Unless you live in a hole you've no doubt heard something about what is sure to be the hottest topic of 2010: HTML5 vs Flash.
I decided to weigh in on this with a post right now mostly because someone else I have great respect for has posted easily the best summary of this whole situation that I've seen so far. John Nack, product manager for Photoshop, has weighed in with a thoughtful piece on Flash, HTML5 and open standards. It's worth a read, especially since John's history at Adobe involves trying to bring the open SVG format to life online before Adobe acquired Macromedia.
As an examples of some of the hubris about Flash that's floating around these days give a skim over John Gruber's massive Flash rant (which Nack references in his post) or the more generic tech journalist summaries like this one at Digital Media Buzz (which somehow manages to imply that Silverlight has a better chance of surviving than Flash).
Now to clear your heads and get back to reality, here's one of the best Flash myth busters I've seen. Or if you want to get into the nitty gritty, Ars Technica has a good look at the video codec challenges that HTML5 is facing.
From where I stand this whole debate falls apart simply in it's naming. To say there is a battle between these two technologies shows a fundamental lack of understanding about each and what their role in the online ecosystem is. HTML is the baseline for content delivery on the web, it's the standard around which we all work and every single bit of the web is built on. When we wanted to go beyond the capabilities of HTML the plugin was introduced as a way to extend HTML and the web browser. Flash was born out of this and over the years has become the dominant plugin for doing just about anything that HTML can't.
I can't say without Flash we wouldn't have all the great things that we do today. If Macromedia hadn't pushed so hard on it, maybe Quicktime would have evolved to fill the gap, maybe Real wouldn't have screwed up so bad, maybe Java would have seen the optimization it needed to be usable. None of those things matter though. Flash found it's way on to the majority of the world's computers and we've been plowing ahead ever since.
The introduction of HTML5 doesn't change anything in the large scale picture of where Flash sits amongst all of this. Sure on a micro scale many of things we use Flash for now will be possible with HTML5 and CSS3. But in the grand scheme of things, Flash and other plugins like Unity will continue to push the leading edge, to do the things that a standards committee and a gaggle of browser developers take years to implement and distribute on a large scale.
Even within Flash there is a clear divide between the "standard" practices and most common use cases of Flash and those who are pushing the boundaries of it's capabilities (see every single 3D engine built in Flash as an example). This divide is healthy, it provides common grounds for us to work on while pushing the Flash product teams to innovate and keep up with all the creative uses the community comes up with for it.
At FITC we will continue to promote and showcase the most creative, most innovative and most technologically advanced projects that people are creating. While HTML5 ups the baseline standard for what we do in our daily practice, it's the risks we see people taking outside the box that inspire us to push forward.
Without Flash, Unity, Processing, Openframeworks and even Silverlight we'd all be stuck in a pretty boring web of Wordpress blog themes and social media profile pages, rich in written content, but certainly not visually inspiring. And if you don't think that making things look good is important than you clearly are missing the fundamental reason that Apple has been so successful over the past decade.