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Posts Tagged ‘HTML5’

To Flash or Not To Flash

In Web Design on October 4, 2010 at 12:01 pm

The Flash Dilemma.

With the growth of dynamic websites and social media, Adobe Flash has proven, at least for some, a godsend. Flash has allowed developers to create wonderful (and not so wonderful) animated content. However as the war between Apple and Flash continues some are now looking to HTML5 as the new direction on video and audio embedding on the web. Steve Jobs at Apple has perhaps controversially, put all his eggs in the HTML5 basket. To date Flash is still not supported in either the iPad or iPhone devices. From a users perspective, this certainly makes sense. 3G and now 4G can be very expensive and anything that reduces data-loads can only be a good thing.

So what this mean for web and video developers. Will developers still be using Flash to deliver dynamic and video content to the web? the answer is: probably. Flash is currently the best supported video format on the web. So, does that mean Apple will finally come to the party? Probably not. Steve Jobs is no longer the only voice in the wilderness. With Microsoft’s IE9 now promising both CSS3 and HTML5 support and both Youtube and Vimeo now offering support for the new html5 video there is no rush for Apple to change its mind.

Apple’s track record can’t be easily dismissed. It was partly Apple and the sheer buying power of the iPod that drove music companies to finally abandon their draconian Digital Rights Management (DRM) for digital music, enabling iTunes users to convert their iTunes Store music to MP3, so it could be used in a wide range of non-Apple MP3 players. Previously this could only be achieved by burning a playlist to CD and then ripping it back into iTunes, to remove the DRM and then converting it. A small change that was not overlooked, particularly by MS Windows users, who could now convert files and load them into Windows Media Player. The player of choice for many MP3 users.

Of course, Flash is not just used for video. It’s also used for slideshows and other dynamic web content. The main problem is not just the lack of support on iPad and iPhone devices, who are still a relatively small sector of the overall market. There are also many ordinary browser users who are choosing to disable flash for whatever reason. This can be done by downloading a plugin such as Click-to-Flash or Firefox’s Flashblock addon which hides Flash under an added level of interaction.

Click-to-Flash and Flashblock mean users must click inside each and every Flash box in order to display the content and they must click again to get the video to play. While this may seem annoying to some, it does offer a greater degree of control to users. It also means users can be spared irritating Flash-based adverts and expanding banners that seem to want to take over our browsers. Remember that search engines don’t really like Flash either. This leads us to those agonising flash-sites, those which are coded entirely or primarily in Flash. Well, sorry to say, Flashblock makes short work of those. Instead of all your stunning, spinning graphics all you get is this:

Flash-based Website with a Flash blocker

Great, isn’t it? an empty box. Not only is there no content, there’s no reason for me to want to click on it to find out what it is. I’ve got better things to do than guess what your website is. It’s like calling an unknown number on your mobile, you think it’s someone important only to discover it’s one of those holiday contests.

pizza hut website

Worse are those sites, which hide their navigation an/or content under a great big Flash box or even a series of Flash boxes. This is a big no-no folks. No one wants to play hunt the content all over your website, not even for pizza.

The key here is having a fallback, either as text or a still image. Giving users an indication what is hiding under the box is the key to successfully using Flash. Here is an excellent example of making Flash work by offering a fallback image underneath the Flash box. These designers have ensured their client’s site degrades gracefully. In fact, I would argue the fallback actually looks better than the flash version. Compare for yourself.

Rivervale Hotel WebsiteRivervale Hotel site

While HTML5 may well offer a simpler means of delivering video, it isn’t going to solve the question of codecs anytime soon. One thing is clear, whatever happens to HTML5, Flash will continue to offer a convenient fall-back position for video developers. Instead of offering the same video in three different codecs, it would seem reasonable to offer Flash first with an H.264 fallback for systems such as iPhone that are unable to support Flash.

Whether browsers will fall in behind OGG Theora, an open source codec, supported by Opera and Mozilla or the proprietary H.264 codec, supported by Apple and Google (the owners of YouTube), remains to be seen. Given OGG Theora is free and H.264 costs in at some $5 million dollars a year, the choice should be obvious; however the web doesn’t always play by the same economic play book as everyone else.

So what is the simple message. By all means, keep using Flash but keep it for video and web apps only. Avoid using Flash for navigation or anywhere important. Keep in mind, more and more people will see nothing but a big empty box, where your navigation or your content is supposed to be. Not a good look.

The New Browser War.

In Uncategorized, Web Design on September 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Internet Explorer may have beaten Netscape in the First Browser War but IE9 faces an increasingly uphill battle if it hopes to overcome its own legacy and compete with the latest modern browsers.

In recent days, the media has been teaming with reports that Microsoft is finally coming out of its cave and dragging Internet Explorer kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. According to reports millions have already downloaded the latest version of Internet Explorer, dubbed IE9.

Thanks largely to IE6, for the last few years, IE has been considered the joke of the Browser world. After resting on its laurels and relying on the ubiquity of Windows to see them through, IE has fallen from 90% to somewhere above 50%. Meanwhile, the new darlings of the Internet, namely Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are continuing to increase their marketshare month by month.

Now, armed with their new fishdemo and a whole raft of visual and technical improvements, including the long-awaited support for HTML5 and CSS3, IE9 promises to be Microsoft’s answer to falling marketshare; that is, if it ever gets out of Beta.

What does IE9 mean for the rest us?

If you are a designer, developer or one of the growing number of internet users using Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Camino, Safari or any of the growing number of browsers now available … the answer is: not much…yet.

The problem is even if IE9 is finalised and released next year, HTML5 will still be a working draft. Even with the backing of Microsoft and Apple, there’s still no chance HTML5 will replace Flash anytime soon. Eventually, it is hoped, HTML5 will replace the ageing HTML 4.0 and reduce the complexity of XHTML, allowing web designers to more easily incorporate dynamic web 2.0 technologies such as video and sound into their websites.

As things currently stand, HTML5 won’t work in any version of Internet Explorer below IE8. The only way to get around this problem is with ugly complicated scripts that only a Javascript guru could love. So much for clean code.

If history is any guide, even if IE9 becomes the standard browser, designers will still be lumbered with legacy support for IE6, 7 & now IE8 and, unless something convinces IE users to upgrade, this isn’t likely to change, unless IE9 can first overcome its own legacy and win over their own users.

So, here’s to IE9. The King is not dead! Long live the king.