Sure, join the dinner party! (but it’s potluck)

Phrases like “the execution of Adobe”, “makes Flash an absolute toy”, “Flash Killer” and the like annoy me. That’s why I pay attention to what happens later, when the press releases become deliverables.

When Silverlight announced the MLB.com deal, lots of people said Flash and Silverlight would then be comparable. But long after the press release, the eventual website was still Flash, and the common forum advice was likely why we didn’t hear much later about what this campaign did for adoption.

Then NBCOlympics.com deal and demconvention.com were prophesied to close the desktop gap with Flash, rendering the technologies equivalent. I’ve heard quotes like 50 million unique visitors for the first and 30 for the second, but no word on how many of those succeeded in watching video, rates of successful installation and so on. It has been mysteriously quiet.

Until today. Microsoft announced that H.264 video will be “in a future version of Silverlight”, and also let slip some stats on “How did Silverlight do at the Olympics?”

“On the Silverlight-enhanced NBC Olympics site, the average viewing time was over 27 minutes, as opposed to an average of just three minutes on some Flash-powered sites broadcasting Olympics coverage elsewhere. We think this indicates Silverlight provides a more compelling, engaging and rich media experience for viewers.”

This is the press release, the first after the event to put the whole Silverlight/Olympics storyline into final context. If there was good news, this is when we’d hear it trumpeted. If there was neutral or poor news, this is when we’d hear it managed. And the most important statistic mustered? An observation on the average size of YouTube files.

It seems to say a lot, but somehow, I’m not sure it will change the debate…. ;-)

Look, it’s great that Microsoft is trying to refactor WMP and CLR to fit in webpages, like Flash. It’s great that Firefox is adding Ogg Theora, and that Google Chrome is trying to build a generic HTML-driven application shell. If Ajax gurus can make HTML apps smoother, then that’s a big help to the world. Java FX moving towards the Flash vision? I’m all for it.

I could do without the negative stereotypes, but having everyone agree on this “experience matters” approach is a good thing.

The more options, the better.

But… you know… not all of these technologies work equally well in the real world. Most websites can’t afford to turn audience away. You hear such objections to Shockwave, even though 60% of computers already run it.

The “software wars” are fun to debate and evangelize online, but all that extra rhetoric makes it harder for people to learn about and actually use these technologies in the world. Confusion costs.

Even newspapers frequently lump Flash and Silverlight together. I guess the brandnames fall into the same basket, for the reporter. But for readers, one has a near-prohibitive cost to use. How much of your audience can you afford to turn away? The reporter isn’t doing the reader any favors by suggesting either technology can be used equally.

Same with video. What types of sites can afford to use Ogg Theora? Commercial video sites won’t change their existing On2 VP6, Windows Media or H.264 production workflows to move to a codec considered outdated in 2001. I can see Wikipedia using On2 VP3, but how many other sites can afford it?

A fast scripting engine, eating platform-neutral files to run fast OS-native code for datagrids and 3D and games? How much of your audience must arrive in that brand of JavaScript runtime before you can afford to use it?

The more options, the better, true. But that doesn’t mean they’re all equal. The namecalling and fake drama can only distract, not hide this.

Flash just works. Back in June, 85% of consumers already supported H.264 on their computers. Forrester says 97% in enterprise have a JIT. It’s all open and free to use, right there on the world’s desktops.

You can actually use it. That’s what distinguishes Flash. How can there be a debate?

This is not an exclusive dinner party, this little RIA-in-the-browser soiree. You’re welcome to come, and it’s flattering that you’d like join in. Glad to have you here! But it’s a potluck dinner, so you really might want to bring something, other than announcements of how next time you’ll bring something, and saying (between mouthfuls) how much better it will taste than this evening’s poor proprietary fare…. ;-)