It seems to be a constant fight whether to use Adobe Flash in web pages, so I thought I’d share my views on it.
The good parts
Flash can offer a richer experience in regards to animations, transitions and music handling. It has been there from day one to complement HTML where that isn’t sufficient in offering a more full-fledged media experience.
Being a controlled runtime, it can offer exactly the same content through web browsers and platforms, without any additional code. It is probably the most spread web browser plug-in in the world.
Especially as of the latest years, it has also become the de facto way of showing videos in web sites (YouTube, Vimeo etc) because of its compressing and packaging abilities, and is a great way around common video codec issues, showing something completely full-screen and other features.
When it comes to other presentational means, Flash can help you use any font you want, and is naturally a nice way to offer games.
The bad parts
What seems to be the biggest annoyance for people is poor performance and lots of unwanted animations and such. When it comes to performance, while it can be controlled by Flash developers, they seldom seem to do it and/or they can’t control the total number of Flash movies in the same page.
For instance, go to most major newspaper web sites and no matter how good a computer you have, it will be brought down on its knees. I’ve spoken to Adobe representatives about this, but they claim there’s no performance problem whatsoever in Flash and that it’s all the developers’ doings.
Sadly, most developers seem to disregard accessibility, and when it comes to SEO the answer is usually: “Google are working on indexing Flash movies, so the problem will soon be gone”. What they don’t seem to realize, however, is that no matter if Google and and other search engines manage to index the content, if it isn’t built up with proper code and in a good semantic manner, it’s impossible to index it properly, give the correct weight to certain terms etc.
Another of the problems with Flash is that it is included in the web browser as a complete stand-alone runtime, meaning it would work just the same in a stand-alone Flash player. The effect of this is that if you focus the Flash movie, all web browser keyboard shortcuts and focus is lost, and you need to click outside of the Flash area to re-focus.
Additionally, I’m not sure people do their homework, but since Flash seem to be widely disliked (most likely to a complete and obtrusive overusage in advertisement context), people do turn it off, refuse to update their Flash player or install extensions such as Flashblock (almost 6 million downloads, 51 000 a week – definitely not something to sneer at).
Should you use Flash?
Sure, if you think it can bring extra value to your end users. But unless you’re building some artist/band web site, then (and maybe not even then) is it an option to build a web site only with Flash. I would rather recommend to use it for something more like a feature in a web site’s start page, to heighten the experience, but at the same time make sure that it has a proper fallback, especially if if contains any important information.
Take the above shortcomings into consideration, and if you use it, use it sparingly and above all, respect your visitors.