Posts Tagged ‘ Flash ’

If you like Apple, don’t dismiss Flash

Asked the doozy of a question “what advice would you give young developers?” at the international WWW2010 Conference last week in Raleigh, Tim Berners-Lee gave a fairly generic response about joining up with organizations seeking to improve the world online.

Then Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, raised his voice with an addendum: “especially those focused on building with HTML and CSS.”

If you read that comment out of context, it’s not very striking. But if you were with me in the audience that afternoon, then the remark immediately connected with the mantra uttered by numerous speakers that week. Open source code = beneficial for the public good. Proprietary code = detriment to society.

It’s a sentiment that isn’t just playing out at tech conferences. The belief in open source is the rallying cry that has the multimedia world buzzing about the supposed death of Flash. For a web purist, anything other than a universally accepted code puts a commercial roadblock between developers and their audiences. In 1,000 years, as Internet pioneer and Google VP Vint Cerf remarked during the conference’s keynote, the information held in that code might be unreadable on modern devices and thus lost forever.

But it’s not open sourced purists who have struck the severe commercial blow to Flash. It’s Apple, a company that exerts the strictest control over its products. The company’s iPhone and iPad have rigorous standards for apps that makes Apple the sole arbiter over what can run on the devices, raising antitrust concerns. Locked out entirely is Flash, which Apple founder Steve Jobs sharply criticized as obsolete in a public statement issued last week.

Jobs has some valid arguments on why Flash shouldn’t run on the iPad or iPhone: it drains battery power, has a greater tendency to crash compared to HTML websites, and wasn’t developed with touch screens in mind. But Jobs also takes the high and mighty route by railing against Flash for not adopting open web standards. That’s highly hypocritical for a company that takes draconian measures when its own proprietary information is leaked.

Lost in all this posturing is the simple fact that Flash does things you can’t do with open sourced software … at least not yet. HTML5 offers the promise of driving the kind of dynamic video and animation that Flash is known for, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy for non computer science types (designers, photographers, journalists) to code. Flash built a following for the relative ease it injects into an otherwise complex coding process, allowing developers to direct their energy towards content and design.

Even Jobs concedes this point at the end of his statement, calling for Adobe to “focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future.” Software that topples the coding barrier of HTML would indeed be welcome, opening up web creation to billions of people who never took a computer science course. But will any company produce that software without the profit motive that drove Adobe? Apple’s proprietary products made it possible for millions to create multimedia for the first time. If we’re willing to concede Apple’s self-interest in exchange for the great hardware it creates, why must the web community judge Adobe software by such a harsh standard?

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Stand back and watch the iPad war play out

Photo illustration by Brook R. Corwin. Original photo licensed by Creative Commons for commercial use with modification

The iPad hits stores today, and in making the choice to buy one, you’re not just picking out a product.

You’re picking a side.

The $500-$800 tablet computer is perhaps the most polarizing device to hit the communications industry in the past decade. It has spawned both adoration and disgust among veteran tech writers. Journalists are having a field day speculating on how it might redefine the industry, with views highly mixed. Web content developers have either cried fair or foul with the iPad’s inability to run Flash, depending on what they think of the software program that runs the vast majority of animated and multimedia content on the Internet.

(Full disclosure: most of the websites I design, including my portfolio site, have heavy Flash components. So it’s hard for me to get too excited about a product that, if successful, would force me to redesign my work or pay money to another company to convert for an iPad audience)

But these are debates for tech heads and newsies. How will mainstream consumers pick their side? It won’t come down to whether it helps the journalism industry. It certainly won’t come down to love/hate of Flash.

Design and functionality will play a huge role. If society is ready to abandon the click culture that has conditioned our computer use for decades, then the iPad’s slick use of touchscreen will forever change how we access and share information. The iPad will never replace a mobile phone (it’s simply too big to take everywhere) but it could replace a laptop.

That gets us to the big question, a cultural query that ultimately decides whether the iPad redefines all media or fails miserably. How exactly do people want to use the web? Are they looking for an open-ended, creative experience without expectations? Or do they want a simplified, controlled environment streamlined to their established tastes?

Those falling in the first category will be frustrated by the iPad’s limitations. It runs only one application at a time, can’t handle complex software and doesn’t even have a U.S.B port. Applications must be purchased from the Apple app store to make the device useful. In short, it’s pretty lousy for those who want to build their own content, ironic since the initial appeal of Mac computers was all the built-in software that let you start creating right out of the box.

An iPad dominated world also severely restricts the audience for amateur content. Applications must be approved by Apple. The company’s rejection of Flash, one of the world’s most popular software tools, shows just how far it can flex its muscle to restrict what gets seen on its devices. Is this the next generation of the AOL model, which relies on herding consumers to partner websites rather than the web’s wild frontiers?

Then again, maybe this is just what the general public is looking for after a decade of exhaustion trying to navigate the web’s limitless choices. If all you want out of your computer is the ability to send email, share photos and get information online, then the iPad makes life easier. Its company-approved apps will tailor web content to meet your daily needs. Information will be personalized to the extent that you’ll never feel the need to wander. And how many people really need to use a built-in webcam anyway?

I can’t predict which camp attracts the majority of consumers. But the iPad will do a wonderful job of sorting, and from there we can start tailoring our communications strategies to fit the revamped model of Internet consumption. Hedge your bets and stay neutral for now. We’ll know soon enough which side wins out, and how they’ll rule the new era.

Flash vs. Dreamweaver: let the debate begin

At the start of my iMedia graduate program, web design was introduced via the sole conduit of Adobe Dreamweaver, the highly detailed but somewhat clunky (at least to the uninitiated) industry standard for building websites.

As those of us new to the task stumbled through mismanaged div tags, misplaced folders and just general mishaps, the web designer veterans promised something better was one the way. Something called Flash.

Three months later, Flash is here in all its smooth, dynamic and easy-to-grasp glory. Sure, some of its intricacies can be tricky, but you won’t gum up the whole project because you misnamed a file or tagged the wrong item back in the beginning. Everything is stored in a single document, compared to the mess of folders and assets that must be properly tracked through Dreamweaver.

Put it this way. It took me several days to create this somewhat flawed site in Dreamweaver. But it took just a night to create some satisfying pieces in Flash like this festival promotional piece, these web banners or this slideshow.

So the verdict is in right? Dreamweaver is relegated to hard drive exile in favor of its hipper cousin in the Adobe Creative Suite.

Not really. Rather than embrace Flash, my program is doubling back to Dreamweaver, with a reboot of lessons on the program’s detailed interface in my two production classes. It’s become apparent that for all of Flash’s pizzaz, it does a poor job at presenting large quantities of information. And sometimes its fancy graphics aren’t needed as much as a more clean-cut organization of content.

Learning more about Dreamweaver is a good thing, because in my three theory classes I’ve got at least four major website projects on the horizon. In interactive media, it’s not enough to simply write a report on a topic, you’ve got to visually demonstrate your research online.

For each project, I’ll have to make the choice of Flash or Dreamweaver as my program of choice. It’s a good debate to start having now, because companies and organizations are constantly evaluating which of the many software tools best gets their message across.

In the book Groundswell (a bible of sorts for the theory component of this program), one of the key warnings is not to employ technology just for the sake of using it. Even great software or fantastic social media platform falls flat if its function doesn’t fit with the strategy at hand (assuming you even have a strategy to begin with).

So as I get more proficient in both Flash and Dreamweaver through the next couple of months I’ll be taking notes not just on how to make the software work, but also what kinds of projects each is best suited for. By semester’s end, I expect every one of my web projects to have a little bit of both.