There's been some chatter lately about how the next version of HTML 5 might make Flash irrelevant. And not only Flash, but also Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, and Oracle JavaFX might similarly become useless.
This is because the latest version of HTML has a lot of features that were previously confined to advanced animation plug-ins... the three I like the most are:
- The <audio> and <video> elements, which allow for embedding rich media directly into the browser; the #1 use case of Flash.
- Offline data storage so your users can keep a 5Mb database offline, manipulate data, and re-sync the data later; an uncommon use case, but vital for rich internet application that you can use on an airplane.
These features have been necessary for a long time... and even though HTML 5 is not yet a finished standard, most of it is already supported in major browsers: Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 8, and Safari 4. This means that you can create a HTML 5 application right now! Probably the most famous HTML 5 application out there is Google Wave for email, which we are all just dying to try out!
I feel that this kind of competition will be healthy... I'd wager that 90% of what people currently use Flash for could just as easily be done in HTML 5. Also, by being standards compliant, you'll have fewer concerns about vendor lock-in. What happens if Adobe gets into trouble, then is bought out by Computer Associates? No more Flash for you!
However, there is still a problem... currently HTML 5 compliant browsers are only 60% of the market... I know quite a few enterprises that are still on IE 6, fer crying out loud... Flash has the distinct advantage of working on older browsers, and has about a 95% market penetration. Although, last year at this time only 5% of users had a HTML 5 compliant browser, so maybe by May 2010 HTML 5 will be as popular as Flash?
Hard to say...
UPDATE 1: Well, it's now May 2010, so I redid the numbers... and according to the browser numbers from W3Schools about 75% of the market is using HTML5 compliant browsers. Now that Google has dropped support for IE6, I'd wager this number will be close to 95% in May 2011...
"Flex, like ActiveX, Silverlight, and Java Applets before them are, in a sense, replacements to the browser. Each replaces the web browser in a proprietary way. While I love Flex as a technology, I do not think it is a good strategic decision to throw out the traditional browser for a new client-server model no matter how attractive"
The problem boils down to this: there are millions of people dedicated to making the web better; but only one small part of Adobe is dedicated to making Flash better. The same holds true for Silverlight and JavaFX.
But... if I were making an application for resell, or one that I intended to have other people maintain, I'd be more hesitant to use anything but web standards. HTML 5 is right around the corner; product development cycles are long; and HTML 5 browsers could reach 90% market saturation in 12 months.
All things considered, the best option now is HTML 5...
UPDATE 2: in case you have been living in a cave, and missed the launch of Apple's new iPad, you might have missed the fact that the iPad will not support Flash or Flex. I'm uncertain whether this new device will really take the world by storm, but if it does, it will be one more reason to switch to an HTML 5 code base.
UPDATE 3: it appears that Steve Jobs has gone on records about why the iPad and iPod will NEVER support Flash. Steve-o brings up a few more reasons I did not cover here: Flash is a power hog, it doesn't support "touch" interfaces, and it crashes a lot. Steve Jobs ends with a plea: Adobe should use its brainpower to make a cross-platform IDE for HTML5, and stop trying to cram Flash down our throats. If they don't, then the "next Adobe" certainly will...