November 14, 2014

Facebook May Swap Flash for HTML5

Facebook (NewsAlert) is “looking into” implementing HTML5 instead of Flash to enable desktop video, according to a spokesperson for the social network.

Right now, desktop PC users are shackled to Adobe’s (NewsAlert) Flash browser plug-in when it comes to playing videos via the social network. There are plenty of issues with that, starting with convenience. All too often, users get a "Flash Player upgrade required" error message when they try to click play. Another is security: Adobe vulnerabilities are among the most-used when it comes to hackers launching zero-day exploits and the like.

There’s also an issue for developers: HTML5 embeds interactive communications and video directly into a Web page—thus boosting interoperability across disparate platforms. In all, the spec makes it much easier to build Web applications that run natively in any browser, thus lowering app development costs and making it much easier to create multiscreen experiences that run seamlessly across platforms.

Choosing not to support that means that Facebook developers have to spend more time to make their wares run seamlessly in a desktop environment—potentially leading to a chilling effect on consumer options (and social applications uptake).

In fact, some say that getting rid of plug-ins like Flash leads to a more seamless Web experience overall—critical for innovation and growth.

“Today we think nothing of watching video and audio natively in the browser, and nothing of running a browser on a phone,” said Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), and an architect of HTML5. “We expect to be able to share photos, shop, read the news, and look up information anywhere on any device. Though [it] remains invisible to most users, HTML5…[is] driving these growing user expectations.”

Facebook is supporting HTML5 for the mobile experience however—it has “optimized” the user interface for smaller screens. And actually, as USA Today points out, Facebook's mobile site can be accessed via desktop, albeit with a low resolution that makes the video experience fairly uninspiring.

"The Web and mobile Web versions of Facebook are not the same websites," Facebook spokesperson Jessie Baker told the paper. "They are built differently with different front-end code."

Mac users have it better: “If you use a workaround like Safari's to have it impersonate a tablet browser, the clip even plays at a normal resolution,” USA Today noted.

Is there hope for the desktop? Baker went on to say that transitioning away from Flash is "an update we are looking into."

The transition could come sooner rather than later. The HTML5 standard has now been moved to the “fully baked” column by the WC3 and will serve as the cornerstone of the W3C (NewsAlert) Open Web Platform, which has an eye to incorporating rich media into everyday Web experiences.

Edited by Maurice Nagle


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