You’ve probably heard the news that Adobe had dropped Flash support mobile platforms (yes, Steve was more right than wrong on this one too.)
For mobile developers or even general web developers looking to build a rich internet application (RIA), the loss (Android) or non-arrival (iOS) of Flash reduces the options for building a RIA substantially (for iOS, it’s effectively a choice between HTML5 or writing a native iOS application).
To be sure, Flash isn’t entirely going away anytime soon – for desktop platforms it will probably be around for many more years (it’s a good platform!) as it often sneaks in from 3rd party content that is part of a given site’s layout even if not part of the main site’s content. But with the ever-growing population of flash-less mobile devices being used to browse the web, website site designers (and web-based application developers) are increasingly removing all flash content in order to deliver the same “end user experience” regardless of which platform a site is viewed from.
At AppNeta, we made the complete transition a few years back from a “thick client” UI (written in 100% Java) that needed to be downloaded, installed and maintained on each user’s desktop, to a 100% web-based UI able to be consumed easily from any standard browser. But we didn’t want to give up the interactivity or the presentation options that a thick client offered, so we made heavy use of Flash via Adobe’s open source Flex software development kit. In general, we’ve been very pleased with the results and we receive frequent positive feedback on the look and feel and well as smooth operation of our UI from our 1000′s of end-users across all the major browsers. Kudos to Adobe (and the AppNeta development team) for enabling such a nice user experience from a 100% web-based UI.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?
But that’s the rub – it _is_ broken.
The PathView Cloud Network Performance Management hosted service is designed to be consumed and used interactively by many different user types ranging from hard-core network engineers (who require instant drill-down and data-mining through a year’s minute-by-minute historical performance data) all the way to IT and Service Delivery management (who need a SLA or SLO report on how their services are running and being consumed by their end-user). And all of these different users require instant access from anyplace at any time – and the “user experience” needs to be consistent, regardless of the device they’re using to access the PathView Cloud service. That’s where the “Flash” / “no Flash” breaks things for our customers.
Today, we partially solve this issue dynamically on the fly for any device that doesn’t have Flash locally installed by smartly auto-rendering content on the server side and presenting it as static JPEG images to the end user. This is a very clever way to enable users to see a close approximation to what they’d see if they had Flash installed locally, but of course the local interactivity of Flash is lost.
When we introduced our latest FlowView add-on for traffic analysis, we knew we were bringing something special to the market in terms of flow-based traffic analysis that could be consumed by anyone, anywhere and without the traditional need to enable netflow, jflow, sflow (or any-other-flow type) on an existing infrastructure. This is a BIG deal. Our original plan was to use Flash for the interactive UI components like we do elsewhere in PathView Cloud, but knowing that our mobile-based users would really want the same level of look and feel (and interactivity!) as our desktop-based customers for this powerful add-on, we decided to test out the HTML5 waters.
In a nutshell, we were very pleasantly surprised with what was possible (today!) with the current generation of browsers using HTML5. We even found a solution for Internet Explorer version 8 (where HTML5 support is known to be fairly limited). We were so pleased in fact, that we released our FlowView update last month in a 100% HTML5 only version – no Flash anywhere. There are some minor presentation things we can’t do quite as well in HTML5 as in Flash (and even those were mostly a factor of learning curve vs. a core technology limitation), but in general the feedback has been very positive. Our mobile device users in particular are very happy.
If you want to check how well your current web browser of choice is doing handling HTML5 today, browse over to http://html5test.com/ – it’s a quick and comprehensive way to score HTML5 browser functionality. Below is screenshot from a typical result showing the actual score out of possible 475:
At the end of the day it really comes down to this; so long Flash – it was great while it lasted. Hello HTML5 – welcome to the party; we’re looking forward to using you completely throughout our UI over the coming months.