Betlem hopes that the new API will address long-standing frustrations with the existing techniques for connecting browsers and plug-ins. For example, he says, whenever a browser gets new capabilities, such as the option to use touch input, plug-in vendors have to negotiate with each browser maker to figure out how their plug-in can access this functionality. As a result, plug-ins access a computer’s resources in a variety of ways, which can make them behave inconsistently from one browser or operating system to another.
A better interface between the browser and the plug-in, Betlem says, would make it easier for developers to create Web applications, and would result in better performance. Betlem also points to other benefits of tighter integration between plug-ins and browsers. For example, he says, the browser could share its security settings with a plug-in, so that both behave as the user expects.
“If you put this together with the work that’s being done to get Flash and Air onto Android, I think it’s clear that Google’s perspective is that a full Internet experience includes Flash support,” says Jeffrey Hammond, a principal analyst for Forrester Research. He notes that Google may see providing a good Flash experience for its users as a way to entice consumers and developers away from the iPhone.
The move also represents a pragmatic assessment of the status of HTML 5, according to Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at research firm IDC. He notes that Google has been a strong supporter of the standard, so its current efforts with Flash suggest that HTML 5 is far from ready to substitute for popular plug-ins. “In many ways this clarifies what everyone already knows and feels,” he says.
But the new technology will not stop the development of HTML 5. Andreas Bovens, Web evangelist for the browser maker Opera, says, “In the short run, with specifications and implementations still evolving, Flash will undoubtedly be around.” In the long run, however, Bovens expects that for some areas, such as video, interactive graphs, and ad banners, Web standard technologies including HTML 5 “will trump Flash, and will be the preferred choice for developers.”