Saturday, January 30, 2010

RIP Flash?

Apple's pogrom against CPU-hogging proprietary plug-ins, announced with the iPhone's nonsupport of Adobe's Flash, continues with the iPad and its "screaming fast" A4 processor.

Perhaps Apple's plan to push developers toward standards, and away from competing content-creation suites, calls for mobile devices to drag developers into a standards-based future. And drag them, it might. Microsoft changed its back-end tools to send MPEG-4 rather than proprietary content to iPhones, for example.

On the other hand, many sites are simply horribly broken on the iPhone: they sniff that you use a mobile platform, redirect or rewrite all URL requests to a URL that users aren't trying to reach, like the URL of the domain's mobile-version home page (not a mobile-version of the linked page, a mobile version of the home page of an entire news site like the Washington Post), and thereby break every single link made to any page in the entire domain. The fact these dufus site developers can't bother to give an already-HTML site to a mobile device suggests that revising a site to do it properly is simply beyond their pathetic powers.

So, what's the real reason to halt flash?

Easy: Flash sucks. Flash is the number one cause of crashes in browsers on MacOS X. (Heck, it crashes browsers on Ubuntu Linux and on MS-Windows, too.) And not only browsers: according to Apple's Bertrand Serlet, "plug ins" (read: Flash) constitute the number one cause of all application crashes on MacOS X. Flash is also implicated in security problems on every platform for which Flash is released (and spawned third-party Flash security tools). And the number one use of Flash – delivery of video – doesn't even require Flash; HTML 5 supports plugin-free delivery of much of the content, like streaming video, that plug-ins like Flash were designed to support. Use of Flash to create full-featured applications is certainly possible, but it also sucks: it doesn't behave like any users expect, and for example won't support cut-and-paste with any other applications and will be totally unaware of the spellchecker that all your MacOS X applications inherit from upstream Cocoa objects. Worse, unless Flash sites are carefully designed, making useful links to content deep within Flash sites can be impossible for regular users. And we've seen how much effort most site designers seem to be willing to spend making a site usable by a customer's browser. Got accessbility aids? Unless your Flash site designer knows to sniff for them, Flash will simply defeat all the accessibility aids that your computer offers all your non-Flash applications.

Don't expect Apple to support Flash on mobile devices Apple holds out as examples of innovative and high-quality user interface. Flash won't be designed for multitouch or any other technology Apple may choose to offer.

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