Just To Put Things In Perspective…

Ever since Apple announced their new iPad, I’ve been reading a whole lot about how HTML5 will replace (I believe “kill” is the preferred term) Flash. Most arguments state that the emerging HTML5 spec includes such things as <canvas> and <video> which effectively renders the need for Flash a thing of the past… seriously? I wonder when the last time these commentators have read up on the vast capabilities of the platform; Flash is much more than any simple animation and video playback mechanism as these people seem to believe it to be.

I did a little research. HTML5 has the following new features (proposed, mind you) that share some similarity with what Flash can do:

Audio Playback -> Flash 4 [1999]
Video Playback -> Flash MX [2002]
Canvas (2D Drawing) -> Flash 1 [1996](Timeline) / Flash MX [2002](API)
Offline Storage -> Flash MX [2002] (Local Shared Objects)

So… far as I can tell, HTML5 will share some capabilities with Flash MX circa 2002.

Understand that I’m not trying to in any way bash HTML5 here. I remember when I was first learning HTML and the frustration I had upon the realization that there was no video or audio tag to simply playback a piece of media. I welcome such innovations and truly hope that after the video codec battle and other disputes are over that we have a truly ubiquitous solution for marking up text and media content for the Web.

In fact, I do a lot of development in HTML/CSS/JavaScript currently and would love to be able to use some of the innovations presented in the HTML5 spec along with some of the CSS3 elements I’m adding into my work. Yeah, my main deal is Flash/Flex/AIR – but that’s the thing; these technologies work well together; they complement/complete one another. It would be absurd for me to state that I want HTML to “die” — just as absurd as it is for others to say the same regarding Flash.

So I have no opposition whatsoever for HTML to evolve and mature as the Web itself grows richer in data and presentation- but Flash is not HTML and HTML is not Flash. I know this is nothing new to a lot of you but apparently a lot of others have trouble with this concept. For a simple example: Flash has some trouble rendering any HTML but for the simplest tags. Do I fault Flash for this? No! HTML for years has not been able to render native video or provide any of the rich application experiences that the Flash Platform enables. Do I fault HTML for this? Equally, no! The purpose of Flash is not to render or replace HTML in what it does best and the purpose of HTML5 should not be to replace Flash in all that it is capable of.

Let’s look some basic facts. HTML 4.01 was finalized and published in December of 1999. At this time, Flash was at version 4 which included the capability to do much of what is now proposed in draft form for HTML5. When will HTML5 be finalized? The editor of HTML5 specification, Ian Hickson of Google, outlines the timeline as such:

  • First W3C Working Draft in October 2007.
  • Last Call Working Draft in October 2009.
  • Call for contributions for the test suite in 2011.
  • Candidate Recommendation in 2012.
  • First draft of test suite in 2012.
  • Second draft of test suite in 2015.
  • Final version of test suite in 2019.
  • Reissued Last Call Working Draft in 2020.
  • Proposed Recommendation in 2022.

2022. I kid you not.

Granted, much of the spec is considered stable and certain items can be used in web browsers today. Just as with the browser wars of the late 1990’s there are many different interpretations and implementations of the specs with multiple vendors all vying for their specific interpretation to emerge as dominant. History does repeat itself, doesn’t it?

Think on this… if HTML5 is going to be a work in progress until 2022… where will Flash, Sliverlight, Unity, and others be at this time? Given the present release cycle for Flash Player, one could assume that 2022 will see the release of Flash Player 17 or so, if Flash is even still a viable platform at that time.

Food for thought.


  1. I may be wrong so please correct me if i am but from everything i’ve read about html5 it seems like its an extension of tags NOT a programming language. For one i dont really mind if HTML5 becomes the standard for delivering video, professionally it makes no difference to me, i will continue to write “apps” in flash, non-bookmarkable, ubiquitous apps. HTML5 changes nothing, the only threat to flash is javascript.

  2. Good point. I agree that HTML and Flash can work together quite well. And HTML5 will not “kill” Flash any time soon.
    But one thing has definetely changed since people started using the “real” web with mobile browsers that don’t have Flash: You can’t require Flash anymore for your core content and you have to provide a solution that works 100% without it. So HTML(5) and JavaScript become the default and Flash is only needed where the browser doesn’t support modern standards (= IE). I just wrote a post on how you can deal with this situation as a Flash Developer:

  3. @mh Yeah, no – you’re right. HTML is a markup language… one of the reasons this is all so silly.
    I’m not worried about JavaScript. They could have made JS really nice but opted instead for the status quo.

    @Dorian With the Open Screen Project and Flash Player 10.1, this is a concern that will fade as more devices accept the runtime. If you are creating content in Flash that can be replicated in HTML as a fallback- then by all means. Most of my Flash projects cannot be replicated in HTML and this is where the major trouble lies when it comes to Apple devices.

  4. 2022 is the date I estimate there’ll be two complete and bug-free implementations of HTML5. What’s the estimated date for when there’ll be two complete and bug-free implementations of Flash?

  5. And one more thing. If i go to the apple site i can watch a video all about the ipad, or at least i could if i had the quicktime plugin!!!

  6. @Ian Is anything ever truly without any bugs? Since we have to rely on different browser vendors with their own interpretations… how would that even be possible?

    Looking forward to HTML5 – an update has been needed for some time and there are a lot of good ideas packed into the spec.

    I don’t believe Flash Player will ever be free of bugs :)

  7. Great article. I think the whole argument is a little immature and full of “flash sucks” attitudes. I use to be a flash hater until I grew up and looked into Flex. Now I am happy to use Flash because instead of only looking at what was bad about it I looked at what is good about it and what no other technology has, today. Still waiting for CSS2 to be implemented correctly on all browsers as well BTW.

  8. don’t worry about all these Apple fanboys beating their chests over HTML5. Flash ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ anytime soon or anytime for that matter. It will be around and thriving for a long time because actionscript is just THAT good.

    It’s funny how they are just merely covering for this iPad’s shortcomings yet they fail to address the fact that it also doesn’t have ANY plugin architecture including Silverlight or Java. It’s just a portable kiosk for itunes and the fanboys are pretty much acting like sore losers.

    BTW, Apple has only 0.12% of the mobile market and 15% of the PC market. Does it REALLY matter to the rest of us??? LOL

    No it doesn’t. We actually enjoy using the internet and flash. Fuck you Apple.

  9. In 2005 Apple announced a patent on the Canvas tag for HTML. At that time, Ian Hickson and the W3C were against this. Their argument was for SVG over the canvas because SVG was already a semantic standard that could be described using the DOM model. Ian Hickson even argued this in a blog post back in 2005. I quote:

    “This makes no sense. Proprietary markup is proprietary markup, whether it is HTML-based, XML-based, or any other language such as PDF, Microsoft Word, XAML, or Flash. It’s not the exact order of the angle brackets that matters, it’s the lack of open, consensus-driven specifications, the lack of interoperability.”

    Apple still owns these patents and yet Ian Hickson is now a supporter of the Canvas element in HTML5… I see he is posting his arguments here.

    They continue to treat Flash as if it has made no technological progress since 2004. They argue that Flash is not an open standard, even though it is. It is everything they want HTML5 to be, in fact it is my belief Apple is trying to build Flash in HTML5 and Ian Hickson is trying to leverage the politics behind the HTML5 work group to allow chair people the ability to edit spec without going through the bureaucracy that everyone else does. From the emails I’ve read this is Larry Masinter’s argument. We can conclude that Adobe ( represented by Larry Masinter, one of the inventors of the web) is trying to prevent Apple and Google from taking control of technology and is in fact fighting to protect open standards.

    Ian Hickson even bad mouthed Adobe rep Larry Masinter, saying Masinter is trying to hinder the release of HTML5. Adobe has no real vested interest in HTML5, they simply need it to support alternate semantic content for Flash. Google (Ian Hickson) and Apple (patent holders for HTML5 tech) have much more at stake.


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