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Flash Player demise on desktop inevitable, but years away, say analysts

Adobe is transitioning from Flash plug-in to HTML5 for desktop browsers, too

November 9, 2011 03:53 PM ET

Computerworld - Adobe's decision to stop Flash Player development for mobile browsers will likely be repeated for browsers on the desktop, just not anytime soon, analysts said today.

"They're not getting out the Flash business," said Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner. "But clearly they see that the future is HTML5."

Valdes and others reacted today to confirmation from Adobe that it will halt development of Flash Player for mobile browsers, and hints that the company may repeat that in the future for Flash on the desktop.

"We will continue to leverage our experience with Flash to accelerate our work with the W3C and WebKit to bring similar capabilities to HTML5 as quickly as possible," said Danny Winokur, the Adobe executive in charge of interactive development, in a Wednesday blog post. He was referring to the World Wide Web Consortium standards body and WebKit, the open-source browser engine that powers Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome. "And we will design new features in Flash for a smooth transition to HTML5 as the standards evolve."

Winokur committed Adobe to supporting Flash Player at least as far as version 12, which does not have a release date. Adobe has shipped a new version of Flash Player every one-to-three years -- the stretch between Flash Player 10 and 11 was three years -- and just delivered version 11 last month.

Adobe's move to ditch Flash Player for mobile browsers was smart, said analysts. And the same logic holds for the plug-in on desktop browsers.

"As the market moves to HTML5, the Flash [Player] runtime will have to transition, too," said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. "And that's exactly what they're doing, trying to transition from Flash to HTML5. But transition is always disruptive."

Keeping Flash Player alive on the desktop will "work for a while," said Valdes, but eventually it too will be supplanted by HTML5, the loose collection of standards that let browsers render the kind of sophisticated content now relegated to Flash.

"Flash Player won't go away anytime soon," argued Valdes. "But HTML5 is the future of the Web."

That future will be years down the road, Valdes and Hilwa predicted.

Looking at the trend lines and the accelerated pace of HTML5 adoption by browsers and websites, Hilwa estimated that it will take until 2015 before 90% of desktop browsers are HTML5-capable.

"On the desktop, the need for a Flash browser plug-in continues," said Hilwa. "I see it continuing until 2014 or 2015, depending on how Windows 8 takes off and how touch-based interfaces compete against traditional desktop interfaces."

Microsoft, for one, has already said it will block the Flash Player plug-in from being installed on the touch edition of Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) within next year's Windows 8.

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