Can Flash Survive HTML5?

Is HTML5 going to put the hurt on Flash? Rumors of Flash's demise may be greatly exaggerated, but the long term prospects for Adobe Flash seem pretty dim indeed.

Flash is Entrenched and HTML5 is Not There Yet

While lots of companies and projects are trying to supplant Flash, they’re coming from behind. Microsoft’s Silverlight has been around for several years now, and but it’s not taking the world by storm just yet.

Inertia is hard to overcome. Even though Microsoft wants to bump off Flash in favor of Silverlight, signs point to including Flash on Windows 7 Mobile devices. And Google has already signed up to put Flash and Adobe AIR on Android-powered devices. It seems unlikely that Google would ship ChromeOS without Flash support either.

Only Apple is arrogant and tough-minded enough to plow ahead without Flash support on its mobile devices, and the jury’s still out on how well that strategy is going to work for the iPad. Even though initial sales of the iPad seem strong, the tide might change when the device is widely available and users run into empty content boxes where Flash content would be all over the Web. Nobody will miss the Flash ads, but a lot of sites depend (sadly) on Flash-driven navigation.

While HTML5 has a lot of promise, it’s not quite ready to pick up where Flash leaves off just yet. And it’s unclear how HTML5 will be implemented across the various browsers. Will all the browsers support the canvas element? If so, will they support it the same way? One hopes that the major players can act in the best interests of users and try to ensure cross-browser compatibility, but it wouldn’t be smart to bank too heavily on that outcome.

Whatever happens, it’s not going to happen quickly.

The Future for Flash

Expect Flash to be around for years to come, but waning in influence. Like IE6, Flash will linger long after HTML5 or whatever the Next Big Thing is to supplant it. There’s too much content online for Flash to go away entirely, and Adobe might have a few tricks up its sleeve to bolster Flash’s popularity.

Come 2011, you’ll still need a Flash plugin in your browser for a lot of Web sites. But the number of sites that require it will be fewer and farther between. At this point, Adobe is likely to get open source religion around Flash. When, or if, HTML5 starts cutting significantly into Flash’s market share you can expect that Adobe will start opening up Flash in a real way (as opposed to the Adobe definition of open) trying to win back hearts and minds.

But as we all know, that ploy rarely works. By 2012, you might want to have a Flash plugin handy to view legacy content that’s still lying around. But, by then, Flash will be well on its way to being an anecdote about the bad old days when too much of the Web was bound up in proprietary and non-standard technologies.

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