July 13, 2010
Minutes of the 13 July 2010 meeting, “Code Wars: HTML5 vs. Flash”

Minutes of the 13 July 2010 meeting, “Code Wars: HTML5 vs. Flash”

About 40 people attended tonight’s meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded the minutes.

Applied Trust (www.appliedtrust.com) provides refreshments, Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment, NCAR (www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility, and ONEWARE (www.oneware.com) sponsors these minutes.

Thanks also to Brian at covervillemedia.com for creating the podcast.


Please e-mail Josh with suggestions for meeting speakers, such as yourself or other local experts.

ReturnPath in Broomfield is looking for programmers.

InfoPrint Solutions (InfoPrint.com) needs some flex people.


The war started in January 2010 with the introduction of the iPad, which didn't support Flash. 99 percent of browsers support it, it works well cross platform, and many websites depend on it. So how can iPhone and iPad not support Flash? Apple says it's poor for mobile platforms. HTML5 can do much of what Flash can do. Adobe hasn't refuted HTML5, but claims Flash is stable and good for mobile devices--and that Apple has an agenda to keep Flash out of its Ap Store. So, are Flash's days numbered? iPad and iPhone sales have forced many sites to start supporting HTML5.


Joe Mease is a Denver native with over 12 years of professional design and development experience. As a developer with a background in design and illustration, Joe has a unique ability to bridge the gap between design and development. Over the past decade, Joe has focused his efforts on creating consumer-driven experiences for clients such as The Denver Broncos, Chipotle, Target, Audi USA, and Victoria's Secret. Joe's development platform of choice is Adobe Flash and Actionscript.

Sam Breed is lead front-end engineer and a founding partner at Quick Left, a standards-based web engineering shop in Boulder, CO. He's been working as a web developer since 2007 and is passionate about building websites with the best tools available. He is focused primarily on Javascript, HTML, and CSS, but wields a sharp sword with Ruby and PHP5. When he's not building the internet he's skateboarding.


“Flash Is No Longer Necessary?” by Joe Mease: www.thedenveregotist.com/editorial/2010/may/10/flash-no-longer-necessary



“Thoughts on Flash” by Steve Jobs: www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash



I'm the lead front engineer at Quick Left. We're standards-based. We focus on web sites that validate. And we're taking advantage of HTML5 (see friendswithyou.com and gif.ly for examples). We don't have any Flash developers, and we try to avoid it in favor of HTML5. Caveats: HTML5 is not standardized yet and still has experimental features. So we still need backwards compatibility techniques (so it works in Internet Explorer 6).

Browsers have different implementations of standards, so with Flash you don't have to worry about that, at least. We love HTML5, but we also know it's not perfect.

“Why HTML5 Will Rule”

HTML5 is already offsetting flash where Flash was used as a stopgap. A lot of big sites are adopting HTML5. Flash was always used as a stopgap to do something that HTML+javascript couldn't do. Luckily, writing javascript is getting a lot easier and its quality is improving--that's helping drive HTML5. Flash was taking place of CSS and vector graphics, and those are the places where HTML5 will do better.

Considering bots, Flash is invisible to them and search engines can't see Flash-based content. With HTML5, the data can get read. HTML5 has an easy-to-use video tag, but the problem it has now is that there are competing standards: h264 (Apple) vs. OGG (Mozilla). h264 is great, but has some licensing worries--people are concerned that someday Apple could charge fees. Google Chrome, Safari, and the yet-to-exist Internet Explorer 9 (supposedly) supports h264. h264 is winning for now, but that probably won't last.
Once the HTML5 standard is finalized, we'll see a lot of adoption. HTML5 is not just for audio and video. It makes your markup a lot more semantic. I'll be able to distinguish headers, footers, articles, navigation, etc., which will make it a lot easier to index. We like using that semantic markup, and we know bots will be able to read those tags for a long time to come.

I love Javascript and it integrates well with HTML5, like for drag and drop file uploads.

CSS3 is a bonus. It’s a new emerging standard with drop shadows, rounded corners, gradients, etc.--stuff that you have to use graphics for now.

“Why Flash Will Stick Around”

Flash is good for video, gaming, and vector graphics (and possibly even more efficient than javascript for that). Let Flash keep doing what it's good at. Hulu considered switching to HTML5, but they didn't because stuff like piping ads directly into videos is best achieved with Flash. It still “just works” and is completely standardized, with nonfragmented support. It's brutally good at video and will be around for a while. Adobe is actively developing it.

It think Flash will be phased out for content and data-centric vector graphics. You can do these just as well or better in HTML5, and it makes for a superior platform.

Flash is good when implemented properly. The problem is when a page’s content is entirely dependent on Flash. For example, when a restaurant menu is all Flash, that just drives me crazy.


I’ve been working in Denver for 11 years, and as an independent contractor for the past 5 years. I do consumer-driven experiences in Flash.

Flash appealed to me because of my design background. I prefer it because at first it was very simple and easy to learn. Each new version required only a little more effort to master. Of course, now it's really complex and powerful and not so easy to learn from the ground up.

 I build a lot of dynamic, content-driven stuff rather than that skip-intro stuff. Nice thing is that you can work with bigger national brands because that's what they use.

“Why Flash Will Rule”

Flash Player is proprietary, and that gives you a consistent experience. You don't have to spend up to 40 percent of your time making sure it works in multiple environments (like Internet Explorer 6).

Right now you have to upgrade your browser to support HTML5; with Flash, you just need to download the latest player, and people are more likely to do that than upgrade their browsers.

Apple says Flash is no good for the multitouch interface, but what's to say that the next Flash player won't embrace it?

Pretty much all banners are created in Flash. This is because it's very quick to create and deploy an animated banner that displays at various sizes.

Flash and Actionscript caters to experienced developers. There are developer tools that may appeal to creative professionals who don't have a lot of programming experience. So if you move to HTML5, those creative professionals will have to learn code.

And of course, Flash content is easily viewed in Internet Explorer 6, which, unfortunately, a lot of people are still using.

Flash can also use hardware acceleration, which can give better runtime performance than HTML5.

“Why HTML5 Will Stick Around”

HTML5 just the newest version of the tool used to deliver and wrap all web-based content.

HTML with CSS is still the best solution for most content delivery. I certainly think there are some areas where HTML5 should replace Flash.

HTML content is more search-engine friendly than Flash-based content.

And HTML5 is fully endorsed by Apple, and Apple is popular. That does mean I'm at least considering the possibility that I'll need to embrace HTML5 to stay employed. But it doesn't feel as intuitive right now. At some point it will come down to cost and what technologies customers are using. For example, what if everybody is using an iPad (which doesn’t support Flash). So I see projects going one way or the other depending what it costs and who you want to reach.


So what about iPad not supporting Flash?

Sam: I don't think Apple is going to support Flash any time soon. Some people are choosing to redevelop certain things that currently rely on Flash.

Joe: Depends on the client. A big client can afford to create supplemental iPhone aps or HTML versions of the same content. Victoria’s Secret said to me they considered dumping Flash, but they couldn't do what they wanted without it. But they did ask me to integrate more HTML assets to make it easier to support both versions. Also, most ads are Flash-based and aren’t being supported on Apple devices.

Does Apple really matter? Is its market big enough to matter?

Sam: Despite the sales numbers of iPhones and iPads, it's still very much a Windows world. Apple is still a niche market. It's easy to ignore that and become an Apple fan. But it is important from the perspective of pushing new technology forward.

Joe: Apple does matter. If you're doing a ton of online sales and there are 3 million iPads out there, you want to get at those customers. So for a lot of companies, it makes sense to augment to hit that small market. It depends on what your goals are. My hope is that the Android phones will debunk some of the concerns about Flash that Apple has put out.

I think AT&T is the Achilles’ heal, not Flash. I'm amazed they are still doing business with AT&T.

Sam: I think Verizon is going to have a crack at it, at least according to the rumors. So it might be opening up.

Why did Flash become so dominant in the first place?

Sam: The technology behind HTML has taken an organically long time to grow. PCs now have huge processing power that you couldn't have wished for 10 years ago--but Adobe had some foresight.

Joe: It's been 13 years since HTML4 was specified. Version 5 is more friendly, and it's an attempt to catch up to where Flash is at right now. There are lots of big players involved in the standardizing, where it is just Adobe doing Flash.

Sam: HTML is run by a huge committee composed of members who don't like each other. It's moving faster now, but still no where near being final and no where near universal support. The bureaucracy of how HMTL is defined is what has prevented it from making the leaps and bounds that Flash has.

How is Google influencing this? What about Android and Chrome?

Sam: Google's big gun is Chrome. They are throwing a lot of resources at Chrome. They want to see better open technology for everyone. They are supporting Flash on their mobile devices, or at least trying (sometimes a flash-heavy site will crash the mobile browser).

Joe: Over time I think the Android will overtake the iPhone due to variety and choice (of devices and carriers). The business community will probably go from Blackberry to Android rather than to iPhone.

I think there's more choice and variety in HTML5 than Flash. Flash is controlled by a single company that’s making all the decisions. I think the argument you’re making about choice speaks in favor of HTML5.

Sam: Well, adobe doesn't care about selling devices.

Joe: I want the choice of developing in Flash or HTML5 depending on what I want to do. I think Apple is trying to limit choice by making the choice for you.

Why do you think Apple made the decision to support HTML5 over Flash?
Joe: I thought a lot of the concerns voiced by Steve Jobs about Flash were unfounded. It should be up to me to decide how I want to use my battery life. Maybe Apple shouldn't let you turn on the phone because it might drain the battery! By controlling the environment, they can hopefully deliver a better experience for the users, but a bad non-Flash developer could just as easily write a crappy ap that drains your battery.

What about features for the hearing-impaired?

Sam: With Section 508 compliance, it's not difficult to do with HTML pages, but there is some extra work to do.

Joe: With Flash, I think it should be used it a limited capacity, and generally for a heavily branded experience. Flash isn't best for visual- and hearing-impaired users.

Do you see yourself moving in two directions: Developing for desktops and again for small screens?

Joe: As a designer, you have to consider the screen real estate and the interface (keyboard vs. touchscreen). You can have both Flash and HTML respond to the user’s screen size.

Sam: It has become common in the past year to have separate iPhone and iPad style sheets. It's really easy to do. The data is the same, but you can make it look really different just with CSS alone, plus a lot more options with javascript. So it's the same markup in a different wrapper. A lot of sites are serving up two entirely different sites, but you can do it with different style sheets.

Joe: You can abstract the different layers, like have the data be consistent and have the presentation change. It's a good rule of thumb in general when developing software.

I hear they are in fact developing Flash for Apple mobile devices through the jailbreaking community (where you break into your mobile device and change its capabilities, allowing you to install other software).

Joe: Ah, your talking about “Frash.” It's limited but promising, and this will have a considerable effect. It’s always dangerous to tell people you can't have something. So Steve Jobs could be proven wrong.

Sam: I think the jailbreaking community will always stay relatively small.

Joe: It's a double-edged sword: when you bypass all the restrictions, you also lose all support.

If you were all powerful, what would you add or subtract to HTML5 and Flash?

Sam: I would make the specification be finalized sooner. Same with CSS3. Webkit and Mozilla process gradients in completely different ways, so that's got to get standardized soon. How about before 2012? That would be awesome, but I'm not holding my breath.

Joe: I hope Flash includes what the HTML5 community wants but doesn't get [joke]. The biggest gripe I have with Flash right now is the font support--that's never been intuitive. I also look forward to better 3-D engines.

Is anyone asking Apple to make a tool for generating HTML5?

Joe: It's important for developer tools, even Flash, to support HTML5 output. It will keep costs and timelines down, which is good for business.

Sam: I don't think we'll ever have a tool that can take a design and output good HTML. There are some amateurish tools, but I don't see tools as the future of HTML5. You’ll always need the hardcore technical background to really create the experience you want. Historically, a good programmer always does better than these tools.

Joe: The tools are helpful and can save time by generating bits and pieces that I can integrate into my products.

Are there mobile devices that support both Flash and HTML5? Can you have a device that switches from one to the other?

Sam: The Android is supporting some HTML5, but the devices are a bit fractured and run different operating systems.

Joe: Google's products (maps, youtube, mail) are heavily leveraging javascript so that they support as much as possible.

I’m always leery about automatic updates, like when a page wants to update your Flash Player. What do you think about them?

Sam: It depends on who is sending the updates.

Joe: I want notification and then the option to do it now, later, or never. It depends on who you trust and how many requests you get. Say CNN.com wants you to update--you might give in at that point. You can't trust every site's implementation of plug-in updates.

What about search engine optimization? Who depends on that?

Sam: Everybody. Search dominates everything and everyone should care about it.

How invisible is Flash to search engines?

Joe: I try to keep the content outside of the swf, so that the swf is just a display-level container. The swf is pretty invisible.

So advertisers want iPad compatibility because those users are the cream of the market?

Joe: That's right. As an iPhone user myself, I don't care about Flash-based sites--I just want text-based info. But the iPad is more visual and could be used as a replacement for a desktop PC. But most iPad users, I think, still rely on a desktop.

Sam: Yes, that's a good market to want to tap into. If the iPad fails, I don't think the dagger through its heart will be that it doesn't support Flash.

What about those online, do-it-yourself site creation tools, where you build your own Flash site and build your own HTML site?

Sam: Generally those services don't deliver much. There's no replacement for actually learning a standard.

Joe: Those sites target a completely different market than my clients, so I don't worry about it.

Sam: Same is true from my side. Something spit out of iWeb or whatever just isn't high quality.

Who supports HTML5?

Sam: Not Internet Explorer. Supporters include Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and perhaps Internet Explorer 9 when it comes out (but I wouldn’t count on Microsoft delivering on that expectation). So about 40 percent of users out there are on compliant browsers.

Joe: I think Internet Explorer is some of the reason I'm still developing Flash for Victoria's Secret.


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