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Why Adobe Edge Says Nothing About Flash's Future

Adobe's new web authoring tool, Edge, embraces HTML5 as an emerging standard. But does it signal the death of Flash?

Adobe Edge
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Adobe Edge
Adobe Systems has released a new web-authoring tool, called Edge, to vie for a slice of the emerging HTML5 development market. The company has been engaged in a public relations war with Apple since the launch of the HTML5-friendly iPad in April 2010, and the tech media is buzzing about what Edge portends for the future of Flash. Is Edge Adobe's way of admitting defeat? Not hardly.

Adobe is no bit player in the Web development arena, thanks in large part to the prominence of the Flash multimedia platform, which it acquired through a buyout of former competitor Macromedia in 2005. Despite a very public campaign against Flash from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the Adobe Flash platform continues to enjoy widespread support among developers, even as HTML5 gains new ground. Adobe Edge, which creates multimedia Web applications using a blend of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, looks to many pundits like an attempt by Adobe to hedge its bets.

But here's the thing: It isn't.

Events in the tech industry often lend themselves to pareidolia. HTML5 emerges, fueling Apple's spite for Flash, and Adobe releases an HTML5 tool more than a year later. Naturally, headline-savvy reporters push the connection. But Adobe has several Web authoring tools in its product line, other than Flash, and Edge is, in all likelihood, just another addition to that line.

Linking the launch of Adobe Edge to the death of Flash is overzealous, at best. "I think it's inevitable that at some point in the future HTML5, which is already gaining a lot of momentum, becomes that kind of standard that Flash used to be," said Michael Fauscette, analyst and group VP of software business solutions at IDC. But, he cautioned, "that doesn't mean that Flash is dead yet ... not for some time yet I'd think."

As Forrester principal analyst Jeffrey Hammond put it, "it would be like saying that, just because Apple now sells millions of iPads, the new Macs they introduce are dead on arrival."

The reality is that Flash is far from doomed in the near term. "No more so than Java, or .Net are falling into obsolescence," said Hammond. "It's true that in general the Web developers and the interactive agencies I talk to are doing more HTML 5 and JavaScript now than they were two years ago, but they also continue to do Flash."

And well they should. HTML5 has enjoyed a strong start, but it still enjoys relatively limited support in the browser market. Said Eric Leland, principal at Internet strategy firm FivePaths, "If you look at the market share for browsers, we find that less than half the browsers in use are HTML5 compatible at this point." That percentage is certain to rise rapidly over the next couple of years, but a substantial share of the browser market will require an alternative to HTML5 for the foreseeable future. "Companies will still need to be backwards compatible for older browsers at a minimum," said Leland, "and will employ Flash for this."

In addition to raw browser support, HTML5 lacks a number of features that Flash offers. Most notably, said Eric Leland, "Flash includes digital rights management features, while in HTML5, users can quickly save videos to their own machines." That may not sound like such a bad thing for users, but for developers and content owners, it's a serious problem. A number of DRM schemes are currently under consideration for HTML5, but the issue is far from resolved. Leland added, "the best-fitting software depends on your use case. Many projects will benefit from technologies like Flash that are not browser controlled."

All of this is not to say that Edge is irrelevant. This new app represents a significant addition to Adobe's product line in that it gets the company's foot in the door where few competing tools exist. "I think that it signals that there's a new technology that needs tools, and Adobe is stepping up to that opportunity," said Forrester's Jeffrey Hammond. "Other Adobe tools, like Dreamweaver, have always been popular with HTML developers, so why not take advantage of a strong brand to enter a new market? There are not a lot of options for developers and designers today, so they have first-mover advantage. Maybe we'll see more options from other major tool vendors by the end of the year, but right now they have the stage pretty much to themselves."

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