HTML5 is coming, and a growing number of companies are trying to kick the Flash habit, even if on a limited basis. The latest: popular online document sharing service Scribd.
According to the startup's CTO, "We are scrapping three years of Flash development and betting the company on HTML5 because we believe HTML5 is a dramatically better reading experience than Flash."
It's a big move for the company, which hosts tens of millions of documents containing more than 100bn words in total. All of those documents are currently displayed via a Flash-based reader, but starting tomorrow, 200,000 of the most popular will be available through an HTML5 interface. Eventually all of Scribd's documents will be served up through the HTML5 interface.
One might assume that Adobe has reason to be concerned about all of the companies looking beyond Flash to HTML5. After all, Flash is a big part of the company's portfolio of web technologies.
But Adobe isn't admitting concern -- publicly at least. Instead, it's aware of the web's evolution and plans to be an integral part of the HTML5-enabled internet. At the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco yesterday, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch told the audience, "We're going to try and make the best tools in the world for HTML5."
Speaking of those "who want to wall off parts of the web" and naming Apple specifically, Lynch said that "what's going on now...[is] like railroads in the 1800s. People were using different gauged rails. Your cars would literally not run on those rails. That's counter to the web."
With that in mind, Adobe appears to be focused on positioning itself as a provider of tools that make it easier for developers to build solutions that work on all of the popular internet and mobile platforms -- with a few exceptions, of course, like the iPhone.
Lynch may or may not be right about the nature of the web, but Adobe has little choice but to bet its future on extending its design and development tools to new technologies, even if it isn't the owner or creator of those technologies. That, of course, has an immediate implication: trying to find a place for Adobe's products as more and more companies get interested in HTML5. This is a good thing for the company, as Adobe's refusal to move beyond Flash would probably prove to be a costly mistake over the long haul. Obviously, it remains to be seen just how prominent a role Adobe can earn in the HTML5 universe, but by recognizing that HTML5 is going to change the game for RIAs, Adobe is choosing to try to stay relevant before the market decides for it.
This said, Adobe would probably be making a mistake if it neglects Flash too much. For all of HTML5's purported virtues and Flash's well-established disadvantages, there is still a place for Flash on the web. To be sure, there are plenty of applications which don't require Flash, and it will probably be a good thing as those applications are transitioned away.
One of the primary reasons Flash gets a bad rap is that it's often used in situations where it's not necessary, or where alternative technologies would be a better fit. But Flash is still appropriate for certain kinds of applications, and hopefully as the ratio between these and the 'bad' Flash applications becomes better aligned, it will be easier for companies and developers to move away from ideology and simply choose the right tools for the job.