Friday, 24 February 2012

Flash: good bye and good riddance

Hmmm, so the news of the day is that Adobe are dropping flash support for GNU/linux. Oh praise the day it finally goes away for everyone ...

One can speculate on why, and why they're only `supporting Google':
  • Adobe are in the creation-tool business, why are they wasting so much resources on maintaining a crapply plugin they give away for free? i.e. there are compelling business reasons to kill it entirely.
  • More and more internet-enabled devices are unable or unwilling to support it; without the ubiquity of client access there is little reason to use it. This is also why silvelight will never be more than a niche. I don't see the point of JavaFX either unless it is available for free on all devices fast enough to run it (it going GPL shows clearly that Oracle know this too; they can't afford to maintain it for all platforms, and nobody would ever pay to license it - and even then in the end it'll probably just be a swing replacement for desktop development).
  • Paying clients are willing to prop up the legacy technology for the time being, so Adobe don't want to kill the whole project off. Pissing off paying customers isn't a long-term bread-winner.
  • Most of these paying clients do not care about GNU/Linux enough to keep it around there.
  • Google are willing to fund a partial solution: as a marketing exercise in order to move people to their application platform (otherwise known as a 'browser'). It's just a cynical exercise to gain market share.
  • It's basically 'the world' vs firefox. Proprietary companies want more control of the web pie, and will work together against firefox any way they can. e.g. see the HTML5 video drm proposal, the fuck-up with H.264 HTML5 vs OGG video, and so on.

Overall this isn't such a bad thing: even if it is just at the periphery, fewer projects will consider using this legacy technology. Already with Apple not allowing flash on their web-enabled mobile devices they have destined it to become history. Without its cross-platform ability it loses its main feature. It's just shit tech anyway; flash struggles doing much on my dual-core low-res thinkpad; it will be a while before ARM chips match that (ok, maybe 12 months in consumer devices), but the machine is fast enough to run other software quite well.

However, everyone seems to think HTML5 will be the answer. I think it will be a horrible mess harking back to the bad old days of netscape and microsoft extensions. Already most of the HTML5 demo's only work on one browser, or even a specific browser version. Most HTML5 video is in H.264 format: i.e. inaccessible from firefox by default. And you can't simply 'flash-block' a javascript animation: leading to an annoying browsing experience and a lot of wasted power animating web pages you're not even looking at.

I find it odd that HTML5 is being pushed so heavily: on the apple iphone you can't really do much more with it than simple games or animations. You can't even upload a file from a web-page (as far as i can tell), and device access is right out. To me the impression is that all the marketing hype is just FUD to get people from spending time on competing technology.

Some of the tech demo's are all very nice and all: but web software is still much shittier than a local application for interactivity and control, not to mention security. It's like using AMOS: it might be a lot easier to write a game, but you still end up with a shitty game. Down the track it's obviously aiming to be a 'be-all-end-all' RAD application development environment that makes writing simple applications easy; thing is, simple applications are already quite simple to write, and complex applications are always going to be complex to write. Adding the web tier adds a lot of complexity in itself.

Complexity is not your friend

The complexity of standard like HTML5 isn't there to benefit users or developers. It is added to benefit proprietary vendors and stifle competition by raising the barrier of entry to new competitors. And of course lawyers and other parasites end up getting a cut as well: the complexity is so great vendors must cross-license software in order to be able to get something working. That's even before you add issues like patents into the mix, which is just insanity.

HTML is already so complex that creating a fully compliant implementation is only possible by large multi-national corporations; and opera and mozilla. HTML5 only raises the bar higher and that's before you add all the proprietary extensions to the standard which are already proliferating.

Goodbye Freedoms

HTML5 applications will also be much harder to modify and control; even if the source is available, it may be impossible to create a local copy that works without the infrastructure on the server-side used to support it.

Thus forget about distributing and sharing your changes with other users, or hiring a third party to make a customisation tailored to your business.

Welcome to the Tabbed Desktop

So we're all moving toward a tabbed desktop. i.e. who needs multitasking when you can just swap applications at the press of a key ... Well, microsoft windows and the apple macintosh pretty much forced this from the start because their systems were so poor at multitasking; but real systems have been able to utilise multiple overlapping windows in a way which improves user productivity for decades.

But it seems we're going back to the full-screen application model. Except now the applications are running in a crappy single-threaded virtual machine and being loaded remotely.

Hang on, I think thats 80's calling ... they're asking how that WIMP thing worked out ...

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