How reliant are you on Flash-based websites? Have the debates and discussions about its future made you reconsider using Flash-based content with students?

Reports of Flash's death: greatly exaggerated?

Since the release of the first iPhone, Apple's move into mobile has not supported Flash. Some people have argued that Apple would eventually have to allow Flash-based content -- it simply must, right? But Steve Jobs himself has made it abundantly clear that's not going to happen. In fact, he went so far last spring as to pen an open letter on the subject, detailing why Flash was ill-suited for the modern Web and for mobile devices. His list included, among other things, security, reliability, openness, and battery life.

In the four years since the first iPhone was unveiled, much has changed, making Flash seem like far less of a fundamental piece of the Web. It's not just the dominance of iOS that's done so. Some of the animations and multimedia effects of Flash can now be accomplished with HTML5 and JavaScript, for example -- technologies that are supported by Apple's mobile devices (and by "modern Web browsers"). But even though these other technologies and other factors do impact Flash's future, it's hard to not make a story about its perceived decline be a story about the ascendancy of iOS (or at least the ascendancy of mobile).

Now I'm sure that the folks at Adobe would protest any pronouncement about Flash's demise and point to statistics about its continued ubiquity. They'd be right, of course. Flash probably does constitute the majority of animations on the Web today. And sure, we can debate its position in the Web of the future, but for our purposes here it's definitely worth noting that, right now at least, a good chunk of those Flash-based animations and videos are on educational sites.

The HTML5/JavaScript Alternative

There are, of course, lots of options for educational games and websites nowadays, and as such, hopefully you can find an alternative for a Flash-only website should you so choose. There are a number of work-arounds too. Back in July, for example, Google released a tool called Swiffy that converts Flash SWF files to HTML5. That was an interesting move because, despite the support for Flash on Android devices, Swiffy demonstrates -- arguably -- that Google backs HTML5 as the "format" of choice for web content. And even though Swiffy is a Google Labs product, it's not one of the experiments there that's going to be axed when Labs shuts down in the coming months. Google says it will continue to work to improve Swiffy, helping foster the conversion of more Flash content to HTML5.

No doubt if you want to use Flash-based websites in an educational setting, you still can (unless you're in a school with a 1:1 iPad program in place, I suppose). But it's hard to ignore the handwriting on the wall (even if that handwriting was scrawled by Apple): the increasing adoption of HTML5, the desire for non-proprietary formats, and most importantly perhaps, the need for technologies that work across platforms, across browsers, and across devices. Whether educators pay attention to the debates about the future of Flash or not, supporting open and accessible technologies needs to be something that we strive for. And that does mean -- eventually -- RIP Flash.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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