Ben Ward

Some dissection of Jon Dowdell's bullshit commentary on HTML5


A translation of Jon Dowdell’s “Adobe on HTML 5” piece. With apologies to John Gruber.

The current WhatWG proposals called “HTML 5” have been stirring up a lot of polarizing speech lately… articles with Flash-killer headlines lead to street-level fracases.

I’m here to dismiss this scary new “HTML 5” thing by framing it as a proposal from an unofficial group of crazies that you’ve never heard of. Also, note my “air quotes”. That reinforces the idea that “HTML 5” is not real. Although, if it were real, it would encourage the incitement of violence.

It’s hard for Adobe to have an official opinion on whatever this consortium of minority browser vendors chooses to do… seeing what the final agreement turns out to be, and how it is eventually manifested in the world, both are prerequisites for practical tool-making.

It’s hard for Adobe to have an official opinion because although we’re paid up members of the W3C and have no reason to be unaware that HTML 5 was adopted into an official standards bureau in 2006, we kinda checked out of that whole thing when we got bored trying to clusterfuck the SVG specification into becoming Flash, and just bought Flash.

Still, I’m glad that an analyst asked a question about it at the quarterly financial call. Here’s what Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen had to say, from the transcript at Seeking Alpha:

Still, I’m delighted that I can back-up my misleading disinformation with a quote from my boss:

[…] So clearly supportive in terms of making sure as HTML 5 is evolving that we will support it in our web authoring tools but from the perspective of continuing to drive Flash and innovation around Flash and rich Internet applications, we still think that actually the fragmentation of browsers makes Flash even more important rather than less important.

Adobe’s about communicating your ideas – publishing to various channels – not just about Flash. Dreamweaver, ColdFusion and the imaging tools all benefit from an increase in HTML. Flash is a strong bet for emerging platforms – we really do need the ability to predictably deploy advanced capability across a range of device brands and browser brands – but Adobe profits from easing communication in general.

Adobe also has some other obsolete products you might have heard of, some of which could be even more fucked by “HTML 5” than Flash, since the HTML they generate is outdated in relation to HTML 4.

Remember that Flash is all about unspecified ‘advanced capability’, which is my way of dressing up the things Flash does besides play YouTube videos. If you don’t understand what those things are either, that’s for the best.

I’m increasingly uncomfortable with calling the WhatWG proposals “HTML 5” though, and particularly when it’s used in opposition to successful realworld capabilities of today. When ECMAScript 4 was in discussion there weren’t magazine headlines about how untyped variables were now evil. What counts is not a press release, but a realworld deliverable. De jure is nice, and potential de jure is also interesting, but de facto capability determines what you can actually do for real audiences.

I’m increasingly uncomfortable calling call the WhatWG proposals “HTML 5” though, because to do so would be to validate their efforts of the past years, and show them some respect. The fact that the W3C adopted the specification nearly three years ago and is calling it “HTML 5” officially means nothing. To me.

But Shantanu’s last point in there really resonates with me… this whole “HTML5” campaign will likely benefit Flash, because few remain who oppose the idea that “experience matters”.

And for as long as people don’t figure out that the best user experience is one that matches the native functionality of their operating system rather than imposing the conventions of Microsoft Windows onto all platforms, Flash is going to rock.

Things are quite a bit different than five years ago. Silverlight’s launch helped boost the popularity of Flash… iPhone helped to radically increase the number of phones with Flash support…

I am high as a kite.

The “HTML5” publicity helps marginalize those few who still argue that images, animation, audio/video and rich interactivity have no place on the web. Flash will be able to deliver on those heightened expectations, regardless of what each separate browser engine does.

The “HTML 5” publicity exposes the fact that the only “rich interactivity” people care about on the web right now is video, and that’s the only useful trick that Flash offers.

Honestly, what the fuck?

I was going to give Jon the benefit of the doubt to just be out of touch with more recent HTML 5 development (‘more recent’ being three years, mind you), but he followed up with another post where he repeats his “The WhatWG “HTML5” proposals are underwritten by [non-Microsoft] browser vendors” statement. He’s very deliberately trying to frame HTML5 as some kind of crazy fringe effort, ignoring the adoption into the W3C. It’s appallingly disingenuous.

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