Thursday, August 03, 2006

Adobe staff dump on Flash

We felt that going with HTML and CSS we'd have much more streamlined production process.

"The Edge" team redesigned their newsletter and then go on to tell everyone why a Flash only site is so bad - good way to get yourself a demotion. The new site is based on open web standards using basic HTML and CSS. The old site displayed the content in Flash. Now there are many well know reasons for not putting your entire site in Flash (especially large stabs of textual content), some are:
  • it's a plug-in - OK so nearly every browser has it installed, but can be slow on old machines, confusing to install and upgrade, blocked by corporate networks and limits the extensibility (ie. mobile phones).
  • larger file size - your initial load can take a long time.
  • reduced accessibility - while Flash "can" be made accessible to assistive devices (like screen-readers) is it harder and more time consuming and most sites don't bother.
  • reduced usability - Flash limits may browser tools that people are familiar with, making the site harder to use, such as:
    • restricting back, forward and stop buttons - this also makes is hard to bookmark specific "pages" within a site. Flash can be made to add state changes to the browsers history, but many sites don't - including Macromedia's own.
    • disabling 'find' - the in-page find/seach function of all browsers can not expose content inside a Flash file (.swf).
    • not crawled - most of the search engines don't get textural content from within Flash sites meaning all the good content can not be found by surfers.
    • text resizing - a big disadvantage of Flash is that user are unable to increase/decrease the font size of content using the browser controls they are similar with, meaning, to some, that the most important parts of the articles can not be read.

I was able to focus on creating semantically marked-up HTML which is really easy for screen-readers (used by the visually-impaired) so that the site really accessible.

In The Edge's case some specific cases are touched upon that also effect teams working with Flash for entire sites.
  • Jen Hobbs said she's able to check in and out files so I always know I working on the most current version. Highlighting how bad binary files are to version control. Now that the site is just plain text they can use one of the many free version control tools and have the power to have multiple users work on the same file at the same time and do diffs against previous versions to see what changed. Try doing that with Flash.
  • Jean Lieske said we don't have to go to Jen for every copy tweak. This is another issue, not that basic changes in Flash require a lot of skill but you need an expensive (and slow) IDE installed which Producers don't normally have and learn how do navigate to the areas you want to change. While HTML you can use any basic text editor and every OS has least one for free.
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy using Flash, and know that with extra effort you can get Flash do a lot of small things that the team benefited from with HTML and CSS, like:
  • content separation - design in flash, content in external text files. This is true for both text and images.
  • control look with one file - it is possible in later version of Flash to use a CSS file to have limited control of the look and feel of a Flash movie, but this is quite restricted to the text and not so much layout.
But all these things can take a fair bit of time to set-up and add complexity when maintaining and testing. And if Adobe/Macromedia's own staff have issues with using their products why would others use it when there are such easier and better alternatives?