The Fall of the Plug-in: What now?

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If Adobe’s recent Flash Mobile and Flex announcements didn’t make it official, it’s the closest thing to it. The plug-in model is over. Creators of the two main viable products Adobe (Flash) and Microsoft (Silverlight) have both publicly stated that they view HTML5 as the future. While each continue to pay lip service to their respective technologies, the writing is clear. The war is over.

PR repercussions and developer fury aside, the announcement by Adobe makes some sense.   The proliferation of a fractured smartphone and tablet market has made it costly and clumsy to maintain Flash ubiquity across such devices. Add in the fact that Adobe’s efforts were delivering questionable ROI, it appears that the math didn’t add up. They had a choice of paddling upstream with Flash or going with the HTML5 flow. They went with the flow and we imagine Microsoft went through the same thought process.




The Pickle

Whether these decisions make sense or not, a certain reality exists. Many organizations either have a large investment in extensive plug-in based applications or are in the planning stages of creating one. The plug-in model provided mature development tools, reduced quality assurance needs, and very solid performance. While HTML has made marked improvement over the years it has not reached parity in any of these areas.  

This leads us to the pickle. Organizations are seemingly left with the choice of investing in what will be a legacy technology or embracing the promise of HTML5. The latter can often mean increased costs or less flexibility while the former may seem futile.

In anticipation of such an issue, Universal Mind has long been working with many of its clients on creating a strategy for moving forward.  

A Few Common Scenarios

Existing Enterprise PC Based Applications

We have seen scores of these. They are often multi-year herculean efforts that combine many different systems and services. Many of them are built on the Flash Platform making last week's news particularly concerning for the owners of such initiatives. What we would council here is a bit of calm. There is certainly a good bit of runway before this investment is in jeopardy. With that in mind, starting to integrate other technologies such as HTML5 where possible is certainly a good approach. A great place to start is with mobile companions.

From there, take a good look at your project lifespan, overall shelf life, and internal skill sets. Start planning now for the inevitable future. One bonus with this approach is that in the next few years technologies such as HTML5 will have become much more mature and easier to work with.

New Enterprise PC Based Applications

This scenario is the most likely to encounter the pickle mentioned earlier. Invest in legacy technologies or face the challenges of an immature one. In many cases we have recommended biting the bullet and going down the HTML5 route. We have also found that there are opportunities to utilize a hybrid approach that will lessen the impact of HTML5 weaknesses.    

New and Existing Consumer PC Based Applications

Here the runway is shorter. With often less control over the end user and a heightened need to be present on all mobile devices, the time is now to start moving away from plug-in based solutions and content.

Pure Mobile/Tablet Initiatives

Mostly our recommendations focus on native development, HTML5 browser development, or HTML5 app platforms like PhoneGap. There are however certain exceptions where compiling Flash to native code may also be a good approach.

The fall of the plug-in and its effects will be felt for many years. Understanding the options and best approaches will be key to avoiding serious issues.