Before I start, a brief trip through history…
It’s 1999. Internet Explorer 5 is hot stuff, the tech bubble is growing. And Mariano Rivera is World Series MVP. And young (gasp.)
A web developer sits at his computer, drinking coffee and writing some code. He wants to make a browser-based game. The only way he can do this is to use Adobe’s Flash platform to make an interactive movie and embed that in his website.
He wants to put a video on his site too. YouTube sounds like the name of a cheesy subway line, nothing more. Our developer has to make a Flash movie for that, too.
He sighs as he makes YET ANOTHER Flash movie. Geez, would someone make an alternative already?
See, back in the day you had to use Adobe’s Flash to embed videos, make browser games,
and just make your site look decent. And guess what, we STILL use it for the same things. This is all well and good, except:
- Flash has more security holes than a bullet-riddled piece of Swiss cheese.
- Flash is a closed standard, meaning that Adobe decided what you could or could not do. You couldn’t use Flash in open-source projects, either, without an official Adobe plugin.
- Flash is very resource intensive, overwhelming some weaker processors and making sites difficult to use.
- It’s not cross-platform: iOS doesn’t support it, it sucks on Linux, and it’s buggy on every other operating system.
Something’s brewing; no, not your coffee
A few years ago (official work started in 2004, although it didn’t catch on till later), the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, the guys who are basically in charge of the Internet) and WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) partnered up to make a new version of HTML, the language used to build web pages.
Around the same time, the W3C started work on a new version of CSS, the language used to design the appearance of webpages.
It was clear something was going to happen.
A revolution in the making
By 2008 people had gotten sick of using Flash for everything because of its many weaknesses (outlined above.)
- HTML5 and co. are open standards: they’re maintained by organizations, not companies, so there are no restrictions on their use. They can be used in open-source projects
- They’re safe and secure, partially because they’re open standards. And because Adobe doesn’t maintain them.
- They’re cross-platform. Assuming you have a decent browser (anything not named Internet Explorer 8 or below), they’ll work on any operating system. iDevices, phones, tablets, computers… anything. That’s good because Flash doesn’t work on iDevices and it demolishes the battery of smartphones.
- They’re less resource-intensive than Flash. A lot of web games using HTML5 run very smoothly on phones, while Flash games teeter on disaster.
The list goes on and on.
Wait, it’s happening already
HTML5 apps only rose to prominence in 2010 with Steve Jobs’s continuing refusal to put Flash on iDevices. (Well, a lot of web developers started using them a few years earlier.) But in that short time, they’ve come a long way.
You’d be surprised what’s been done with HTML5:
- Angry Birds uses HTML5 for everything except the sound, which it uses Flash
- Mozilla has created a gallery of great HTML5 demos.
- And Mozilla’s also made a gallery of the best HTML5 games.
- HP’s webOS mobile platform uses HTML5 for storage and some interface stuff.
- Web apps like Google Docs and Gmail use HTML5.
- YouTube lets you use HTML5’s video embedding capabilities to view videos without Flash.
And more is being done every day.
End of the road for Flash?
As much as I would like to think this means we can wave goodbye to Flash, it doesn’t. Videos will still require it, a lot of flashy (pun intended) websites won’t work without it, and the vast majority of internet games need Flash.
As for desktop apps? Email clients are rare nowadays amongst casual users, but other than that desktop apps are still around. Web apps will get more and more sophisticated, though, so desktop apps’ days are numbered. But, like Flash, they will still hang around.
HTML5 has come a long, long way. Just 10 years ago web designers couldn’t make a cohesive website layout using HTML to save their lives. Now HTML is being used for everything from Angry Birds to Windows 8. And the list will continue to grow.