Nathan Germick, a Flash developer for social-game company WonderHill, agreed: “In terms of immediate access to an amazingly powerful tool set, there’s really no contest.”
But others argue that Canvas will soon have similar tools and libraries of its own. “Isn’t it a matter of time?” Alon Salant, founder and owner of San Francisco-based software development firm Carbon Five, said at the panel.
The contest between HTML 5 and Flash is complicated by the issue of platform support, or lack of it. For example, Apple has so far shut Flash out of the iPhone and iPad, and it will take time for even Flash-friendly devices such as Android phones to reach the market with full support for Flash Player 10.1. Adobe is working to close this gap by releasing tools that repackage Flash applications into a format that can be submitted to Apple’s app store.
HTML 5, on the other hand, has seen good support on mobile devices. Google recently used the iPhone’s support for HTML 5 to make its Google Voice application available through the phone’s browser after Apple rejected the application from its app store.
On the other hand, HTML 5 suffers from a notable lag in adoption–it doesn’t work on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is still the most popular Web browser in the world. Though Microsoft recently announced that Internet Explorer 9 would support features from HTML 5, it’s not yet clear whether the Canvas element will be included.
An important reason why Salant and Galbraith prefer HTML 5 is because the technology isn’t proprietary. When an application is written using Canvas, other developers can use the browser’s “view source” command to understand exactly how it works and learn from it, Salant noted. Galbraith added that developers don’t have enough control over what features a proprietary platform such as Flash supports over time.
Adobe executives, when asked, reject talk of a showdown between HTML 5 and Flash. “The idea that they’re competitive technologies doesn’t make sense,” says Adrian Ludwig, who was until recently group manager for Flash Platform product marketing at Adobe. He points out that support for HTML 5 is built into Adobe’s AIR platform, which can be used to build Web applications that can run even without an Internet connection by storing some data locally. Internet applications have always been built using a mix of Web technologies, Ludwig says, and “Flash will continue to fill some of the gaps.”