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HTML5 vs. Flash: Shaping Up the Debate

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 7/29/2011

HTML5 may eventually set the web standard for multimedia content, so should Flash developers worry about their skills becoming obsolete?

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    Adobe Flash has taken a lot of heat in the past couple of years, due in large part to Apple making the decision not to include Flash support on the iPhone. Apple contends that the requirements to run Flash content put too much of a drain on the CPU and therefore it consumes too much battery power, so they deemed it inefficient and refused to offer support. This meant that websites which used Flash-based content would not work on the iPhone. Some apps and emulators have since been made available, but Apple didn’t hold anything back regarding their opinion of Flash when the iPhone made its debut.

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    What's New in HTML5?

    HTML5 is the fifth generation of HyperText Markup Language, which is a sort of programming language used to build web pages. It’s with HTML "tags" that web designers designate the placement of images, formatting of text and so on. As of this writing, HTML5 is still officially under development, but many current browsers already support some of its core features.

    Some of the major additions to HTML5 have to do with multimedia content, such as videos and animation. This is where it poses a threat to the livelihood of Flash in that it offers developers the ability to get the same results using HTML5 instead of having to use Flash. Numerous online demonstrations are already available that show Flash-like animations and interactive content, and you can’t tell the difference by looking at them.

    What’s most important about the new multimedia features is that they do not require the installation of any additional software, such as browser add-ons or plugins. Adobe Flash is a browser add-on that installs separately and is updated quite often. HTML5 support will be built right into the browser, thus making for a more efficient form of web design without the need of third-party software. This also means less compatibility testing worries for web developers.

    Other major new features of HTML5 include numerous APIs (application programming interfaces) that let you do more OS-like activities inside the browser, such as drag and drop files, MIME recognition, file editing and so on. It will greatly expand the capabilities of your web browser and help support the push toward cloud computing and entirely web-based applications.

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    HTML5 Performance Comparison

    One might think that HTML5 would clearly be superior to Flash in every way. However, numerous independent tests have been performed to compare HTML5 vs. Flash benchmarks when it comes to the most strenuous online content, like HD video. The results have been scattered. In some cases, Flash actually beats out HTML5 in terms of performance, but this has greatly to do with the computer being tested and its hardware specs, plus the nature of the content. The common factor for best performance seems to be related to hardware acceleration capabilities.

    On, a tester compared HTML5 performance on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera. He used an aquarium simulator that lets you select how many fish are animated on screen, and the final test had a thousand total. In the end, he declared Firefox the winner by five to ten percent over Internet Explorer, and both Chrome and Opera choked on the biggest test.

    These tests are good news for web developers since the majority of web surfers use Internet Explorer or Firefox, and only a very small percentage use alternate choices like Chrome, Opera or Safari. I would like to see more on tablet support as well as smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S and other more widely used models.

    While these test results show that HTML5 doesn’t exactly shut out Flash, you must keep in mind that HTML5 is still under development whereas Flash content has been around since the days of Windows 95 when the Internet as we know it was first taking off. You can bet on seeing more efficient processing of HTML5 code in order to make better use of system resources so that it offers a legitimate answer to the complaints about Flash using too many CPU cycles.

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    Flash Is Here to Stay

    In my opinion, I do not see Flash going by the wayside any time soon. The main reason for this is that too many web developers have already mastered Flash programming and animation. The amount of time needed for those professionals to build up the same skills in HTML5 will seem unnecessary to some. Also, one must consider that clients may not care to know the difference, so long as they get their animated logos and other perks. Furthermore, support for HTML5 isn’t quite as widespread at Flash, and early adapters may be shutting out others who haven’t upgraded their browser software.

    If you are a Flash developer, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a crash course in learning HTML5. You should not, however, worry too much about having to abandon Flash any time soon. Just remember that if you are able to learn both systems and offer both options to prospective clients or employers, it’ll make you that much more viable in the competitive world of web design and development.

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    References, Flash vs. HTML5,, HTML5 vs. Flash comparison,, Speed Testing the Bleeding Edge Browser's HTML5 Performance,

    Image credit: HTML5 Logo, Wikimedia Commons, Under CC BY 3.0