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Six reasons why Flash won't die

Heralding HTML 5 is premature, say analysts

Many are predicting Flash's days are numbered. However, we've rounded up six reasons why this may not be the case.

3. Adobe provides strong tools and support for designers and developers

Launched in 1996 by Macromedia, Flash won early success because it was a relatively lightweight way of displaying complex graphics on the web, especially those with animation and interactivity, at a time when broadband access wasn't common. But a key factor that led to Flash's longevity was Macromedia's nurturing and support for content developers.

Adobe, which had been building its own loyal base of content creators with design tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat, acquired Macromedia - and Flash - in 2005. Adobe continued Macromedia's commitment to developers with the release of the first Adobe-branded version of the Flash development software in 2007. Today Flash is bundled with other design and development tools in certain editions of Adobe's Creative Suite package.

"As a tools company, Adobe offered support to a community of creative developers seeking to add simple and engaging functionality to their sites without heavy programming," says Rubin.

"[Flash's] frameworks for creating interactive animations let people build games and those darned interactive ads, which motivated content producers and game players," adds Cote. Thus, Flash developed into a rich development platform, not just a media format.

Barberich suggests that for HTML 5 or another alternative technology to make a significant play in the market, a corporate sponsor like Apple or Google may need to provide more than just moral support, offering actual applications and tools, perhaps backed by technical support, to help spur adoption among web media creators.

4. Flash's content protection/DRM appeals to content producers

Another difficulty for a challenger, particularly for an open format like HTML 5, is providing the kind of content-protection features and digital rights management that the Flash platform does. Such features could be built into any web media technology, but Adobe has had time to work out most of the kinks in implementing them into Flash.

And keep in mind Hollywood's interests, says Cote: "They saw what an open format like MP3 did to their music buddies and are not interested in that kind of disruption. People who own movies and TV are going to want as much DRM as possible, and new video formats that don't satisfy those requirements are going to be tough to spread."

Although YouTube (which is owned by Google) is experimenting with HTML 5, content protection is one of the reasons why the site still needs Flash, said John Harding, a software engineer for YouTube, in a recent blog post. Some video providers require YouTube to use the Flash platform's RTMPE protocol, which locks down the video stream to prevent users from downloading and redistributing their videos, Harding explained.

However, Cote makes an interesting observation about YouTube's blog post: "YouTube didn't really express that they love Flash, just that they need it for these features. That's a subtle but important thing to notice."

In other words, if HTML 5 or another alternative were to provide strong content protection, Flash might be threatened.

Cote thinks Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia delivery platform, which has built-in DRM, could make a play on this front. NBC chose this platform to deliver its coverage of the 2008 and 2010 Olympics online; Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration was also broadcast via Silverlight on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's website.

NEXT PAGE: Popularity with online advertisers

  1. Heralding HTML 5 as the new web media king is premature
  2. Strong tools and support for developers
  3. Popularity with online advertisers
  4. Video codec patent issues
  5. Co-existence

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