Amazing AIR 4.0 demos!

If you’ve been reading the techblogs this week, you may be wondering “Is this the death of Flash?” There’s lots of commentary out there, and no matter how ill-founded, we’ll all likely end up in conversations with less-clued-in coworkers or friends asking, “Hey, I heard that *this* will finally be the death of Flash!” Fun, huh?

If so, then relax. It’s all going to get worse. 😉

There are more corporate conferences coming up in the next few weeks, and a browser release or two. These are easy stories for a PR staff to get placed in newsblogs. We’re only at the beginning of a hype cycle. There’s more to come.

In a way, it’s similar to the blogosphere buzz cycle around Silverlight a few years ago. Back then it was tough to swallow comments like “makes Flex look like a toy”, “the execution of Adobe”, “the Web was rebooted today” and the like.

But it’s easier to deal with such high-level assertions once you examine the low-level basics. The WhatWG is a set of browser vendors who are drafting a new version of Hypertext Markup Language, and much of the controversy is around whether various vendor RIA specifications fit. One tipoff is that core questions — handling the IE-using majority, “plugins are good when they’re Google’s”, what VIDEO tag will actually do, “what innovation’s in imitation?”, many more — are actively being ignored. The only response is namecalling.

This is different than the Silverlight dynamic. Microsoft staff and fans actually addressed reasonable questions. Their weblogs were open to other viewpoints. Dissent was not ridiculed.

Further, these questions today are coming from the grassroots. Top-level bloggers may be touched for a good story, but their commenters raise a whole series of reasonable questions. And they get — no answers. That pressure for truth and openness will not decrease.

Here, let me pull some of the comments which struck me from a recent oreilly.com transcript of a Google presentation. (I’m leaving out names because I’m interested in the ideas, but if you commented there and want your words removed from here, then please let me know, thanks.) It’s just one blogpost’s comments among the many, but shows the disconnect between the suits and the street:

“Most companies want to reach the widest audience possible and will likely continue to ask for IE6 support for another 2 to 3 years. So we are looking at another 5 to 7 years before IE7 can be ignored and working with whatever basic HTML5 support is available in IE8.”

“The Google mantra about the web vs desktop is b******t. Do an objective comparison between (canvas or svg) vs ((flash or silverlight) or desktop) and you’ll quickly note the differences. We don’t need an academic paper or more buzz.”

“There’s no standard for video codecs, meaning each browser vendor will decide on what codecs to support if any. Which means in order for the video tag to work, the web developer will have to supply multiple versions of the video in a variety of codecs. This has the potential to get even messier… Meanwhile, from a user’s perspective, you unfortunately will have to switch browsers to view video in a different codex, which certain users may want to, as there’s a big difference in quality and performance in video codecs.”

“It’s just INSANE that people try to evolve on things like HTML, CSS and Javascript. CSS and HTML are not consistent and not all that robust.”

“Hi Tim, You wrote: ‘Microsoft has announced that it will support HTML 5.’ I’ve also read they have suggested breaking out different working groups to work on different parts of HTML 5. Do you have a link or reference to something where they’ve actually said they will support all the major features, in one form or another, of the current HTML 5 draft? I went looking for some sort of statement but couldn’t find it. Microsoft is always the elephant in the room when it comes to cross-browser support for HTML 5.”

“There are no plugins perhaps, but because several major vendors have refused to support Ogg Theora, there is currently no standard codec that does not have patent problems.”

“A couple of others have already made the ‘what do you mean, no plugins, no mismatched codecs?’ comments that I was going to add… Sadly, I see the demo html5 page at youtube seems to present only proprietary .mp4 video, requiring a proprietary plugin for those of us not using Safari.”

“In the graph the vertical axis is nerdgasmicity. The horizontal axis is goldfish-time. I got this from reddit.”

“Google going big for HTML5 is probably helped by the fact that the sole author for HTML5, Ian Hickson, works for Google.”

“OK, HTML 5 is probably awesome. But IE is gonna screw it all up by being 5 years late to adopt or going their own direction. Standards are great for development, but only if they are enforced!!”

“On the plugin vs. HTML 5 comments I don’t understand why anyone assumes it is a winner-take-all contest or that we will escape from “plugin hell” any time soon. The work Google and Mozilla are doing is wonderful but I also think many people take a more realistic attitude toward the value of plugins.”

There are some personal judgments in there, but also some reasonable questions too.

This week, those reasonable questions may be overwhelmed by effusive hype, but these questions will persist.

These are questions that the presenters must persuasively answer before the future they declare can arrive.

So… if you talk about Flash with your partners or friends, the next few weeks may be difficult. I don’t think the hype will reach Oprah-like levels, but it will be close. Hang in there. Look at the claims yourself, seek out skeptical questions, determine if these are openly answered.

But the trend’s your friend. Hype cycles last only so long before the journalistic pressure to debunk them becomes overwhelming. Truth does out. 😉

6 Responses to Amazing AIR 4.0 demos!

  1. Flash is Dead says:

    [jd sez: I’m publishing this comment, mostly as an example of some I’m not publishing these days. It arrived a few minutes after I posted. If you won’t own your own words — with your own real reputation behind them — then you’re usually not worth the reading cost. Open up!]
    Flash is dead and you know it. When you can’t even play HD 720P Hulu videos on a dual-core Atom 330, you know you’re dealing with incompetent, inept monkeys who can’t code worth [fecal material].
    http://www.anandtech.com/weblog/showpost.aspx?i=602
    Flash detractors know what they are talking about, Adobe monkeys obviously buries their head in the sand and sing praises to a dead format which choosing to ignore the real world.
    Adobe Flash #1 cause of Firefox crashes on Linux
    http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/96509133/m/556009441931
    http://arstechnica.com/software/news/2008/10/benchmarking-flash-player-10.ars
    Hulu Video:
    Air: 84 percent CPU
    Mac Pro: 56 percent CPU
    YouTube
    Air: 70 percent CPU
    Mac Pro: 40 percent CPU
    “As the numbers will show, Flash performs far better in Vista versus Mac OS X running on the same hardware”
    How such incompetence can pass is beyond me.
    [jd sez: Well, I *told* your Dad that if he had stayed out later that night, then…. 😉 ]

  2. Rosyna says:

    Sadly, I see the demo html5 page at youtube seems to present only proprietary .mp4 video, requiring a proprietary plugin for those of us not using Safari.
    Huh? Flash is a proprietary plugin required for most videos on YouTube. .mp4 is not.
    Not to mention, they serve up the same MPEG-4 part 10 file whether using Flash or HTML5.
    [jd sez: I don’t know what that site serves, and don’t care much about the “proprietary” line either. That was how someone was arguing back.]

  3. To the first commenter pointing out the CPU requirements being high. Did you try going to full screen to enable the hardware acceleration (you’d have to have a MONSTER of a computer to run *any* HD video without hardware acceleration)? Have you compared it to a HD MP4 movie running in Quicktime perhaps? Secondly it’s partly the balance of file-size vs quality, H.264 which is now supported does take more CPU over the old Sorenson codec, but the quality/KB is incredible.
    The HTML5 “demo” only worked on one (stable?) browser. Hulu works on a myriad current systems, that’s if you want to talk about the “real world”. People don’t pick Flash because they are being paid to, especially if there were entirely free options, they pick it because it actually works, why the paranoia? Most flash developers end up there due to the freedom it gives, not because Flash is the only hammer they have so everything looks like a nail.
    To the second poster regarding codecs. The Ogg formats claim to be free from patent issues as far as they can divine. But it could just be they are not yet popular enough for the “submarine” patent holders to the obscure algorithms and abstract ideas present in all video and audio patents, who classically lie in wait. This is my concern. As for Vorbis the audio is noticeable worse than MP3/AAC because they have tried to avoid this nightmare, but Theora is not without potential patent pitfalls should its popularity rise. If they were totally safe and high-quality, why wouldn’t Adobe adopt them, do you think they have some vested interested in paying for H.264/AAC/MP3 over Theora?

  4. Uhhh your second link about “death of flash” is about flash memory… “replace both flash memory storage and platter-based hard drives”.
    Might pay to check that 😉
    [jd sez: Whew! well, at least I got the first link okay…. 😉 ]

  5. Joe says:

    I think HTML5 raises some serious questions about standardization, and the value of it. Do we really want a standardized client stack? Would this harm innovation? If all client applications were written to this standard how hard would it be to create a new unsupported human interface device or new GUI concept. Do we really want a client tier that only runs JavaScript?
    I think we’re benefiting from the feature competition between the major VMs – Java, Flash and .NET. HTML is just another client VM. It just happens to be standards based, but that’s just one input in the decision making process. It doesn’t make it automatically technically the best, for now and the future.

  6. Matthew Fabb says:

    Hey, I got quoted (first and third blurbs are mine)! 🙂
    [jd sez: Yes, and I appreciate the time you spend talking reason elsewhere too, thanks.]
    I think that a big part of this is that people who are reporting and blogging about web technologies are not front-end web developers themselves. Some of them might be programmers, others just big time internet users, but either way they just don’t seem to understand the day-to-day realities of building the front-end of websites for clients.
    Smart web companies have browser support written into the contract or proposal. Because the last thing web companies want is to go over-budget at the end of the project building in support for a browser that was not included in QA. These lists of browsers often include older browsers that are painful to support.
    Anyone who’s been in this industry long enough will remember who long it took to convince clients to stop supporting Netscape 4, or IE on the Mac, and then IE5. There’s always one browser that is painfully behind (obviously that’s IE6 now) but often client armed with browser stats for their website want that browser supported. Or sometimes that browser might be in the dead zone (under 1 percent) yet the client still wants support, because some crazy reason like CEO uses that browser or one of their relatives or one of their long time loyal customers still uses that browser.
    It’s interesting to hear that Google is supporting older browsers, while at the same time supporting new HTML5 tags for additional functionality. However, I wonder what users will think when features are sometimes there and sometimes gone depending on the browser they are using. Users often have one primary browser at home, but don’t always get a choice in browsers at work, library or friend’s house. Obviously it can lead to a bad user experience to have functionality disappear like that.
    However, outside of Google most web projects don’t have money to throw at a project to support HTML5 features that a fraction of the audience will be able to use.
    It’s these issues and more that many of the bloggers are just completely disconnected from, leading them to write all sorts of unrealistic predictions about the direction of technology.
    [jd sez: Agreed. This afternoon I was wondering what will happen after early enthusiasm is not fulfilled.]