Flash Loses to HTML5 on Scribd Site

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a bit more momentum behind Steve Jobs’s insistence that Adobe Flash isn’t keeping up with the times. The Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO’s controversial decision to keep Adobe’s Flash software off the iPhone and iPad resulted in criticism that the company was unfairly restricting developers from using it to create programs for the device. But Jobs fired back with a number of claims — disputed by Adobe — that he said motivated Apple’s move.

Now Scribd, a popular social publishing site, has announced its abandoning Flash after three years of development using Adobe’s (NASDAQ: ADBE) popular software in favor of HTML5. Jobs said earlier that, like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and others, Apple is betting on the emerging HTML5 standard for Web content development. The difference is Google and other HTML5 supporters like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) also continue to work with Adobe and support Flash.

“What we’re doing plays into the debate over Flash and HTML. After three years on Flash, we’re starting over and moving everything over to HTML5,” Scribd CTO Jared Friedman said in a presentation at last week’s Web 2.0 Expo here. “It’s a bet-the-company move for us.”

Friedman said Flash is “a terrific technology” but presents problems for Scribd because it requires putting content in a separate application for posting on the Web. “It’s like a browser in a browser problem that’s duplicating functionality,” Friedman said. That extra layer “almost inevitably leads to a bad user experience. We asked ourselves why we needed a special reading application to view a document on the Web. People view the New York Times in the browser; it’s meant for reading.”

Conversely, he said HTML 5 lets Scribd post rich, multimedia documents, such as PowerPoint presentations and magazines, directly to the browser.

Adobe did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but the company’s CTO Kevin Lynch, strongly disputed Apple’s criticism of Flash in an earlier address at Web 2.0 Expo.

iPhone and iPad developer Tony Bove agreed with Friedman’s comments.

“If you rely on Flash to do a lot of interactive elements on the page, it is like having an extra layer you have to think about,” Bove told InternetNews.com. “But you should also keep in mind that HTML5 takes a certain level of expertise, so if you’re already experienced with Flash, making that switch is going to take time.”

Bove said he has no problem with Apple’s decision to restrict Flash.

“For Apple, it was a practical decision to protect their architecture so they could make changes on the fly without Flash being deadweight in the process,” he said. “I don’t think Apple’s out to hurt Adobe. They could care less about that.”

Adobe has argued Apple’s decision is against the spirit of the openness of the Web, but Bove said Apple may be leading a trend to more protected platforms. “There has been a lot of innovation in the open space, but the iPhone and Cocoa [Apple’s developer framework] is the most innovative thing out there,” Bove said.

He also said Google and Microsoft have less at stake than Apple since they want to attract as many partners as possible. “They don’t do the integrated hardware and software that Apple does; they’re trying to be everything to everyone so they’re happy to embrace Flash as a counter to Apple,” Bove added.

Analyst Ben Bajarin said Scribd’s decision likely had little to do with Apple’s moves.

“When you look at a lot of the companies that use Flash, it may have been the best tool available when they started,” Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com. “I wouldn’t look at this as a company moving away from Flash because of Apple. Today there are a lot of better alternatives to Flash and even Adobe itself offers alternatives for streaming like Adobe Premiere.”

Meanwhile, Scribd’s Friedman said the decision to abandon Flash after three years wasn’t an easy one to make, but that the move so far looks promising.

“There was an element of risk, but it’s worked out great,” he said during his presentation, which included showing off several HTML5-rendered pages at the Scribd site. “HTML also works great on mobile and we’ll be able to address that entire market without writing separate applications.”

TAGS: HTML5, Adobe Flash, iPhone, Microsoft, Google

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