Can the battle of rich content delivery platforms determine the future of the web?

The future of the web platforms is not just a fight for developer mindshare, it’s also largely a fight for the consumer/producer audience that is the media user. Speaking of content, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter in some ways are the big contenders. If both Google and Facebook would put their weight behind HTML5, the development platform debate could be reduced to HTML5 versus Silverlight, and Flash will be pushed to a niche and legacy corner.

Jeremy Allaire’s article on TechCrunch offers an interesting perspective of the current debate on rich platform technologies. While the article’s coverage was broad, a couple of omissions left me wondering a bit.

I was surprised that Jeremy didn’t have a view on Silverlight, in my opinion a faster growing alternative to Flash. Given Microsoft’s reach, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that Silverlight could trump both Flash and HTML5. Windows 7 is proving that Microsoft have not lost its touch.

Apple has always been a niche player, the iPad could change that fundamentally. It is too early to tell if the iPad will just extend the iPhone and iPod Touch reach, or if Apple will have the hunger to go for the masses at large.

When starting a new project, folks want to maximise their reach while minimising their costs going forward. This is most likely the place where the debate heats up in many organisations: which platform should we base a brand new codebase on? It would have been nice to hear Jeremy ‘s opinion on this issue, because I think Flash is under serious pressure here.

I doubt that this particular platform debate can really swing the future of the web one way or another, because there is a 3rd party in this dance, the user. This hungry content producer and consumer will have a massive impact on the future of the web. Come to speak of content, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter in some ways are the big contenders. In my mind, if both Google and Facebook put their weight behind HTML5, the debate could be reduced to HTML5 versus Silverlight, and Flash will be pushed to a niche and legacy corner.

If Facebook keeps its momentum, and actually come up with their own rich media delivery platform (on the back of HipHop for example, it makes little sense to me at this point but I’m speculating), then we’re in for an entirely new debate.

This article makes me also reflect on words attributed to Steve Jobs (that “Adobe is lazy” and “flash is buggy”, article here). I shared those two views for two reasons,

  1. I’ve been thinking that Adobe should make a splash amidst all the assault they’re subjected to, I’ve yet to see that splash and was curious why that was. That doesn’t warrant the label “lazy” though, I have to say.
  2. whenever examining application crash dumps on my MacBook I noticed that the Flash plugin was always there. I was seeing application crashes showing the Flash plugin, yet it seemed to me they had nothing to do with the plugin. I took note for myself, but I didn’t dig it any further.

So when I came across the article mentioning Steve’s alleged comments, it fitted my thought.

So yes, there is a healthy debate going on, it has many facets, thinking in terms of “developer mindshare” alone is reductive. If the means of producing and consuming content on the web keeps shifting towards the end-user, and that Cloud computing takes hold and becomes ubiquitous, the IT platforms could eventually turn into a kind of “modern-day plumbing”. That’s also an aspect that plays a big part in this platform debate.

You can read Jeremy’s article here: http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/02/05/the-future-of-web-content-html5-flash-mobile-apps.

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