Monday, March 9, 2009

Flashtastic

Warning: This posting is chock-full of opinions on Flash and the Internet, yet again. I didn't embed any other topics in here...so you can skip this if you're not interested or if it bothers you.

The following is my response to P. J. Onori's article, titled, "Anti-Flash Standardistas - You’re Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face"

The Internet (as we have come to know it) was developed on open standards because the content was supposed to be accessible regardless of what computer or operating system a person was using. Adobe has really only acknowledged two desktop computing platforms: Microsoft Windows-based PCs and Apple Macintosh. Flash on other computing platforms, whether supported by Adobe or not, either works poorly or not at all.

If Flash, as you say, is something that we should "be devoting our energy toward making this technology more seamless throughout the browsing experience" then the proper thing would be for Adobe to establish Flash as an OPEN Internet standard and, even better, release the Flash player to the open source community. This would allow developers all around the world to assure that the Flash player would function on just about every platform, extend its function as needed, and would also provide an open review of its security flaws so that they could be corrected.

As for Flash-based content … I am sure it is debatable whether or not it is applicable in some places. I am one of the people who feel it is over-used. To tell someone they can’t view any part of a web site, like a restaurant menu, unless they download the latest Flash player, is kind of dumb. Think about it - does a restaurant menu or the front page of a web site really constitute a multimedia experience? Does it even need to be? For sure, YouTube is revolutionary in its own right, but it wasn’t Flash that made it possible — it was because someone happened to code the software in Flash. They could have used Java or even developed some new software. Content-wise, it’s important to use the most appropriate medium, and not just use something because it’s there.

It’s not my call, though, whether someone wants to poorly design a web site or not — that can be done with or without Flash. The problem that I, and others, have is that Flash has no business being as pervasive as it is without being a truly open Internet standard. Do you want a single company to control access to your content or to specify what computer and/or operating system you can use? I certainly don’t.

I'd like to emphasize that my feelings about Flash are not based on an anti-Microsoft, anti-Mac, anti-new-media, or anti-multimedia sentiment (although I admit, some of my feelings may be strengthened by one or more of these). The problem has to do with free expression, as I have said several times before in this forum. Those who see the Internet as evolving (the so-called "Internet 2.0") have seen this only because of the foundation that others have set before them. While multimedia in its current form may seem like a brand new Internet experience, in fact it really isn't. The Internet has always evolved on the basic premise of having everyone around the world on a single, interconnected network. Every so often, a new "killer app" that someone envisioned and releases shakes the world up a bit. The HTTP protocol and the World Wide Web itself is merely one of those "killer apps." Before web browsers, there was gopher. Before that, ftp, and e-mail, and netnews, and computers interconnected using a store-and-forward mechanism called UUCP. Every one of these were new and cool in their own time, and they had to happen in the sequence they did so the next great thing could happen.

The next great thing to happen would not have happened if a single company or the government) controlled the medium.

So back to Flash -- If Flash really is the next generation "killer" Internet application, then it needs to be an open standard and open source like the ones before it. The Netscape browser became an open source project for just this reason (which is why we have Firefox and the Mozilla project). Personally, I think Flash in some ways is the "gopher" of the web-based multimedia presentation world in that it is a primitive form of what is to come.

I can imagine a melding of the Flash / Java / .NET concepts into a single, unified, fast, multimedia-rich bytecode-based virtual environment. Where the web browser was usually a person's view of the Internet, this VM would be their view, and the web browser would simply be another application inside this VM (more or less a "legacy" view of the Internet). The environment would be designed with security in mind, and would give people the ability to scale-down some of the graphics for less-capable displays. Because the bytecode would be the same no matter what hardware platform was being used, it wouldn't matter what hardware or OS platform was being used. The question that continues to be a problem is how to design something like this that is extensible enough to grow as hardware becomes more capable, without leaving people with older hardware in the dust. If our young'uns are really as environmentally-conscious as they claim, then they'd agree the last thing we need is the entire world throwing out their computers every couple of years because nothing on the Internet can be viewed on their systems.

Enough babbling for today.

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