Lately I've seen a number of blog posts and news stories touting HTML 5 as some sort of Flash Killer in the RIA space. Am I the only one shaking my head at this?

First off, let me say I'm thrilled that HTML 5 is in the works, and that the markup language is being improved. I could say it's about time, but I won't. (I guess I just did though!)

That said, the people claiming that HTML 5 is going to kill Flash seem to have a pretty poor memory. According to the editor of HTML 5, it's not going to become a proposed recommendation until 2022. That's over a decade, folks. That's a long, looooong time.

Think back a decade. Remember 1999? Most people were using IE 4. There was no AJAX, and there were no RIAs. There were no social networks. There was no Twitter, and no iPhone. Now project that kind of change forward 10 years, only double the rate of change. So much is going to happen before HTML 5 is widely adopted that it's not even funny. Heck, something might even kill Flash. But it's not going to be HTML 5.

And even if the new spec offers some kind of parity with Flash, Flex, and Silverlight, it's not like the existing RIA platforms are going to stand still. There will be huge advances over the next decade. So being, among other things, a Flex developer, I'm probably biased here. But I just don't see what all the fuss is about. An updated spec is great, and I sure it will find many uses and offer a lot of interesting features. But to trot this out as yet another Flash Killer seems unrealistic at best, and reeks of ulterior motives at worst. What do you think? Am I right? Or am I just blinded by my association with Flex?

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  • # Posted By Rick O | 7/9/09 9:00 AM

    Why I don't think HTML5 is going to be a Flash Killer, I can see that it's going to put quite a bit of pressure on the RIA platforms. Not just pressure to innovate, but to start thinking about the learning curve. Having worked with Flex, you have to admit that the entry barrier isn't exactly low to the ground. Flash is the same way. (It's made huge strides, but how many programmers take one look at the timeline and just give up?)

    Personally, I've already started to think about projects where I can replace Flash with Canvas or SVG or CSS3 or HTML5. The other options aren't going to replace Flash altogether, but they do dethrone it from its place of "foregone conclusion".

  • # Posted By Brian Kotek | 7/9/09 9:42 AM

    Yes but isn't that rather premature, since only a small number of users will be able to run it (assuming the changing spec doesn't wreak havoc with the browsers that attempt to adopt it early)?

  • # Posted By phill.nacelli | 7/9/09 9:56 AM

    Absolutely agree with you Brian! Why is it that people are so eager to claim "flash-killers" whenever something new in the RIA landscape shows up? Flash has evolved a great deal since its first basic inception as "Future Splash Animator" as far back as 1996! It has since led the way on adding huge capabilities to Web applications and Web Graphics/Animation, what makes people think that Adobe doesn't have a path already cut out for its future based on the current and future demands.
    It's like the recent headlines about Google's OS, everyone is now saying that it's going to be a huge threat to Microsoft Windows. How long have we been hearing same claims when OS X was announced, and also some of the different flavors of Linux? But that's another rant.

  • # Posted By Paul Carney | 7/9/09 10:08 AM

    Brian - you are right in that it is a long time away and so much will change before then. The good news is that people are thinking again.

    This is a classic case of the organization/product/service who reaches the top of the hill then becomes the target of ridicule, rumors and rants. It is human nature to like something as it is growing and they are part of the "in" crowd. But when that entity gets too much power, fickle humans can turn their backs (or shoot their darts) very quickly.

  • # Posted By Dan Wilson | 7/9/09 10:17 AM

    I've posted about this before and I fully agree with you. HTML 5 isn't going to be a realistic option and it will be frought with vendor inconsistencies and a host of other issues.

    The real solution to this is open application frameworks with real penetration, like Flash.

    Take a read:

    Dan Wilson

  • # Posted By Joe Rinehart | 7/9/09 11:29 AM

    Designing a spec by committee that needs implementation by vendors with competing products...yeah, that's like getting into a land war in Asia.

    I can just see Ballmer ordering the IE team to get crackin' on the HTML 5 features that'll "kill" Silverlight...

  • # Posted By Rick O | 7/9/09 12:57 PM

    The ability to leverage technology alternatives to Flash means that I don't have to hire or contract out to a Flash developer for each and every little thing. Sure, I'll still have to do it for big projects, but then I can plan a budget, allocate funds, etc, instead of being nibbled to death by cats.

    Your counter-argument might be that each of those technologies require knowledge, just as Flash does. But each of those technologies is but a small step from HTML/CSS (really, Canvas = JavaScript + drawing primitives) and can probably be handled by a competent web dev. But Flash is an entire new skillset.

    As for premature ... not for the apps I had in mind -- specifically, apps with a specific, known userbase, such as intranets. As I develop apps that work on the intranet, I can start to include them as progressive enhancement on the extranet sites. (Maybe Canvas+SVG for simple charts. CSS3 for better fonts and effects. HTML5 for video and document structure.)

    Sure, there's the danger of running into the same problems that we/they did 10 years ago with ActiveX on intranets. I like to hope that I am making a more informed and balanced decision than the people 10 years ago -- I'm not betting on a technology that has a single corporate overlord, nor that works in a single browser. But I do recognize that it is a gamble, you're right.

  • # Posted By Jamie Krug | 7/9/09 10:52 PM

    Brian, it's actually quite laughable when you look at the dates like that :) To push that timeline out even further, keep in mind that nobody is going to start seriously using HTML5 for long after it's in the wild. I'm still fighting with IE6 support on sites -- just thing about how long it will be before all major browsers used by the majority of the Web users in the world are all ready to handle HTML5!

    Also, ditto on Joe's Ballmer comment ;-)

  • # Posted By Josh Tynjala | 7/10/09 6:22 PM

    I don't consider it a Flash killer in any way. Without a guaranteed video codec that will run on all platforms (or at least all of those in which Flash is currently available), the video tag won't be worth using except in very limited contexts. Some of the features of HTML5, CSS3 and the other future web technologies are great, and they WILL replace Flash where appropriate. Generally, this will be a good thing because Flash is used where it shouldn't be sometimes.

    2022 is when the recommendation will be completed, but the whole point of this far out date is to allow browser vendors to test HTML5 and make sure there aren't any problems with it. Browsers will have the most exciting features of HTML5 long before that date, even if it's not the full spec. I suspect that even Microsoft will be on board, though they'll probably lag a bit. Other browsers are clearly taking marketshare, and while IE still dominates, Microsoft has figured out that they need to play along, at least for a little while. If they didn't care at all, IE8 would not have been released yet. They know they look stupid to the developer community, and they'll have to far jump ahead of other browsers if they ever want to get lazy again (in the same way that IE6 was actually the best browser of the time, since Netscape 5 never really happened).

  • # Posted By Paulo Ferreira | 7/13/09 8:13 PM

    "While the entire HTML 5 standard is years or more from adoption, there are many powerful features available in browsers today. In fact, five key next-generation features are already available in the latest (sometimes experimental) browser builds from Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google Chrome."

    Tim O'Reilly @ Google I|O

  • # Posted By Brian Kotek | 7/13/09 8:29 PM

    So, I suppose to summarize the general idea:

    If you don't mind using features of a specification that is 10+ years from finalization,
    and you don't mind relying on experimental browser builds,
    and you're willing to gamble that the implementation works across multiple browser vendors,
    and you're prepared to continually update your UI code as the spec evolves,
    and you ignore the fact that the browser having 2/3 of the market isn't implementing any of these features for a long time,

    Then by all means, consider using these features.

  • # Posted By Robert Rawlins | 8/5/09 4:48 AM

    I think you're right that one of the interesting points is the time line, with the web market moving as quickly as it is things will be far too different at that point in time for it to be a competitive option. I think that this is likely due to two reasons.

    The first being that it has no commercial insensitive to get going, with both MS and Adobe both playing the game they'll be competing hard to advance their products in order place themselves ahead in the market as there is so much money to be made from it, the committee behind HTML5 really doesn't have that commercial incentive to drive the produce forward, after all, money is what makes the world go round.

    The second issue that I see is compatibility and a lack of continuity and standardization, because they're SO reliant on browser vendors to adopt the standards that they define in the spec in order for it to work, and whilst a world of standardized browsers sounds great, the proven track record is that these things are seldom adopted uniformly by the different browser vendors, whereas FLEX and Silverlight are both governed by plugins and so uniform behaviour cross-platform can be guaranteed.

    Phill earlier made a comparison to the OS wars, and he's quite right I think, Linux as a competitive desktop environment has not really made it to market for the exact same reasons that I suspect HTML5 will struggle, lack of proper commercial backing and lack of consistency among flavours. The whole time the browsers are treating the markup differently it's just going to be plagued by the same challenges that we're all dealing with at the moment in current revisions of HTML.

    The one thing that will give HTML5 an edge is the huge numbers of people who already develop in HTML/CSS and have no working experience of Flash, like me for instance, when the time comes for me to branch into proper RIA development working with Flash/Flex/Silverlight will force me to learn and entirely new discipline of which I have no understanding whereas HTML5 still kind of looks and feels the same. Ironically, this is the reaosn I first started as a CF developer, because the code looked like HTML and felt familiar :-)

    I don't for a minute believe that it will kill flash, however, I think it has the potential to open RIA development up to a very large number of developers.