Flash, what is it good for?

Aug 29 2009 Published by under ActionScript, Flash, Silverlight

There seems to have been a lot of Flash bashing, both within the community and without, in the last few weeks. In terms of the external criticism, I refrained from a knee jerk reaction: “Flash sucks? Well, YOU suck!” and actually took a look for myself at the state of Flash. Of course, there are some on the outside who would say that there is no excuse for Flash anywhere ever. They refuse to even install the Flash player plugin on their machine. On the other end of the spectrum are those who think that Flash is the be-all and end-all. If it can’t be done in Flash, it isn’t worth doing.

I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle. OK, probably somewhat towards the Flash fanatic side, but not too far. Flash is not the right answer for every problem. There is definitely the phenomenon of “when all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail” at work. So what IS Flash good for? Well, first, let’s look at what you CAN do with it, and then see how suitable it is for those purposes.

Web Sites
Yes, you CAN make a full web site in Flash. Should you? I don’t want to say resoundingly NO, but if you do so I think you should have a damn good reason for doing so. And when I say “Flash” I mean Flash, Flex, whatever. A SWF-based site. First of all, there are sites that should never be done in Flash. This category includes most, almost all, sites.

My reasoning for this goes back to a local Macromedia event in Boston way back in 2004. Mike Downey, who was kind of new on the scene, was in town talking about Flash. This was when MX 2004 was coming in and the word “Rich” was starting to mingle with the word “Application” and we were about to get RIAs rammed down our throats. 🙂 But Mike was talking about richness and experience. That talk really stuck with me. Flash is awesome for creating experiences. The possible richness of it – the media, the motion, the interactivity – draw you in and make you part of what’s going on.

That’s awesome, but not always appropriate. For the vast, vast majority of sites, the user is going there to get some information. He or she wants to click a link or type a URL, have the site show up fast, see the directions, the business hours, what’s on the menu and how much it costs, etc. and get out. He doesn’t WANT an EXPERIENCE. he wants data. Fast. A preloader stands right between the user and the data he is there to get. So does an intro. So does a page transition if it takes longer than just changing pages. Animation, music, and sound effects are mostly distractions to the information the user is there to get. That’s not to say that a purely informational site has to be ugly or Jakob-Neilson-bland. I think decent aesthetics make a site easier to use. But most of that rich experience stuff people use Flash to create is misused if used for most web sites.

So are there any web sites where Flash IS a good choice? Yes, I think so. Anything where the site is about an experience more than information, Flash gives you great tools to create that experience. Artists’ web sites (musical, visual, or otherwise) are great candidates. If you’re going to check out a band’s or a singer’s web site, there’s a good chance you are looking to see what that artist’s music is like – what the experience will be like. Flash is one of the best ways to incorporate music into a site (custom aesthetic controls, rather than generic, fugly Quicktime embedded ones), and also allows you all kinds of visuals that can go along with the music to create an atmosphere that really advertises that artist. Still, you have to ask if it makes sense to do a full Flash site, or just do certain parts in Flash.

A photographer’s or other visual artist’s portfolio site is also a good candidate for a well done Flash site too. I’m not saying that every artist should do their site in Flash, or that there are no other alternatives. Just saying that these are the kinds of sites where it can make sense to do a Flash web site.

Now, I’m walking a fine line here, because the company I work for, Infrared5, has a full Flash web site. 🙂 But I think there is some justification there too. Basically, we are a company that does very visual Flash stuff. The site really is a portfolio piece of the work that we have done and the kind of work we can do, more than somewhere someone would go to get information. However, if I were going to change it, I would probably have an initial simple HTML splash page with the company name, info, address, phone number, etc. and a button to enter the full site. That way, if someone wanted just that info, we’d be putting nothing in their way.

This brings up another category – pure advertisement sites. Movie sites, TV show sites, new car brand sites. Sadly, most of these are done pretty poorly, but all are designed to deliver an experience that makes you want to buy car x, or watch such and such a show. From my experience, the problem with most of these sites is they are designed by ad agencies by the same people who are doing the print and media campaigns, and don’t know that web interaction design is something different.

OK, other than web sites, what is Flash good for.

Video

Of course, this is the killer. It’s almost safe to say that video on the web IS Flash. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Flash video has pwned the web. I know some of you are raising your hand and dying to shout out Silverlight or tell me about the zillions of Quicktime files floating around the net. I will freely admit that Silverlight video is awesome. The quality is great. Various sports franchises and broadcasting networks keep flirting with it, going back and forth between SL and Flash. But say you want to deliver web video. What are you going to do? If you are big enough that Microsoft thinks it will look good to have you as a Silverlight Video customer, they’ll probably build your whole solution for you. Note, that Adobe would probably do the same thing. But if you’re not that big, what are you going to do? There are no solutions for Silverlight (yet) like there are for Flash. Just want to throw up a bunch of video for cheap? Youtube and Vimeo. Make an account, upload your content, you have decent quality video available for the world in minutes. Want to get more serious? Brightcove offers a full service – content management, syndication, scheduling, georestriction, advertisement, etc. I’m sure they have competitors too. As far as I know, if you go Silverlight, you’re building your own solution, or paying someone to build it for you.

Of course, this will change. Silverlight is new in the market and growing and maturing. It will get there. As a matter of fact, back when Silverlight was first coming out, Brightcove announced itself as a Microsoft partner with the intent to bring Silverlight solutions on board. Not sure what happened with that, but I have no doubt it will happen eventually.

Then there’s been a lot of buzz about HTML 5 and video. Can’t say I know much about it. At any rate, it’s something to keep an eye on, but not any kind of viable option in the marketplace at the moment.

Games

OK, this post is getting longer than I wanted, but I have to say that Flash pretty much rules the web in terms of games too. If you want to make a game and put it on the web, chances are you are going to do that game in Flash. End of story really. yes, there’s Unity, I know. We’ll see if it gains ground. Developers are excited about it right now, but I don’t see any hugely popular Unity based games out there yet. (Not saying there aren’t any, just haven’t heard.)

Education/Visualization/Artistic

Another huge potential here. The visual aspect of Flash along with its interaction and data handling capabilities make it ideal for data visualization and learning activities. For data vis, look no further than gapminder: http://graphs.gapminder.org/world/

A few years back I was working for an educational software company and did some really great learning activities for web-based learning tools. At the time, doing it in anything other than Flash really would have been unthinkable.

On the artistic front, I look to my own Art From Code web site (ctually, there’s no Flash there, but it’s all created from Flash), or people like Erik Natzke, Dr. Woohoo, Jared Tarbell, etc. Here, Flash is just one tool among many for creating algorithmic art.

Rich Internet Applications

This is a tough one. My gut feeling tells me that there must be some killer examples of these, but I can’t think of any Flash based RIAs that I use on a regular basis. My feeling is that most RIAs are actually made for companies and used in house. I know many of the RIAs my company has worked on fall into this category. The one Flash App I do use regularly is my desktop Twitter client, which actually falls into the next category.

Desktop Apps

Here we are talking AIR. Again, the only AIR app I use on a daily basis is TweetDeck. Before that, Twhirl. Somehow Twitter emerged about the same time AIR did and the two got married and had a few dozen AIR-based Twitter client babies. Other than that (and my own KClipper app I use now and then for my Kindle) though, I don’t think there are any other AIR apps I use. I think this is one area that’s in danger of falling into the “hammer” analogy mentioned above. Developer knows Flash. Developer wants to make a desktop app. Developer makes desktop app with Flash. Quick and easy solution? Yes. Best solution? …maybe. In some ways I feel that Adobe has encouraged the hammer philosophy by making desktop apps another nail you can hit with the Flash hammer. However, the one huge selling point of AIR is its cross platform capability. I don’t know of any other app solution that currently delivers on the “write once, run anywhere” promise as successfully as AIR does today.

OK, I’m done, almost. I guess my a main point is that when most people go off the handle about how much Flash sucks, they almost always seem to be referring to Flash web sites. I tend to agree with them there. But that doesn’t mean Flash is dead or has no use.

The other point I wanted to address before I end off this monster post is that there are other technologies that are coming into play, or growing and maturing. I’ve seen some stuff done in JavaScript in the last year or so that is pretty mind blowing. Certainly not what I thought JavaScript was capable of. Both in terms of application development and interactive graphics and animation. Definitely an area to watch. Just wanted to acknowledge that so nobody accuses me of having my head in the sand.

OK, enough, my fingers are tired. Looking forward to comments.

67 responses so far

  • DannyT says:

    Not sure if you intentionally missed this but another area that is dominated by flash is online advertising. Like it or loathe it (more than likely loathe), Flash rules advertising online.

    From the users perspective yes it sucks, but from the ad agency and ad customers begging to jump in the way and make a nuisance of themselves it’s great. And unfortunately it must work hence every even remotely popular website will have said irritating distractions.

  • Andy Li says:

    For the Visualization/Artistic part, I think we cannot say Flash is a very good platform/language. Yes, Flash is developed with rich visuals in mind, so the build-in media handling is good and easy. But Flash is still toooooooo slow when a large dataset is used or you wanna do some complex visual works it will crash the browser (even not crash, loop >15 seconds -> you will get nothing).

  • arpit says:

    Insightful post as always. I am getting tired of Flash bashing posts that talk more of poorly implemented products than the core technology. I am waiting for someone to say “That really annoying ad should really have been done in html5” ;).
    Air is definitely the tricky one. I have been looking for options for cross platform applications and there isnt much out there, besides Java. I have both a mac and a PC that I use almost to the same extent so making something for one platform alone doesnt sound to too good. On the flip side, Java’s UI tier tech is pretty lame, and Python and Ruby barely have UI toolkits. I am really waiting for multi threaded AIR or a good solution for integrating AIR with some local processes (Merapi maybe, but I like python better).

  • kp says:

    Danny, yeah, advertising ran through my mind a couple of times while writing, but somehow never made it to the page. You are absolutely right though.

  • Mike Britton says:

    I use Flash for my blog. Granted it has video and audio playback capabilities and other stuff, but I realize a blog isn’t the best medium for Flash. As a Flash developer, I keep it because it’s proven to be a good way to demonstrate my skills to prospective clients. It also prevents a lot of blogspam. Would I recommend others follow my example? No, of course.

    I’m also of the mindset that nothing should ever be set in stone. Often when someone declares how things should be, someone else comes along and proves otherwise. Rules are made to be broken. Dogma can only serve to create limitations and stifle creativity.

    Very interesting post, thanks. I generally agree with most of your points.

    • kp says:

      Mike, I’m hoping that nothing I said could be taken as dogma. I’m 99% anti-dogma. My dogma got ran over by my karma. (thanks, I’ll be here all week!) All I’m saying about Flash web sites is have a good reason for doing it and know the pros and cons.

  • […] Here is the original post: Flash, what is it good for? […]

  • Great post. It’s been my experience that map-mashups are better with Flash because complex graphics overlaid map tiles just perform better than AJAX attempts. No worries about cross-platform cross-browser h@x. Better environment to develop in too.

  • Stephen A says:

    I started web development many years ago with the understanding that Flash was pure evil and should be avoided at all costs, and indeed there are many problems with it. However, after two years of working with it I can honestly say that some of the stuff that you can do in Flash is absolutely astounding. I wish more people who hated Flash had a chance to work with it to build RIAs. Sure it’s not perfect, but how else can you create a voice comparison application complete with waveform graphs and everything and be sure that 99% of all users of your website will have no problems with it at all.

  • ilteris says:

    Your analysis pretty much sums it up for me. The moral of the story I get from a developer’s point of view is it’s important to be flexible across different platforms as much as possible to be prepared avoid jerking your knee for obvious situations. Is this bad? I don’t think so. Actually I believe learning how different tools work add to your capabilities for adaptation which is crucial for survival.

  • Erick T says:

    For me, the biggest issue with using Flash is security. Until Flash get its act together in terms of security, HTML + JS or Silverlight is going to be my preference. I’ve personally seen too many exploits that rely on Flash’s (and Acrobat) sloppy security.

  • Ranoka says:

    Flash Player isn’t really where my big frustration is at, other than probably being the biggest cause of browser crashes and high cpu (both in browser and desktop with Air). I like the Flash Player.

    My biggest problem is with Flash Professional, the authoring environment. I’ve been using Flash since MX, professionally every day for 4 years.

    I used to really love Flash back when I was using Flash Pro 8, it’s the most stable/fastest version that has the bitmap modes. I’ve been forced to use CS3 because Flash 8 doesn’t support AS3, CS3 is not bad, it’s a slower less stable version of 8 pretty much, for animation. We saw it as a temporary version until things improved and we could move on from it in 18 months and forget about it.

    I don’t really know how to say this. I’ll come straight out with it, CS4 was hugely disappointing and made me fall out of love with Flash a little! It’s slower, buggier, less stable and has workflow issues… I have tried to use it to do my job, and it takes a lot longer to get what I need done — mostly because of waiting for the beachball/hour glass and recovering from crashes. I’ve been forced to stay with CS3 even though I was really looking forward to using CS4 on a daily basis(until I tried it).

    The only people I’ve heard that really like CS4 don’t use it for intensive animation/production work. Hobbyists and coders seem to like it, but none of the every day creative professionals I’ve talked to like it…

    I’m really dreading the situation where CS4 is the only version they have when I start work somewhere and am forced to do my job with it.

    I feel like we(animators/designers) are stuck with CS3, which we were hoping to move on from as soon as CS4 came out, and are stuck with it and just hoping that CS5 will be better. I wish I could use Flash 8 again, but can’t because of AS3.

    Please, Adobe, if you’re reading this. For Flash CS5, make stability, speed, bug fixes and workflow the main focuses, and forget adding gimmicky half implemented flashy features that aren’t very usable. I would pay and upgrade in a heartbeat if CS5 lets me do my work faster!

    I know this is long, but I feel I need to represent the another slice of the Flash community. I want to love Flash again, I really do.

    (When I do AS3, I use FDT. The Actions panel in Flash is insanely slow considering it doesn’t do the intellisense type stuff other IDEs do, and harder to use for class based projects — I also love how doing auto format breaks that code…).

  • Ira says:

    Nice post Keith, though I thought I was having a flashback (no pun intended) to 10 years ago. One thing that has remained consistent is that Flash–the pop software diva that she is–elicits strong reactions. Personally I have had my own long turbulent, roller coaster like relationship with the “software formally known as Macromedia”. I still remember the early infatuation, which blossomed into a true love passionate affair, before numerous break-ups, off-again-on-agains, codependency, friends with privileges, restraining orders, visitation and finally acceptance. Of course, as we both know, at some point I got in bed with P, which has introduced some complexity in the relationship.

    I’ll have some more to say about this later in the year in a considerably larger format. Thanks again for the great post.

  • sascha/hdrs says:

    Agree! However I’d like to see Flash (or rather ActionScipt) in the future as a way to create middle to large scale games on the desktop (and web in some cases). I know, right now I could switch to C++, Python, Unity3D or other universal platforms or engines to create full-blown games but that would require a lot of time learning the new language and I’d like to see Flash getting more into that area because Flash already has one foot in it and because Flash is very comfortable in handling media assets. It’s probably also for some part because I want to prove that Flash can do full-blown games and not just five minute web games.

  • Subb says:

    Every time I think about this topic it sums up to something like “flash is trying to be good at too many things and often fall short in many areas”. You can see it in your post and in some comments above.

    The player’s API is kind of undecided whether it wants to be low or high level (new text engine or ByteArray vs display list). In my opinion, it should be way more low level, simply because it’s easy to create high level API from low level ones, but the contrary is impossible. Developer could build much more complex and interesting stuff if they had a lower level control of the player. Also, the language is kinda old now compared to other modern languages, lacking a lot of feature to be truly Object-Oriented and I still don’t understand why Adobe is making such a big deal with following ECMA standard (and with AS3, they have failed to do so anyway).

    I remember when Silverlight was launch, pretty much every flash blogger was trying to kill the “flash killer” before it was even born. And now, slowly, with C# and a much stronger and well defined API, it’s winning a couple of flash heart here and there. People start to point Flash as the bad guy! Adobe should slow down the product factory (Flash Catalyst… and zillions of other new products at MAX this year), stop releasing half-baked products and work hard to deliver now what could be Flash Player 13 at the current rate.

  • Benny says:

    I think a particular group of people got very annoyed by Flash misuse/overuse in pop up / overlay ads and site intros. The fact that almost everybody has flash 9/10 installed on their machines tells me the ‘hate-it’ group is a minority though. But I know that they can be very loud and seem to be ever-present when news about Flash pops up 😉

    As a site developer/designer I became to love flash for it’s cross browser, cross platform availability. No more hacks to get your designs rendered as you intended in every browser and on every platform, isn’t that a dream come true for any designer?
    This is the reason for me to consider Flash also for sites that could be done in 100% HTML/JS. A flash site can be extremely light weight too you know 😉 … and of course there is always the non-flash plain-text/low tech alternative to suite the Flash-disabled visitors. The only reason not to use Flash for almost any site is the limited support for rich text (CSS/HTML) by the TextField. The new Text Layout Framework is great but unfortunately very huge too (so far), so that’s a bit worrying and might keep me switching between HTML designs and Flash designs for some time to come.

  • Erik says:

    Very nice post! I totally agree with it.

    “My feeling is that most RIAs are actually made for companies and used in house.”

    This is true for all of our bigger RIA apps. Flex is very suitable for data management.

    There is an overlap of about 70% where it does not matter what technology you use to build your application. Here we make a decision based on available resources within the company. If we have more Flash people available, it will be done in Flash, if we have more HTML-JavaScript-CSS guys available, it will be done with that.

    Javascript to me feels like going back to the ActionScript 1 days, which is not fun if you are used to ActionScript 3. I must say that this gap is getting smaller with tools like Haxe and Google Web Toolkit.

    Again, thanks for putting down in words what I think.

    Greetz Erik

  • Great post Keith, and I (boringly 😉 ) agree with everything you say. My experience with online apps is that AJAX is better for most things that I use regularly.

    I’ve also been experimenting with other technologies and have had a brief foray into traditional web development using Django, Javascript and have also looked at HTML Canvas (http://www.sebleedelisle.com/2009/08/3d-landscape-in-html-canvas/). It’s been a really good experience, things have changed a lot, and this additional knowledge has already helped in my day to day work.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to be able to contribute sensibly to the discussion it really helps to have experience of the different technologies available.

    Which is, actually, what you’re saying. 🙂

    Seb

  • Becksi says:

    Flash is not perfect but the AJAX/HTML/CSS alternative is not so good either: Browser differences, ridicilous complexity of CSS, primitivity of javascript, difficulty of cross-domain requests with AJAX, impossibility to extend DOM elements, lacking drawing, media and animation capabilities are some issues that come into mind.

  • kp says:

    Becksi, I think you might be amazed at how far some stuff has come in terms of drawing, media, and animation capabilities. A few demos:

    http://antisocial.demozoo.org/demo.html

    http://www.sebleedelisle.com/2009/08/3d-landscape-in-html-canvas/

    http://www.p01.org/releases/

  • Theo Denovan says:

    Great article, I agree that flex/flash feels intuitively right for RIA applications and many of the applications we work on as well are for internal processes at companies; I think that flash-based RIAs are appropriate for a small-to-medium company where compatibility and flexibility doesn’t immediately become an issue.

    In large companies people expect access to the RIA from a variety of devices (including mobile devices) and ultimately HTML/CSS/JS websites will always be more accessible and compatible than flash.

    RIAs are certainly a manifestation of flash which I’d like to see some more examples of.

  • Hey Keith,

    You started out this post by saying there has been some notable amount of Flash bashing in the last few weeks.. You did not say why? Where do you think this is coming from? Do you think this is a tactic by advocates for html5? I’v noticed that when a new tech comes out so does the bad mouthing about flash. I’v seen this same trend when silver light was introduced, and I am seeing it now that html5 claims to be the end of flash for video and 3d. It’s funny it always turns into a nerd fight. The thing I notice is that people who talk the most shit are the ones that know the least about the tech there shitting on.

  • personman says:

    You seem to have forgotten Flash animation, the thing that Flash was made for. Think sites like Homestar Runner, Neurotically Yours, and Fat-Pie.

  • mattjpoole says:

    I think its all been said already, but amusingly the three links you posted back to Becksi threw js errors for me 🙂 nuff said.

    Matt

  • polyGeek says:

    I get a lot of criticism for RunPee.com being done in Flash/Flex. Mainly because it makes it nearly impossible to access the site via a mobile phone. And of course due to the data the site provides it’s something that lots of people want on their mobile phone.

    But I’ve turned that to my advantage. By having mobile phone apps built I can sell them and make money. If the site had been done in HTML there would be no demand for it.

    Of course I built the site in Flash because I’m a Flash developer. I used to do HTML/Javascript but don’t plan on ever going down that road again. I hated the constant barrage of browser issues to solve. Weather it’s because I’m a poor developer or not my experience was horrible. But with Flash I feel more comfortable building what I can imagine. That’s why I switched over.

    That being said the next project I’m working on will be an HTML site. I’m farming the work out to someone who is experienced doing that sort of thing while I focus on the Flash widgets that will be integrated into the site. While I would love to build the entire site in Flex I can see that it wouldn’t be the best choice.

  • kp says:

    Josh, I think the internal bashing started out with a couple of posts by Ted Patrick:

    http://onflash.org/ted/2009/08/future-of-flash-platform.php
    http://onflash.org/ted/2009/08/flash-platform-community-of-sharing.php

    Note, these were not bashes, but incited quite a bit of criticism from the community, starting with Joa Ebert:

    http://blog.joa-ebert.com/2009/08/06/this-is-an-outrage/

    I’m not saying all the criticism wasn’t called for, but it kind of took a life of its own for a week or so. It seemed like if you weren’t bitching about Adobe, something was wrong with you.

    The particular outside criticism I’m referring to is a blog post by Jeff LaMarche:

    http://iphonedevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/08/flash-is-dead-long-live-flash.html

    Jeff brings up many good points, but there’s obviously some anti-Flash bias there. Whatever. I have a pro-flash bias.

    So, no, I don’t think it’s any kind of coordinated tactic. Just twitter-enabled viral bitching. 🙂

  • kp says:

    For sure, cross platform/browser issues are a MAJOR issue in developing with Ajax/JS/HTML. I understand that a lot of the major libraries out there account for a lot of the differences, but it still requires a lot more testing than Flash, and if you’re not using one of those frameworks, I imagine it would be a nightmare.

  • Rezmason says:

    I think you need to green-thread, Andy Li. ActionScript is asynchronous, and needs to complete its event loop at least once every fifteen seconds (or however long you set its script timeout period to be). Instead of iterating over a huge data set in one fell swoop, break the loop into pieces so that it can be interrupted and continued.

    For instance, here’s a Delaunay triangulation of ~3000 points, green-threaded to avoid clobbering the event loop. (Click to begin.) A lot of the latency just comes from drawing the resulting image. http://rezmason.net/acg/delaunay_nlogn_staging.swf

  • Patrick Pietens says:

    I’ve been working with Flash since version 4.0. Loved it for years. But lately I’m looking at other, more attractive alternatives. The biggest issue with F;ash is it lacks performance.

    It’s so frustrating to see a fully 3D game in Flash running on 5fps on a Macbook Pro. Come on guys.

    So,
    Until Flash isn’t giving us the power we need/ask for I’m flirting with Unity3D and Silverlight (C# FTW!)

  • kp says:

    Andy Li, as Rezmason said, Flash can handle plenty of data. You just need to know how to handle it. Both Joa Ebert and Ralph Hauwert have done real time 3D processing on over 300,000 3D points, quite smoothly. If you’re getting 15 second timeouts, you’re doing it wrong. The platform has its limitations, but it has its workarounds too. You have to program the platform, not pretend it’s something else and complain because it’s not.

  • Dan Mall says:

    LOVE this post, Keith. This is the start of a great conversation, as long as people are open-minded enough to have it.

    This is exactly what I love talking about in my most recent conference talk: “Flash and Web Standards: Getting Along on the Playground.” I recently gave it at An Event Apart Boston and will be giving it at Flashpitt in October. The main idea is that the most appropriate tool should be used, and a great way to validate appropriateness is to be objectively familiar with what’s out there, be it Flash, JavaScript, CSS, HTML, or anything else.

    Thanks for opening up the opportunity for dialog about this topic. It definitely needs to be talked about.

  • geekounet says:

    « Of course, there are some on the outside who would say that there is no excuse for Flash anywhere ever. They refuse to even install the Flash player plugin on their machine. »
    Some people just _can’t_ install the Flash player, because Adobe has no support for their OSes. For example I’m a FreeBSD user, and there no flash player plugin for it, and Adobe still don’t want to make any effort to make it (there’s still Linux emulation, but 32bit only, and that’s not a real solution).

    Think of accessibility for everyone and real web standards, and ban Flash from the web, there are many better alternatives. 😉

  • Serious says:

    I think flash in good for certain things but overall I am not impressed where it has come since day 1. It is still very clunky from a design standpoint and some things that should be easy to do are still a pain in the ass. I use flash in a limited amount and usually end up talking my clients out of it if I can. P.S. Can someone tell me why iPhone still doesn’t show flash sites? -Serious

  • chris says:

    Looks Like we’re not the only ones with love letters to flash.

    http://www.thegood.com/social/index.php/blog/an-ode-to-flash-a-call-to-arms/

  • kp says:

    geekounet, so you are upset because you can’t install it? or you want to ban it? make up your mind. or is it a case of “if i can’t have it, nobody should.”? 🙂

    and i don’t get all the talk about standards in relation to flash. what is the purpose of standards? so that things are standard? so, like i can write a javascript program and have it run in any browser – because javascript is standard? so why is the thing that everyone picks on for not being a standard, the only thing i can code cross platform/cross browser with ANY degree of confidence?

    It’s a real question, not a snide comment. I don’t know much about standards, but it seems like a bad joke.

  • JimB says:

    Read Jeff LaMarche’s post and while I can sympathize, I think any meaningful cricticism of a particular web technology needs to distnguish between the technology itself and its implementation. As for the future of Flash, I certainly hope the folks at Adobe take a cue from the lastest OSX Snow Leopard upgrade. I’d like to see less file size, better performance across the board, and a much better performing IDE to work in, regardless of platform.

  • chris j says:

    Flash was a godsend for designers who could at last design without the fear that they would have to spend the next 15 weeks trying to make everything work in every browser.
    It was design freedom and there is some incredible artistic work being done. But…
    Perhaps for these same reasons there has been abuse.
    Arty types love all the latest fascinations.
    Having to wait out preloaders and intros while trying to order a takeaway or find a local plumber may be the cause of a lot of the frustration.
    But for designers flash is reliable and eliminates many hours of headaches spent trying to coerce IE to behave itself

  • Adrian says:

    I think a great use of flash is operating system kinds of things. Why not take a computer, install Linux and the flash player on top of it, and then make a os-like flash app? That will probably be the only way to create user interfaces like the phone in the Aurora concept series ( http://www.adaptivepath.com/aurora/ ). The chumby ( http://www.chumby.com/ ) is an open source device that models exactly what I’m talking about with Flash Lite.

  • Nice post!

    I think this guy (http://iphonedevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/08/flash-is-dead-long-live-flash.html) was talking mainly about Mobile devices. Anyway he had answers from Scott Janousek.

    You´ve been working with the iPhone SDK, I think the debate now is about the future of Flash on mobile devices. Am I right?

  • Patrick Pietens says:

    You’re talking about workarounds to give Flash a performance boost. You are mentioning Ralph and Joa and there 300.000 particles demos. Those two guys are probably two of the best (AS3) developers today. Furthermore, when you’re a on a tight schedule working on a 100k Flash project you don’t have the time to look for workarounds.

  • Iain says:

    See blurst.com for those killer Unity3D games.

  • Mike Morris says:

    Check out Balsamiq Mockups for a killer AIR app… http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups

  • So I honestly can say that it is feasible to build a fully flash site that serves the quick hit need of information and present that information very quickly–every bit as quick as an HTML website can.

    I believe if you have clear use case priorities for your site or application you can use any technology you want and ensure that you meet those needs appropriately. Flash can be staged to have an extremely quick immediate load of UI and content and then stage a 2nd layer load of the rest of the site.

    Also, regarding SEO, it’s quite easy to make a site completely search engine friendly via SWF Object div replace strategies. (example: Google search for “euro 2008 imagery” and then top result.

    All that to say, if you have clear objectives in place for the user needs you want to meet and if you use the solution to meet those needs then you can use whatever technology you want.

    I think its misleading to say Flash is bad for this and HTML is bad for that. It’s all HOW those technologies are used.

  • kp says:

    Tony, yeah, I’m not dogmatic about it myself. But I think for a *web site*, the preference should be HTML, and if you go with Flash, have a reason for going with it. I’m not sure that “Flash is all I know” is a very good reason. Definitely not a good reason for a large company.

  • DjacK Height says:

    “Flash sucks? Well, YOU suck!”

    I agree with that. Flash is the definer in the market. Flash does it first, and the rest follow. This is because Flash is the most versatile the most widely accepted, and the gold standard for the internet. Because of the complete control of multimedia offered, Flash simply out performs in every class other than ones defined by other large players in the internet market (browsers, operating systems, hardware manufacturers). If Flash was ever fully accepted and available, or if consumers were given a choice, there would be Flash everywhere because it is so nice and Flex-ible. To deny such would be to promote falsehoods. The next evolutionary question however is well how far should Flash be allowed to go? I say as much as possible. Others argue for the need for simpler systems based on text mark up for more standards based internet experience. Regardless, I’m not worried at all about the future of Flash as it continues to offer incredible value and capability and acceptance far beyond that of any competitors. Lastly, if a new technology ever did come around that could truly usurp Flash and for good reason, so be it. The simple truth is that said technology just does not exist. As such, an internet “world view” which is qualified today accepts the combination and mash-up of multiple technologies in order to accomplish any modern interface, which undoubtedly includes Flash and the Flash player plug-in.

    Use what works best whenever needed.

    DjacK

  • Seph says:

    i settled myself to work on something that im hoping is new. and im not talking about only the program part, but integrating flash to the physical interaction of every user, and to provide new experience for people away from their computers. lets just hope though i have enough money and time to finish these project asap cause i really thought this would be an exciting one. =)

    anyway, i still think flash is still useful in many ways and that we cannot reject or consider not to use flash to any type of projects, whether it would be for web, desktop application or mobile. regardless to what people may say about flash, be good or bad, sometimes the only thing that matters is the concept and the creativity of the project. whether its been developed using flash 4 or flash cs4.

  • Dave Sparks says:

    “when all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail”

    Lovely quote, I think the article rings very true – there is a lot of flash dissing at the moment and I think that’s due a lot of inappropriate usage but it does still have a place in the web world, and no doubt a significant one.

  • […] posted on BIT – 101 blog (great blog by the way). The topic of this article is “Flash, what is it good for?” really great read. I wont explain what it is about because the topic explains it perfectly […]

  • Joel Fiser says:

    That old nugget again – “Flash shouldn’t be used for entire websites” is outdated and just plain wrong.

    You can make a Flash website as heavy or as light as you want. a SWF can weight in at 0 k. Or it can be several Mgs. If it’s too heavy, it’s your fault.

    You can build a SWF that requires tons of CPU or none. AS3 processes as fast as or faster than JavaScript. If it’s slow, it’s your fault.

    Flash has the HUGE advantage of looking the same across browsers and across platforms.

    Flash can load any font you want.

    You can be wayyyy more creative with Flash.

    The only limiting factor with Flash is the programmer’s ability. Keith, I know you’re a kick-ass effects programmer (from your book). I don’t know how you are at making efficient systems or if you’ve ever cared about them. But you can do pretty much anything you want with Flash. Including creating a lean, sleek and efficient software machine.

  • […] to Google Analytics!Flash, what is it good for?Bit-101’s Keith Peters waxes lyrical on why Flash still has its place when it comes to certain types of Web design/development. But what are those areas where Flash […]

  • DavidDoull says:

    I agree with Mike that balsamiq mockups is an example of an AIR app that quite a lot of people use every day for a serious use rather than novelty. Air is still relatively new so it may take a little while before a lot of apps on your desktop are made with air.

    Picnik.com and all the similar web based photo editors are examples of web RIA apps that are used by a broad audience. And I think flash is still the best tool for web based image editing etc.

  • Freddy says:

    Flash, what is it good for?, not the answer you would expect:

    Flash is good to get me a steady job, freelances from other parts of the world (thanks to what I can do with Flash),money, food, clothes, car, travels, etc.

    And it’s been doing that for the last 10 years for me, should I care when some people think Flash sucks? 🙂

    Btw. the only thing I have yet to try on your list is desktop development… and I think you missed mobile content on your list 😉

  • […] of turning the platform into a jack of all trades but a master of none. With the recent outburst of contempt and frustration from developers in the scene, its appearing that the inevitable has reached us. In […]

  • kp says:

    I have to say, I’m surprised at the number of people here advocating full Flash sites. I still don’t necessarily agree, but for some reason it makes me happy to see that sentiment!

  • kp says:

    Freddy, I couldn’t agree more. Flash has been very, very good for me.

  • Kent says:

    Currently I use flash for prototyping, demo work and non standard desktop applications (Kiosk,educational material, etc). I have toned back my use of flash on the general web. Lots of people have flash file blockers turned on in there browsers. I have done some incredible full flash site stuff for corporate intranets especially earlier on in my flash freelance career. I am of the opinion that flash isn’t fading its just that its role is changing. KP is correct flash video pwns! I actual get annoyed sometimes at its prevalence when I am surfing the web on my IPhone because a lot of the videos will not work, for obvious reasons, oh well such is life.

  • Benny says:

    kp: “Yes, you CAN make a full web site in Flash. Should you? I don’t want to say resoundingly NO, but if you do so I think you should have a damn good reason for doing so.”

    kp: “I have to say, I’m surprised at the number of people here advocating full Flash sites. I still don’t necessarily agree, but for some reason it makes me happy to see that sentiment!”

    Well let me help you 😉 -> flash displays my designs (pretty much) cross platform/browser as intended including any font I might choose.

    If you provide a low tech alternative if the correct Flash Player isn’t available then why not always have Flash as an option for any type of site design?

    There is nobody forcing you to use intros, transitions, preloaders, embeded fonts etc you know 😉 … everything in Flash can be as light weight as you want and things can be loaded on demand, so need for AJAX type of solutions.

    kp: “For the vast, vast majority of sites, the user is going there to get some information. He or she wants to click a link or type a URL, have the site show up fast, see the directions, the business hours, what’s on the menu and how much it costs, etc. and get out. He doesn’t WANT an EXPERIENCE. he wants data. Fast.”

    A Flash site can provide this just like an HTML site, some times even better due to the almost unlimited options you have to present the info or .e.g. to add interactivity so the visitor can explore/drill down into/… the provided info while deeper/extended data can be loaded on demand.

  • Jacob says:

    well said benny. I think layout and browser compatibility is a huge reason full flash sites are great for desktop browsing. Obviously w/ mobile browsing it can be an issue, but providing a mobile version is something that more sites are doing these days. having a different version for mobile is generally more practical anyway so it’s easier to browse so you can avoid pinch zooming while browsing which is cool, but still makes the experience more difficult.

    I generally always talk my clients into full flash sites because of that consistency they get. There are very few known issues with browser compatibility in flash and usually simple work arounds for them as opposed the css solution which is never a simple work around. Some might call it laziness, but i think that when your clients are still expecting things to work in IE 6, you have a friend in flash for making sure things look the way you want.

  • Flash is just great for game development!!!
    I developed over 40 games for 10 major gaming websites and all i can say is that they are now more popular then i ever hoped.

  • Matt Searles says:

    Ok, I admit it, I’m more on the recovering fanatic side of the fence but.. couldn’t you make an experience that is about getting a user to the user’s desired data as quickly as possible, and do that in Flash? Is it possible, because Flash doesn’t suffer from the usual browser limitations, that you could actually make A BETTER USER INTERFACE?

  • Kofi Addaquay says:

    @Andy Li. if you think flash doesnt handle large sets of data…you will be surprised it blows many away. here is proof. check of this benchmark tool.

    http://www.jamesward.com/census/

  • bfs says:

    Yes Flash is great because you do not need to do hacks and tricks for different browsers, it just works out of the box, but still complete site in flash is not very SEO friendly. For me flash is more RIA tool than website creating tool, and with Adobe air it becomes very powerfull. Great tool for games and desktop applications and sure number one for user interfaces.

  • Andy Li says:

    Thanks all the replies to my comment 🙂
    I know what you mean. Say green thread, I’ve been using async-threading (http://code.google.com/p/async-threading/) for quite a long time. I think it should be built-in instead of using/writing a library.
    And it is annoying to do all these instead of actually implementing features and functions.
    And as I’m talking the “Visualization/Artistic” part, what I really mean is real-time 3D rendering, image processing, sound handling etc. Which are all better in Processing/OpenFrameworks etc. 😛

  • […] with chants that either HTML 5, AJAX or Silverlight were going to come along to kill flash. (ref: bit101- flash what is it good for) Im not worried, html 5/ajax is great for some things but it’s not the best solution for […]

  • I think HTML5 and flash each have their uses, and shpuld not exclude one another.

    Flash is great for games.

  • Jester says:

    Flash excells in:

    – Games (no doubt)
    – Education (still has the lead)
    – Video (large scale, Ad frameworks; … not single use on a blog)
    – Animation (CSS3 sucks in animation, very jittery…, takes for ever to render a decent animation with Canvas + JS)

    HTML:
    – Websites on the other hand, regular text content with few images, I’d go for HTML5 + JQuery