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Flash, JavaScript, and web standards: like sodium and water?

By Ben Henick | August 17th, 2006 | Filed in Browsers, HTML/XHTML, Validation, Web Standards (general)

As expected, Flash and such are proven a controversial topic.

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In my previous post I related my experience with implementing markup-only solutions to the task of incorporating multimedia into web sites, and later asserted a low opinion of a popular tool used for publishing SWF files.

The response has been passionate if not actually furious, and also a prompted an e-mail to me personally which I’ve not read (because the script that handles the mail form on my personal site was incorrectly configured, though has since been repaired).

I want to thank Geoff Stearns for his well-thought-out reply (linked above), and Drew McLellan for making a comment on that post that perfectly echoes many of my own feelings. I agree with Stearns’ sentiment that his tool and others provide excellent practical solutions to everyday problems, regardless of my peculiar opinions. On review, I also see that our feelings on <object> element support have a lot in common (ironic though that may seem).

However, most of the detractors to my earlier post seem to be missing the points to the whole exercise:

  1. The Web is meant to be an open system, and limited-rights tools (including Flash) practically insult that virtue… without which the web would hardly be worth a damn. When I read the comments of people who imply their support for the replacement of standards based technologies with content generated by their favorite widget (as I feel is the case in the response to my feedback), I get angry, and so do other people. The objection’s not that Flash et. al. are instrinsically bad, it’s that their combined popularity and limited-rights status significantly reduces the realized value of the entire network. Therefore, the need to ease implementation of alternatives and fallbacks is obvious, and I believe that work is easiest to manage in a standards-compliant environment… over the long term, at least.
  2. The current state of web plug-in implementation is a travesty which makes implementation of web multimedia impossible out of context, and every step (no matter how small) taken to prove that there are better solutions is a positive one. The only way things will improve is if people push the limits of the possible and start cmplaining once there is no more pushing to be done. The irony is that by trying to get plug-in applications to work well in standards-compliant environments, the “standardistas” so many of you love to hate are helping you, even though you never need to lift a finger. And yet you complain. Were I to describe my feelings bluntly, I would refer to the horses you rode in on, sort of. Or maybe your mothers.
  3. Taking a tool meant to control behavior and using it instead to publish actual content is a step to be avoided at all reasonable costs. Why are so many people – including and especially myself – outright unreasonable about this opinion? Because it makes sense. The web was designed to be platform-independent. The only way it ever really will be is if people work at it, even if “people” sometimes means “unimaginative jerks” and ”work” sometimes means “pontificate.” However, presentation and behavior on the web are overwhelmingly platform dependent, which means that only the faithful separation of presentation and behavior is the only way to make the content itself platform independent… and no kewl designy tool or clever hack, no matter how amazing and brilliant, can change that. Ever.

Sometimes, I feel like a broken record: close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and claiming that a near miss should gain you the same approval (or exemption from disapproval) that you get from hitting the mark is offensive and wrong.

Are many aspects of browser plug-in behavior inarguably broken? I believe they are. Does the “Eolas workaround” in Internet Explorer harm the user experience unless JavaScript is used to avoid it? I’m certain it does. Does Flash have a place? I definitely think so, though with some broad qualifications.

However, I also believe that an attitude that is universally tolerant of expediency does more to damage the typical user experience in the long term, than it does to improve any specific user experience in the near term.

Your Replies

#1 On August 17th, 2006 5:59 am