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How Adobe is moving on from Flash to embrace HTML5

Chris Minnick and Ed Tittel | May 2, 2014
Adobe Flash is still widely used, but it's seen as obsolete in the face of HTML5. In response, Adobe is taking several steps to adapt and contribute to a HTML5 future without browser plugins.

While the focus was on the death of mobile Flash, Adobe got busy pivoting to address the shortcomings of HTML5 and Web browsers in a mad dash to stay relevant in a mobile world. Adobe's efforts fall into three main categories: Web platform, open-source projects and Web tools. Let's take a closer look at each of these efforts.

Adobe's Web Platform Work

HTML5 and CSS3 promise plugin-free animation, video and typography. Many key standards remain incomplete, though, and none is widely implemented. Furthermore, good how-to documentation is hard to come by.

The Adobe-led Test the Web Forward aims to hurry HTML5 standardization by holding worldwide hackathons to recruit and train Web developers to create tests for HTML5 features. Through these events, hundreds of bugs have been found in the Web platform specifications and in browser implementations. Thanks to those efforts, we're a step closer to HTML5 actually and verifiably working the same way in every browser.

Adobe has been busy with proposing new specifications to fill holes in HTML5's layout and graphics capabilities as well. One such spec is Regions, now implemented in several browsers. Regions lets Web developers do something that seems basic to anyone who has used a desktop publishing tool, but that has never been possible in a browser: Link containers and flowing text between them.

Compositing and Blending Level 1, created by Adobe and recently made a W3C candidate recommendation, specifies how the colors of multiple stacked objects should be blended in browsers. Again, this is basic functionality of graphics tools but very advanced stuff in a browser.

Finally, Adobe is heavily involved not only in testing the Web but also in documenting it. The Web Platform Docs project aims to be the authoritative source for documentation of the Open Web. Along with Adobe, contributors include Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nokia and Opera.

Adobe's Open Source HTML5 Projects

The survival and growth of the Open Web and HTML5 on mobile devices depends not just on the creation of better standards but on their implementation as well. This is where the open source community comes into play. Adobe has a presence in several of the most important open source HTML5 mobile projects today.

WebKit, the browser engine created and open sourced by Apple from the KHTML browser engine, sparked the HTML5 mobile revolution. Prior to WebKit, mobile Web browsers were severely limited in their capabilities to display standard Web pages. With WebKit, HTML5 support on mobile devices suddenly became first-class; today it even rivals desktop browsers.

Even with a first-class browser, HTML5 apps still suffer several disadvantages when compared to native ones — namely, the application programming interfaces (APIs) for interacting with the underlying hardware aren't fully implemented yet, and app stores still dominate app distribution. To address issues, Adobe bought Nitobi in 2011 and gave its product, Phonegap, to the Apache Foundation, where it became Apache Cordova.


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