Two Web Relics Are Being Killed Off

Sometimes you have a feeling of fondness for old technology.  Something you’ve used for years, or used to use years ago, that may not be the newest thing out there, but you like it none the less.  Like your old faithful dog, that follows you around all day destroying your slippers.  It smells a bit, and it’s probably going to ruin your carpet, but that’s not the point.  You love it anyway.  I’d put things like the SNES in this category.

Then you have things you were forced to use (either out of the malevolence of others, lack of choice or misfortune).  You wish they’d go away, but they just don’t.  Even though you’ve made a conscience decision to move away from them, they just hang around.  I’d certainly put Flash and Internet Explorer 6 into these categories (along with Real Player, damn you Real Player).

So it is with great joy that I can report some serious moves being made towards killing off these two web relics.

Firstly, Internet Explorer 6.  After the recent IE6 empowered attacks in China, Google will be dropping support for IE6 in its web apps from next month.  This may seem like a bold move, but one would assume that anyone savvy enough to be using Google Apps would also be savvy enough to not be using IE6.  Possibly an even more important move comes from the UK’s Department of Health, which has told the NHS to stop relying on IE6.  As someone who’s worked on large scale government IT projects over the past six years, some of which have used IE6 (through no choice), I can’t convey how important a move like this might prove to be.

Out of all the organisations in the world, the UK’s government is so hopelessly uneducated, under-qualified and misguided that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that it would be the last place on earth to abandon IE6.  So if the government is moving away from IE6, there may be hope for the rest of us yet.

So what about Flash?  I mentioned in my brief coverage of the iPad that I hoped it signalled the end of Flash, and that sentiment seems to have been echoed around the web.  Rather than seeing the lack of Flash support in the iPad as a bad thing, many commentators see it as a positive.  It’s an acceptable means to an ends, if the end is the death of Flash.

The problem that Flash has is that it’s currently very hard to make a business case for it.  What do you use Flash for that can’t be done better using a more open, or a more user friendly, or a stabler, technology?  Video, for example can be more than adequately handled by HTML 5’s video support, and anyone who’s running a less that stellar machine would be well served to switch their YouTube preferences to HTML5 – it’s made a world of difference to the video performance of my ageing MacBook.  Rich media presentation, for example slideshows, are better handled by JavaScript, a move that’s greatly facilitated by the new breed of JavaScript libraries like JQuery.  JavaScript also has the advantage of not requiring a relatively expensive development environment to get started (i.e. you can code it in notepad if you want, you don’t need to buy Adobe’s Creative Suite).

Zeldman makes a good point that developers may now be forced down the route of best practice because the number of devices supporting Flash is falling, and will continue to do so.  Developers can no longer start with the aim of building a Flash site, but rather should concentrate on the semantic construction of the site and then augment that with Flash should the requirements be there.  I, like many other observers, feel that once developers start building around the actual requirements, and don’t start with Flash in mind, they’ll discover that Flash is surplus to requirements.

Looking more specifically at the future of Flash, Scoble asks “who can save Flash?” and includes a number of insights.  The analogy to the early days of FireFox is interesting.  One key difference between the iPhone platform and FireFox is the audience, though.  Early FireFox adopters were tech-savvy, early iPhone users are not (necessarily), and the same will be true of the iPad one would imagine.  A typical iPhone user will not look at the blue box of failure and blame Apple, nor Adobe, they’ll blame the website.  “All the other websites work fine on my iPhone, why doesn’t yours?” will be the cry.  And when that cry reaches substantial proportions, websites owners will have to start taking notice.  The smart ones, as Scoble pointed out, are already removing Flash from their future roadmaps.

Given the amount of time I’ve spent “fixing” websites so they work with a broken browser, and the number of browser crashes I could reasonably attribute to Flash, I’m looking forward to the future without these two relics.