eLearning and Localization Blog

Getting Under the Hood- What Makes HTML5 Different from Flash?

Published on Oct 05, 2017

As the end of the Flash era approaches, you may find yourself asking “What are the real differences between Flash and its replacement, HTML5?” This is fair question to ask since there are a lot of similarities between the two technologies. Fundamentally, they both allow you to have multimedia experiences when using a web browser – you can read text, watch videos, listen to audio, and interact with the web content in a variety of ways. However, it is how these technologies work that makes all the difference. To understand what makes HTML5 different from Flash, we need to get under the hood of both of them. Let’s start off with a little history.

Which Came First?

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, was first developed in 1990. It is the fundamental language of the World Wide Web. Initially, it was a very limited tool that only incorporated text, images, and hyperlinks. In 1996, Flash was introduced and allowed multimedia to be incorporated into web pages. In less than a decade, Flash became the most popular way for users to view web media content.

Why Was Flash So Popular?

Flash technologies enabled web developers to easily create and publish Rich Internet Application (RIA) features with minimal coding knowledge. Because it was so easy to use, many developers were able to create immersive user experiences that incorporated text, graphics, animation, audio, video, and interactivity. In order to create these experiences, Flash uses object-oriented, events based ActionScript language, support for audio and video formats, and vector-based graphics and animations. The authoring tools used to develop this content are all proprietary (owned by Adobe) and publish Shockwave Flash files (.swf). SWF files require the free Adobe Flash Player browser plugin in order to be accessed. Flash was popular with users because it provided consistent performance across desktop browsers, enabled short download times, and supported high quality graphics.

What About HTML5?

The fifth, latest, and most powerful version of HTML was introduced in 2008. It includes more robust features than the previous versions including multimedia specific tags for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), animation, interactivity, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and JavaScript for audio and video. In doing so, third-party plugins (such as Flash) are no longer needed because the code for these features can already be embedded within the HTML code itself. In addition, HTML5 is a lightweight framework that can be deployed on any device, so mobile, laptop, and desktop users all have the same interactive experience. HTML5 is an open-source language that is not owned or restricted by any company or entity.

How Do These Differences Impact Users?

As just described, there are fundamental differences between how Flash and HTML5 work. That being said, there are a couple of additional differences that significantly impact users. One is that Flash is known to have frequent crashes across browsers and has some serious security issues. This has prompted YouTube to no longer support Flash, and Google to no longer support ads designed with Flash.

However, the most important difference is that Flash is not supported on mobile devices using iOS and Android, while HTML5 is. This is a game changer for users and developers, since mobile now accounts for over half of the web traffic. Primarily for this reason, Adobe stated that it will stop updating and distributing the Flash plugin by 2020. The present and the future belong to HTML5.

Article by Johnny Hamilton

Johnny Hamilton has earned an Expert Level certification in Gamified Design and is eLearning Magazine’s 2016 Learning Champion award winner as a High Performer for his “outstanding contributions to the learning industry."

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