don’t offer it by default due to the mess around the video tag and codecs. On YouTube HTML5 is in testing stage an default off. The video encoding systems would need to encode each video at least twice to support most common browsers. Google announced o drop support for H.264 in Chrome but never did it. Mozilla announced support for native codecs installed on your machine including H.264 but didn’t implement this so far. All together H.264 is a bad idea as it’s not an open standard (more: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/h-264-patents-how-much-do-they-really-cost/2122) but it would be a common standard at least between popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. HTML5 lacks vital technologies like adaptive streaming (live content), content protection (for premium content) and playback locking (for advertising) . Some serious work needs to be done to get this right  (more recent info: http://www.longtailvideo.com/html5).

Mobile:

On mobile Flash is dead and users suffer wherever there is still Flash. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean doesn’t allow an easy installation via the Google Play Store anymore (more: http://www.howtogeek.com/120277/how-to-install-flash-on-the-nexus-7-and-other-jelly-bean-devices/ & http://www.zdnet.com/androids-flash-player-is-dead-live-with-it-7000002668/). On iOS it never really existed except some hacks with running Flash enabled custom browsers but those never allowed to play Flash games i.e.

PC/Mac:

Some PC versions are dead or dying. It seems Adobe can’t keep up with the quality assurance anymore. The native Linux version that installs into Firefox has been abandoned in favor of supporting only the Chrome Pepper API plug-in on Linux (more: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA2MDc). The native Windows version for Firefox suffers to from bugs like the protected mode problem that can be fixed manually by editing the config file of Flash (more: http://www.trishtech.com/internet/disable_adobe_flash_protected_mode_in_firefox.php) and even the Pepper API Chrome plug-in on Linux introduces nasty regression bugs breaking hardware video decoding and similar. The Mac version has regressive bugs like missing hardware decoding from time to time too. All together the variety of Flash versions is so vast that it’s really hard to keep track of them: http://blogs.computerworld.com/desktop-apps/20845/explaining-confusion-over-flash-versions

Apps:

In Apps Flash is behind the door usually except in Google Chrome Web Apps that can be simple links to Flash based websites. AIR is dead meanwhile as well. The AIR App Marketplaces always sucked (I had it on my WeTab) so it was no big loss. Windows 8 Apps can be either HTML5 or native. In Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10 comes with Flash but only white listed website can run it in the Modern UI mode. Only the Desktop mode allows to show every website in Internet Explorer 10. (more: http://www.infoworld.com/t/microsoft-windows/flash-windows-8-thats-just-part-of-the-story-194315 & http://blog.rabidgremlin.com/2012/10/11/did-microsoft-just-kill-flash-ie10-wont-run-flash-unless-your-site-is-on-a-microsoft-whitelist/?replytocom=2560).

The future of Adobe & HTML5:

Adobe recently announced their HTML5 tools called Edge that are more or less what I predicted more than a year ago (more: http://html.adobe.com/edge/) . To be frankly they are very late with that. I started using a web based HTML5 editor called Maquetta (more: http://maqetta.org/) that came out of IBM as an open source project long before Edge came out (more: http://maqetta.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28:ibm-contributes-maqetta-to-open-source-community&catid=2:news&Itemid=9).

Conclusion:

In general I think content providers for video, browser game developers and the online advertising industry should get their asses up all together and invest massively in HTML5. Operating system makes should focus on making HTML5 as fast and snappy as possible to prevent App developers to go native on their Apps like Facebook recently (more: http://hughewilliams.com/2012/09/27/why-facebook-shouldnt-have-dumped-html5/). The W3C and individual company lobbyists looking after the HTML5 standard should stop fighting about dumb codecs i.e. and finally agree on the best option. JavaScript and CSS should get some overhaul too. If I see how difficult it became to do easy things these days or how inconsistent and immature JavaScript still is I wonder how HMTL5 App developers manage to write complex web applications like browser games using that technology (not to mention browser compatibility issues). There is a long way to get rid of Flash ahead of us but in the end it’s worth it. Things are changing and Steve Jobs was absolutely right.

More thoughts on Flash vs. HTML5

I started a video tutorial training at lynda.com on HTML5 as I’m getting more and more impressed by the new possibilities of HTML5 and CSS3. Yesterday during lunch I ran into a hot discussion about Adobe Flash vs. HTML5 with a colleague who is a former Flash developer, just as I am … I have been a bit more on the designer side but stopped working with Flash about the time MX came out. So we both are not using Flash actively anymore although I have to check FLA files from time to time and got recently into the Flash-Video topic at work as I supported a project related to online advertising and video. Moreover I had a Flash CS4/ActionScript3 training a few months ago at work so I got up to speed regarding the latest features and capabilities of Flash. A good starting point for an intense tech-discussion! 🙂 I also learned about the possibility of creating Flash projects without actually buying Flash by using FlashDevelop. So basically a hardcore developer can’t tell you anymore that he doesn’t get into Flash because for him it’s an ugly piece of 2D animation software and you can’t say that it’s a matter of money what you chose. There are many aspects of the discussion like the speed and reliability of Flash on mobile devices or older machines (Apple picked that up and banned Flash) and if you are more a designer who wants do do animation or really code stuff from the scratch.

In the end I think there is a fight going on to win the hearts and minds of developers (this article comes to the same conclusion: http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/05/the-future-of-web-content-html5-flash-mobile-apps/)… Flash, Silverlight and HTML5 are awesome frameworks for great web content but the question for me is: why should I build HTML5 sites that look and behave different from browser to browser where I can have a cross-platform-plug-in like Flash that renders them the same way everywhere? Is it because Flash is a proprietary technology (I know that Adobe claims the opposite) and HTML5 is an open standard driven by W3C, whatwg.org, Apple, Microsoft, Google and some other companies ? For sure it is but what has Adobe done wrong that would make people switch? Has it been abusing their market position? The answer is NO in my opinion. They never made people register for downloading the Flash player or tried to abuse their dominance too much. Microsoft provides with Silverlight an extremely powerful toolset… but yea, it’s from Microsoft so nobody really trusts them (I recently tried out their new Expression… pahh! Forget Adobe Dreamweaver! This is much more powerful for only-CSS-based-websites).

I’m very curious where the trend goes but there are indications about an end of the “Adobe vs. Apple” war. Apple now allows apps to be compiled in Flash for example: http://www.reghardware.com/2010/09/09/apple_ios_runtime_green_light/

So maybe Flash, HTML5 and Silverlight will peacefully co-exist in future. People who always used open source like PHP will probably support HTML5 and everyone who used to work with Flash like media agencies will keep it and Silverlight? Not sure but there must be someone using it 😉 I keep learning HTML5 and CSS3 just as I enjoyed learning Adobe Flash AS3 … and right now I’m downloading Microsoft Visual Studio Lightswitch Beta 🙂

One thing I forgot about… once HTML5 gets finalized the Flash vs. HTML5 debate will be over. Everyone will learn HTML5 instead of HTML4 or do you know someone who still writes HTML3 and embeds Flash for the advanced stuff? The question won’t be: “will HTML5 replace Flash?” but “now that I know HTML5 why should I use Flash?”. Consequence: Flash must get better (probably much better) to survive once HTML5 becomes a final standard.

Useful info on Flash vs. HTML5:

http://remysharp.com/2010/02/08/html5-vs-flash/

http://www.ludamix.com/archives/2010/02/entry_5.html

demos:

http://websatisfactionpr.com/projects/websatisfactionpr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=131:html5-demo&catid=51:tips&Itemid=18

http://www.mygeekpal.com/276/working-with-html5-the-future-of-web/

Clone and be cloned


Usually it’s Apple products and inventions that get copied or if you want “stolen”. The list of examples is endless starting with Microsoft Windows that is an evident rip-off of Mac OS. The most recent example is Google Android that is a rip-off of the Apple iOS and HTC that just can’t stop borrowing ideas from the Apple iPhone.

It always has been like this and probably it won’t change… but wait, hold on for a moment. Isn’t Steve Jobs the master-ripper, the king of the idea-thiefs who stole the UI for Mac OS from Xerox? There is no clear answer IMHO.

Xerox PARC has been a research facility that was intended to inspire people. Apple paid them in stocks and moreover hired some people from there and continued the development of the graphical user interface so it was not exactly stealing the idea (More about this epic “inspiration”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface & http://www.mackido.com/Interface/ui_history.html). Steve basically took a very promising concept, put some work in it and then brought it to the market. The iPad is the same FTW! It’s no Apple invention but they took this promising concept (everyone thought it’s dead BTW) improved it and brought this great product to the market.

Right now the other Steve over at Microsoft wonders what went wrong with the slate/tablet PC running XP, Vista or 7. Why is it not selling? (More: http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2010/07/ballmer-and-microsoft-still-doesnt-get-the-ipad.ars). He probably knows the answer!

Yes, it’s the developers and the software that makes the iPad unique. It’s the tons of great apps that run on iPhone and iPad. All designed to work with the touch technology. In the end the iPad is software just as the Mac is. Ever wondered why Apple is so determined on the Psystar Mac clones? It’s because they exactly know that it’s Mac OS X that makes a Mac. The box you run it on doesn’t really matter. The Amtek iTablet (http://www.engadget.com/2010/02/05/x2-brings-the-amtek-itablet-back-from-the-abyss-forgets-that-no/) on the image below will never be a true competitor for the Apple iPad because it doesn’t have this huge amount of mobile software that Apple has in the App-Store.

In my opinion the worst that could happen right now to Apple is that Google Android tablets kills the iPad. I start seeing them everywhere for less money than the iPad. A good example is the 1&1 Smart Pad in Germany (http://blog.1und1.de/2010/06/30/einfach-smart-das-11-smartpad/). So what was that about “don’t be evil” at Google? They are trying to “get their foot in the door” in many areas. So far they only really succeeded in search. I hope they stop messing around so much in areas where they don’t belong. It’s what Microsoft has been doing for many years and they didn’t become very popular with this approach.

BTW: Wozniak confirms the controversy between Apple and Google 😉 … and Schmidt can’t answer a simple question: “how the fuck is Google making money with Android”. Not sure but Google is in general such a mess that maybe someone forgot about that or Schmidt just doesn’t want to answer!

Image by Jesus Belzunce

What happened to RISC processors?

Yesterday I had a pretty nice conversation with a colleague at work about the NeXT computer and why it has been so revolutionary. Not many people know but HTML has been invented on such a NeXT workstation in the CERN research facility. It also has been the first web-server of the world wide web with a nice “don’t tun off” sticker that is common even today (at least in the company I work at there are some Mac Pro machines in the London office that are dedicated servers – of course we have server farms with tons of server-racks but, yea there are still the “don’t turn off” sticker servers around). So why has it been so far ahead of time? First there is the OS… a true multi-tasking OS with features like the dock (just recently copied by Microsoft in Windows 7 and an essential part of OS X). It was really impressive! Second is for sure the hardware that included a magneto-optical drive as a floppy disk replacement (similar to a portable hard-drive or CD-RW). At that time people had 5,25″ and 3,5″ drives that couldn’t compare to what the NeXT introduced.

Not sure why but I associate the NeXT with the time when RISC came up… although it never had a RISC processor (it ran on Motorola’s CISC 68030 and later the 68040 CPU) there have been plans to build a RISC based NeXT workstation: http://simson.net/ref/NeXT/nextworld/94.4/94.4.Apr.PA-RISC1.html Probably they would have released it at some point if Apple didn’t buy the them (Steve Jobs has been fired around 1984 from Apple and founded NeXT after that)

So what happened to the promising RISC technology? Well… it has been many years in Macs as the PowerPC G3, G4 and G5 processor. So Mac OS X (basically the successor of NeXTStep OS) ran on RISC for many years and is back now where it started, on a CISC processor but now built by Intel. Is the RISC-age really over now that PowerPC is history? The latest Mac OS X version doesn’t even work on PowerPC Macs. Not entirely sure if it’s over but devices like the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming console run an IBM Xenon CPU or the recently released Apple iPad with the A4 ARM CPU are all RISC.

There are voices that say that after multi-core the next thing will be to focus on RISC (again) to gain speed without toasting the CPU with clock-ranges above 3-4 GHz: http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=663085&seqNum=3

HTC EVO vs iPhone4

Hilarious! 😀 The guy who made this video nearly lost his job at Best Buy although he didn’t say anything about it in his video.

Personally I don’t like Google Android (that the HTC EVO runs for example) but I think it will continue to grow market-share as phone makers just need some fancy OS on their smart-phones or tablet computers. I think Google will discontinue their Nexus One bullshit thingy at some point. They already closed the online-ordering site for it. What should I say about the iPhone? For me the iPhone is still the coolest smart-phone ever built and as with all other Apple hardware or software (like the Mac and Mac OS) it was clear that some competitor will copy them one day and try to take away their business. It’s pretty weird it’s Google though. I don’t think Microsoft is really out of the game either… Windows Mobile is still a great mobile OS and the new Windows Phone 7 just looks cool. Where is Yahoo! in this mobile game BTW? Well, Yahoo! does now Apps for both platforms:

http://ycorpblog.com/2010/06/30/androidhtml/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+yodelanecdotal+%28Yodel+Anecdotal%29&utm_content=My+Yahoo

HTML5

The more I read about HTML5 and the more I get the feeling that Apple is behind all this! One of the most important new tags of HTML5 is the <canvas> tag that is a kind of 2D drawing API… and guess who owns this standard? Ohhh yes… it’s Apple. Just read the Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canvas_element)

“Reactions

At the time of its introduction the canvas element was met with mixed reactions from the web standards community. There have been arguments against Apple’s decision to create a new proprietary element instead of supporting the SVG standard. There are other concerns about syntax e.g. the absence of a namespace.[2]
[edit] Intellectual property over canvas

On March 14, 2007, WebKit developer Dave Hyatt forwarded an email from Apple’s Senior Patent Counsel, Helene Plotka Workman[3], which stated that Apple reserved all intellectual property rights relative to WHATWG’s Web Applications 1.0 Working Draft, dated March 24, 2005, Section 10.1, entitled “Graphics: The bitmap canvas” [4], but left the door open to licensing the patents should the specification be transferred to a standards body with a formal patent policy”

So everyone screwed the promising SVG format that’s used in my favorite open-source 2D drawing program Inkscape (http://inkscape.org/)? SVG supports animation and Firefox renders SVG without plug-ins but doesn’t play any animation. What a bullshit! Now everyone supports the format for <canvas> but what the hell? I don’t want to code my graphics like 25 years ago on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum where I typed something like “draw 100,100” (I found the syntax btw – pretty cool – http://www.worldofspectrum.org/ZXBasicManual/zxmanchap17.html).

Sure… what you can do with <canvas> some clever Javascript and CSS is impressive (Example: http://beautifulpixels.com/web/sketchpad-gorgeous-html5-painting-app/) but that’s still nothing a designer can handle! I think most designers will stick with Adobe Flash (http://www.adobe.com/products/flash/) and the rest of the Creative Suite. It’s not free (Flash is 699$ bucks) but it allows people who didn’t read tons of books about Javascript and CSS to create compelling animations, websites and interactive content.

I hope someone comes up with a powerful authoring tool for HTML5 where I can draw, animate and code stuff just like in Flash! Maybe it will be Adobe itself?

Edit (December 10th 2010): My assumption has been 100% right! Adobe is working on a HTML5 animation tool – http://www.gizmag.com/adobe-edge-html5-animation-tool/16741/

Apple’s iAd & Adobe Flash

Ok, Flash has always been slow and Apple just didn’t want to have something like that on a mobile device like the iPhone or iPad. That’s their official version but I think there is more behind it. Right, it’s slow. It never had true hardware acceleration (10.1 is introducing that btw – on the PC) and you had to optimize the ActionScript code to make things fast and memory saving. Recently I had a training on ActionScript 3 and learned a few things about optimizing code and making it efficient. It’s tricky as many other things in ActionScript. Sometimes you just have to abandon some ideas like alpha tweens and rotations here and there in order to make your swf run smooth. Also keep in mind that a poorly programmed Flash file might eat up your battery by doing nothing like looping something that doesn’t need that.

In my opinion the introduction of iAd mobile brings a new aspect to all what Apple said about Flash. I don’t think it’s only the technical problems it caused and that Apple didn’t have resources to develop their own Flash player. It’s because most display ads are built in Flash and Apple wants their App developers to integrate iAd and NOT something else that would be probably based on Flash. Imagine Steve Jobs presenting the iPad to the press and showing the website of the New York Times and suddenly a wrongly build display banner ad tries 1. to download several megabytes of data and thus slows down the loading of the page content and 2. it animates in a way that Flash is using 100% CPU time. Gosh! That would be a disaster. In my job I deal with display advertising and such CPU-eater ads are nothing uncommon. Dual or Quad-Core CPUs handle them better than Single-Core CPUs but a mobile CPU like the A4 of the iPad can’t handle such things I guess. The out-of-specs ads downloading several megabytes of data are sadly something I see nearly on a daily basis. Agencies and advertisers force publishers to run them with the argument that they can’t size them down to preserve quality and they go elsewhere to spend the money if they can’t run them. The largest ad that I have ever seen downloaded a video of 20MB via “polite download”… OK, polite is designed optimize the loading order (first the page content then the ad) but someone with a limited data plan doesn’t want to spend his money on downloading ads!

I think that all together pretty well justifies Apple’s refusal of Flash!

Steve’s introduction of iAd: