Multimedia Wars: Flash or HTML5

Posted on : August 17th, 2010
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The web has gone though a metamorphosis in the last two decades to find glory in its present avatar. It is glorious indeed – Multiple browser options, varied platforms and a media-rich feel. For the learning industry, it is truly an era of looking forward to progress and innovation.

For developers, it has been good times as they have been given room to explore different mediums – including one that has shown immense success – Video. But with increased number of viewing devices, from the early desktops to laptops and now, smart-phones, there is more than one factor that influences e-learning developers’ choice of applications, software or standards used to build training.

The current debate between Flash and HTML5 rests largely on multi-media features. How do you make the choice, for both have its pros and cons? When faced with this dilemma, we debated internally on what’s best suited to create a successful training.

First and foremost, as always is the thumb rule in learning, Learner needs. If a media and interactivity rich training course is the need of the day then Flash is a comfortable choice today. But there has to be more to that decision than just familiarity with the platform. HTML5 is being hailed as equally competent in developing rich-media, adopted by Google and Apple. The list is getting longer, as HTML5 is an open-source standard. No third party plug-in is necessary to support it. This however, is generally not the problem for our learner group. With over 97% of market share (Source: http://statowl.com/plugin_overview.php), plug-in required for viewing Flash-developed content is already present on almost all PCs and laptops.

The question was what would best suit the end-user. HTML5 has to still take strides in creating a network of browser support. Right now, Chrome (Google) and Safari (Apple) support viewing of video developed with HTML5 (H.264). Firefox will most-probably support it in future and Internet Explorer 9.0 will too. But many users still use Internet Explorer 7 or below, and find it not necessary to upgrade. At over 35% of all web-browsing users (Source: http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version-ww-monthly-200904-201005-bar), this is not a paltry percentage! So Flash wins hands down in terms of available support.

The other side of the spectrum is the Client. Specifications always dictate that the best care be taken to ensure Digital Rights Management (DRM). With Flash, DRM is protected to a large extent – at least it is not as simple as right-clicking and hitting ‘save to’! DRM with HTML5 is not straightforward as it requires special servers and settings, not available to many developers. To save your content being illegally downloaded, Flash seems to be the better option again.

The other thread of debate that HTML5 is open-source while Flash is a propriety product. Well, for developers who have been using Flash ever since it was launched a decade back, this is not an issue.

So clearly, Flash won the case today. But the emphasis is on ‘today’. Learning is changing face, and as predicted by many experts from the industry, mobile learning will be next ‘big’ thing. HTML5 has a longer pros-list when talking about viewing web content on mobile phones. It ensures higher device-performance, enhancing battery life. Viewing Flash-based video on phones drains batteries, while HTML5 performs better in this aspect.

Web-kit, which is the base of the Safari browser of all Apple products, has been widely accepted by almost all mobile giants. Android’s browser runs on Web-kit, Nokia and Blackberry are also using it. This ensures wider support for content developed on HTML5 on mobile phones.  The problem of DRM is also countered, as downloading or saving content is a phenomenon mostly associated with the PC or laptop, not so much in mobiles.

Moving ahead as ‘e-learning’ comes closer to ‘mobile learning’ we might bring you our experiences with HTML5 as well. On the other hand, as we speak, Adobe is also making efforts to come to a closer compatibility to content on mobile phones. Our next update might talk on those developments and our experiences with them.

So it is best for us, as developers, to maintain our stand of what suits our Learner best. That will always be – where we begin!

Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is the Marketing Head at G-Cube. She loves exploring and blogging about innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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