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The Fretful Future of Flash

The Fretful Future of Flash

Adobe's decision to back away from mobile Flash has raised questions about whether desktop Flash will soon fade away as well. That possibility would put current Flash developers through a difficult transition, though the change wouldn't likely happen overnight. Meanwhile, just because Adobe's given up on mobile Flash doesn't mean all device makers have chosen to follow suit.

By Richard Adhikari
11/21/11 6:00 AM PT

What's the future for Flash devs now that Adobe has turned its back on Flash Player for mobile devices and has shifted focus to HTML 5?

Will Flash for the desktop survive or will it die out too?

Adobe has pledged to enable Flash devs to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major mobile app stores, but it won't develop Flash Player for new mobile device technology after version 11.1 for Android and the BlackBerry PlayBook is released.

However, source code licensees will be able to work on and release their own implementations, raising the specter of fragmentation.

Will Flash devs be able to leverage their hard-earned skill sets or will they be left out in the cold?

Tools to Segue From Flash to HTML 5

Adobe offers the Wallaby Flash-to-HTML 5 conversion tool to devs.

Wallaby is an experimental technology that converts the artwork and animation in Adobe Flash Professional (FLA) files into HTML. They can then be edited with an HTML editing tool such as Adobe Dreamweaver, or by hand.

In addition, Adobe offers Edge, a tool that lets designers use HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS3 to create animated content for websites.

"We want to make the transition easier," Adobe's Mike Chambers told TechNewsWorld. "Edge uses a lot of the same metaphors as Flash Pro."

However, Edge may not be an adequate tool, Steve Fulton, the founder of 8bit Rocket and author of two books on Flash and Adobe's Canvas, told TechNewsWorld.

"Unless Adobe seriously targets the bitmapped HTML 5 Canvas, Edge cannot compete," Fulton stated. He expects Adobe will provide "hardcore support for Canvas very soon, possibly with Edge and also as an export from the Flash IDE."

Adobe's Take on Things

Flash Pro is a tool that is optimized for the Flash Player/AIR runtime environment, and Edge is a tool that natively targets HTML, Mark Anders from Adobe's Edge team said in response to a query on a blog post by Adobe's Mike Chambers.

Adobe is not building a single tool that targets both environments, Anders stated.

The company is looking at ways to have "great workflows" between these tools, Anders said. Further, it's looking into ways to take Flash output and convert it to HTML 5 as well.

However, the great advantage of Flash -- letting devs write once and deploy everywhere reliably -- will be gone, Anders admitted.

Output on Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 will be degraded, Anders said.

The Fragmentation of Adobe Flash for Mobile

Adobe plans to let mobile device manufacturers implement their own versions of the mobile Flash Player, which is likely to fragment the platform.

"We will not prevent OEMs from pre-loading and shipping Flash Player on devices, and we expect some of our OEM partners to continue working on and releasing their own implementation of the Flash Player," Danny Winokur, VP and GM of interactive development at Adobe, told TechNewsWorld.

Asked whether fragmentation would be an issue, Winokur responded that Adobe's recommending mobile OEMs discontinue preloading new devices with Flash Player.

"Fragmentation will absolutely an issue, but Adobe probably had few options here given the fact that they had stood firmly behind Flash and promised their partners that they'd remain committed to it going forward," Mike Ricci, VP of mobile at Webtrends, told TechNewsWorld.

However, Adobe's decision to switch to HTML 5 will have partners "looking long and hard at [its] commitment and thinking carefully about whether it remains wise to continue embracing Flash on a go-forward basis," Ricci added.

Hope for Flash Devs

However, there may be opportunities yet for devs who don't want to see their training in Flash wasted.

On the desktop, at least, the need for a Flash Player browser plugin will continue, Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

"Flash survives intact in the AIR runtime and the Adobe tool chain, which already supports the broader Web ecosystem including HTML 5," Hilwa stated. "Overall, developers will continue to be served."

IDC doesn't expect 90 percent of desktop browsers to be capable of HTML until 2015, so Adobe will continue to invest in Flash because of the differentiation it provides in high-end graphics and video protection, Hilwa said.

Flash Devs' Pain Points

Flash devs will be eased out of websites geared toward mobile devices with rich Internet application functionality because these will begin replacing Flash with HTML 5 and the HTML 5 Canvas, 8bit Rocket's Fulton said.

However, apps that are installed on mobile devices from app stores will not be affected right away, Fulton contended.

"If Adobe concentrates on making the Air exporter efficient and feature-rich, it can leverage its millions of Flash developers into the near future," Fulton suggested.

The Flash Player Haters

Discontent with Flash Player has already erupted into the open.

An as-yet-unidentified person or group of people has set up the Occupy Flash movement and published a manifesto. This essentially encourages people to disable Flash Player in their browsers.

The manifesto states, among other things, that Flash Player is dead, it's buggy, it crashes a lot and it requires constant security updates.


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