Is it Time to Kick Flash Off Your Site?
No Flash? No problem!
Flash can be eliminated from many websites, or left out when the sites are initially developed. The key, Crawford says, is what type of content the site will host, and what sort of experience you want the user to have.
Still, there are times when only Flash will really do, Crawford says. "Flash is still justified for multimedia content: interactive visualizations of data, for example; video presentations; rich media advertising; games. These are the cases where Flash shines."
Still, Adams says, "I never try to avoid using Flash unless there is a specific reason, such as a site that requires iOS-viewable content, or the project experience isn't suited to a specific platform." Flash requires some horsepower to render correctly, he points out, something most smartphones don't have in abundance. So although, technically, you might be able to run Flash on an Android device, you might not want to.
Getting down to details
"You have three major components to Flash as a developer," Adams explains: The plugin, which is installed in the browser on the machine of both the end user and the developer; the language itself -- referred to as ActionScript 3 -- and the I.D.E. or integrated development environment, which is the software used to create the files used by the plugin to display the content.
"I don't see any major shortcomings with ActionScript 3 as a language in itself," Adams says. "There are a number of features that would make it better -- such as threading, more advanced audio processing and image manipulation added to the core language." But overall, he considers it "a straightforward and flexible language."
"In my opinion, a lot of the bad rap Flash gets is specifically related to the plugin itself and poor development," Adams says. "I won't get into the I.D.E., as that is more a matter of personal preference. There are also a number of ways to create Flash content, as well as tools available. The ironic thing is that Adobe only really makes money from the I.D.E. itself," while the plugin and language -- both of which are essentially free of charge -- "get most of the attention."
Building too much functionality
The reason many sites now run into trouble with the growing number of mobile users, Crawford believes, is that developers wanted to get too fancy in the first place -- building in functionality beyond what the user experience ever needed.
"The classic example is restaurant websites which have rich photography, music, an introductory animation and slideshow," Crawford explains. "Ultimately such sites use Flash in a way that works against some very common user needs: What is the restaurant address? How do I get there? What are your hours? Can I get a reservation?"
An all-Flash website simply is empty if the developer did not put in place a fallback "other than 'your browser is not good enough for this site, please upgrade,' " Crawford says. "On the desktop, people have been complaining about splash animations and overly complex Flash sites for years, too. Anticipate your users' needs and cater to them."
He believes the growing use of mobile devices that don't like Flash will encourage many developers "to pull away" from gratuitous overuse of Flash elements in general.
The most important thing is to think in terms of which development tools will provide the best customer experience, not what best fits your comfort zone as a developer, experts agree.
"I'd be lying if I said I still use Flash as much as I did before," says Adams. "And I think most Flash developers would agree with me. I've been doing a lot of Web standards development lately, and I miss ActionScript as a language dearly. However, in today's digital space it's about using the right tool for the job."
David Weldon is a freelance business and technology writer in Massachusetts, and a former Computerworld senior editor. Contact him at DWeldon646@comcast.net.