Monday, September 10, 2007

It's time to trash "Flash"

Yes, really.

Many of the folks out there using the Internet don't really have any idea about how the Internet is put together. Even more don't realize that there are more computers out there than just Micro$oft-based PCs and Apple Macintoshes. What was really cool about the technology that now makes-up the World Wide Web was that it brought together all the different computer operating systems and types so, for example, geeks using Linux could make media presentations that "normal" people using Windows could view (and maybe understand).

So along comes Macromedia (now Adobe) with this idea for a multimedia presentation language called Flash. The concept was well-intended: Create a way for web publishers to create web pages with rich multimedia content, like animation, sound, and video. This was missing from the specifications for the language (HTML) used to present documents to web browsers. The application, originally called Shockwave Flash, was designed so that the content was presented in a way that could be viewed on different kinds of computers and it would look/sound the same. This idea was right in-line with the spirit of the Web.

What's wrong with Flash is that it only runs on computers that Adobe designs the player or plug-in for. The technology is proprietary, meaning that the full specification for how it works is only available to Adobe. So if Adobe doesn't feel like making a Flash player/plug-in for your computer or operating system, you can't view the Flash content. When I ran an operating system called FreeBSD I was unable to view anything that used Flash (like YouTube, for instance) because Adobe decided not to support that operating system.

The other thing wrong with Flash -- or maybe the people who use it -- is its over-use. There is no reason to use Flash to present restaurant menus or navigate web pages because there are perfectly good ways to do this without rich multimedia presentations. It slows down web access for people who have slower Internet connections, and it makes the pages cluttered and/or distracting. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of web page developers who are more interested in showing-off their skills at Flash programming than to clearly and concisely present the content.

Since multimedia on the web is useful for some stuff there needs to be a way to present it without allowing the content (and ultimately entire web sites) to effectively be controlled by a single corporation. The answer is that we need an open source multimedia presentation language. The term open source and open standards refers to a process by which the technology is made available to the public at large so that the geeky computer types can use their abundant free time to make it work on all different kinds of computers, much like the Firefox web browser (for example).

For those who still are not convinced -- consider this: Radio, movie, and television content are effectively controlled by large corporations. The Internet and web technologies have taken the world by storm because publishing content is within the reach of the average person with a computer. Now, consider if all of the technology that drives how you access Internet content is controlled by the same organizations. They would force advertisements into content, limit what content could be allowed, and so on. While this is already starting to happen to some areas of the Internet, it would become more and more prevalent. This issue is one of demanding that the way people express themselves in this new media be untainted by proprietary technologies and needless content restrictions (more on that in a later post, hopefully). It's a free speech issue. Whether you love or hate Micro$oft, or Macintosh, or Linux, it's something that needs to be addressed NOW.

I say, "Trash Flash." It'll be painful in the short-term, but we all know that something better will come out of it in the long-term. Smart geeky people: Please, make that something.

No comments: