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Web 2.0 Expo: Flash, HTML 5 Converging

The competing Web technologies have sparked an Internet cold war, but a detente could be on the horizon as capabilities merge.

Apple's Steve Jobs may have it out for Flash, while Adobe may be calling Steve Jobs an HTML zealot, but the debate over which is the better multimedia platform may be cooling as the two platforms converge in terms of functionality and developer support, according to a designer who spoke Monday at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City.

"It feels like a cold war, but they're really not that different," said Eric Meyer, founder of Cleveland-based Complex Spiral Consulting, speaking at Web 2.0, which is co-produced by O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb. (UBM TechWeb is the publisher of InformationWeek.com).

Meyer said both Flash and HTML 5, part of the so-called "Web stack" that also includes CSS and JavaScript, both aim to bring ubiquitous interactivity to Web pages. Preference for one or the other is usually driven by where a particular designer falls when it comes to a series of tradeoffs between the two platforms.

Meyer likened the issue to the debate over digital vs. analog TV. "Flash is like digital TV; digital TV looks better until your signal degrades," said Meyer. It's a thought that was echoed recently by Jobs, who said Flash-enabled pages are the single biggest reason for Mac crashes.

Job famously banned Flash from the iPad and other Apple mobile devices. Adobe responded by accusing Jobs of trying to control the Web. Meyer said both sides should chill when it comes to the debate over Flash vs. HTML 5. "Both are designed to solve the same problems," said Meyer.

While Flash may introduce instability to Web pages, it's currently a richer environment for developing interactive applications that are both slick and fast, Meyer conceded. Still, he said that's changing. "The Web stack is progressing much faster than Flash did ten years ago," said Meyer.

Meyer noted that programmers in Google recently ported the classic video game Quake directly to the Web so it could run in a browser. "It might have been possible to do that five years ago—at one frame per second," said Meyer.

He also noted that new development frameworks for JavaScript, like Cappuccino, are emerging, even though, when it comes to authoring environments, "the Web stack still falls on its face."

But Meyer said both technologies still have their tradeoffs, and that the choice of one over the other is often driven by the designer's ultimate goal. HTML offers ubiquity, while Flash promises cross-platform consistency. But even that distinction will fade as the Web stack advances. "In terms of capabilities, they are converging quickly," said Meyer.

The Web 2.0 Expo continues this week at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in midtown Manhattan.


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