Flash, Silverlight and the end of the line for browser plug-ins

Adobe’s news this week that it will no longer develop Flash for mobile browsers is being celebrated as a victory for HTML5 and the notion that interactive web experiences should rely on common standards, not specialized plug-ins that may or may not work on whatever device you happen to be using at any given moment.

In some ways this is a legacy of Steve Jobs, who outlined his position in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay in April 2010.

“Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice,” he wrote. “Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”

But Microsoft has also played a major role, supporting HTML5 in Internet Explorer and taking its own stand against browser plug-ins.

Wrote Dean Hachamovitch, the Microsoft executive who leads the Internet Explorer team, in a September blog post: “Plug-ins were important early on in the web’s history. But the web has come a long way since then with HTML5. Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI. The reality today is that sites are already rapidly engineering for a plug-in free experience.”

The big question now: What happens to Silverlight, Microsoft’s Flash alternative? Mary Jo Foley reports on ZDNet that the upcoming Silverlight 5 could be the last version.

Adobe will continue to develop Flash for PCs, but it’s pretty easy to see where this is headed.

Earlier: Microsoft launches giant public art project in HTML5

  • Guest

    all we need now is for the browser makers to agree on one video codec

    • Anonymous

      HTML5 Video Codecs?

  • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

    What’s sad about this whole “conversation” is that most of the people thought it was about video. Many of the comparisons and discussions between HTML5 and Flash on mobile devices often pointed at video – timing tests, battery life, frame rates, etc.

    Flash was and is so much more than just video, as is Silverlight. One need only look at the enormously large educational space to see the important role platforms like Flash have played.While I love the fact that, through market conditions, Adobe will likely deliver more of their tools that can focus and interact directly with HTML5, the truth remains that Flash has served a great many industries and publishing models by delivering a consistent, fairly robust and largely platform agnostic delivery vehicle for interactive content.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bmasch Brian Maschhoff

    Adobe makes money from Flash by selling the authoring program to developers, not from the plugin itself (which is actually a cost center, since Adobe has to develop and maintain the plugin for an increasing number of platforms). Also, it is possible to create .swf files (the file which plays in the player) using another application, and Adobe makes no money there. Adobe’s strength has been the developer tool, which nobody else (especially Microsoft/Silverlight) was able to match.

    Adobe has already started down the path of a different paradigm in which their tools create rich content with HTML5. Will they maintain their advantage vs. others doing the same? Perhaps not, but the end of the Flash plugin does not mean the end of Adobe making money from Flash-like browser widgets. They still make money from Photoshop, even though there is no lack of tools for editing images.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bmasch Brian Maschhoff

    Adobe makes money from Flash by selling the authoring program to developers, not from the plugin itself (which is actually a cost center, since Adobe has to develop and maintain the plugin for an increasing number of platforms). Also, it is possible to create .swf files (the file which plays in the player) using another application, and Adobe makes no money there. Adobe’s strength has been the developer tool, which nobody else (especially Microsoft/Silverlight) was able to match.

    Adobe has already started down the path of a different paradigm in which their tools create rich content with HTML5. Will they maintain their advantage vs. others doing the same? Perhaps not, but the end of the Flash plugin does not mean the end of Adobe making money from Flash-like browser widgets. They still make money from Photoshop, even though there is no lack of tools for editing images.

  • Rjdwa

    One thing to remember about Silverlight is that it has a large adoption as a Line Of Business (LOB) development platform – also it runs outside of a browser (is it still a plug in if it is not in the browser??) — and is based on XAML (C#..) which is a primary development technology in Win 8. One thing that MS could really help with, is to come out and give some direction on what they see as the best development platform for LOB apps that do not fit entirely into the tablet / mobile space (and NO HTML 5 is not the answer)

    • Guest

      Yeah, there’s a lot of misinformation here about what Flash/SL really are. Both are much more than simply a browser plug in.

  • Anonymous

    The end of Flash and Silverlight is not near, and probably never will (I’ll explain). Flash and Silverlight is much more than a simple browser plugin. Flash is used in many desktop applications (Example: Sony Media Go, and many other app installers), as well used in websites. Silverlight is used in desktop applications also. It is a 1 of 2 main development platforms for Windows Phone, and is probably going to be deeply integrated with Windows 8. So neither of these platforms will vanish for a long time.