The Flash Killer: Is jQuery Really Capable of Replacing Flash?

Macromedia’s Flash, a vector-based animation platform was launched in 1996. However, after release of JavaScript in 1997, a war has been declared between these two applications. Reason being that javascript frameworks are becoming increasingly popular as a result of their high scalability, performance and usability. But is jQuery really pushing Flash to a dead zone or it’s just a hype created by some people. Let’s find out.

While Flash and JQuery aren’t mutually exclusive, they do have a significant amount of overlap, and that’s why Adobe had to be a little worried when jQuery emerged as a powerhouse. JavaScript library that has endeared itself to all manner of developers and includes hundreds of plugins, most of which are free for all methods of use. But although Adobe might have initially gotten a fright, there are still enough areas where Flash excels over jQuery that Adobe can probably afford to breathe a little easier for a while. (Although, there’s always Silverlight to think about, but that outreach doesn’t seem to be going the way Microsoft intended.)

Before the Beginning

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Let’s go back to when Flash got its start. That was a whopping 15 years ago. Think about that for a minute. We’re talking Internet Explorer 3. The internet was just coming into its own as a multimedia channel, and this arguably didn’t really happen until 1998. Anyway, along comes a little-known startup named FutureWave Software with its FutureSplash Animator. Macromedia, famous for its Director Animation suite, was quick to snap up this little company and its little language that could.

Once a plugin that could play these script files was installed, everyone using a graphical browser could experience multimedia in the browser window over the internet. Admittedly, it was choppy, had horrible sound and equally abysmal synchronization, but it was there, and it would only get better. As broadband came to more homes and businesses, Flash became more ubiquitous on the web, to the point where entire sites were made of nothing but Flash animations. Not only was this relatively slow, but web search engines couldn’t read a Flash-based website, so constructing your cutting-edge site with nothing but Flash could leave you with no visitors. It was also notoriously inaccessible to those with visual disabilities, which became more important later in the 90’s. Fortunately, it was around this time that an alternative was taking shape.

Java What?

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With IE 4 and Netscape Communicator, JavaScript was getting its first test. But since most users had about 8 or 16 megs of ram to go with their Pentium II, performance was lackluster. Add separate capabilities for separate browsers, and implementing JavaScript across a site could be an exercise in ultimate frustration.

However, this wasn’t to stay the case for long. Once IE 5 became ubiquitous, JavaScript use grew. But it was dwarfed by the use of Flash, and IE 6 had to come along before JavaScript became widely enough to use with the expectation of fairly equal appearance across browsers. Early JavaScript libraries allowed developers to create code more quickly and have reasonable expectations of what that code would do in multiple environments.

jQuery

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Then, in 2006, along came jQuery. While there were several good JavaScript libraries before this, none offered the size, speed and support of jQuery. It could be used to enliven previously static HTML without worrying about destroying a page’s search ranking or accessibility.

However, throughout its years of dominance, Macromedia and then Adobe hadn’t been resting on its laurels. Flash had been extended into a complete object-oriented programming suite, complete with 3-D animation and advanced IDE features.

Even still, though, by 2006, it was clear that Flash’s days as undisputed animation champion were over.

On to the Future

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Here ends the history lesson, and we think about current and future implementations of jQuery and Flash.

If you’re simply creating a website, one with a full suite of controls but that doesn’t require any exquisite detail and/or contains a lot of text, you’re probably better off with jQuery or a similar JavaScript library. This goes for a large majority of sites on the web today.

But if you’re in the market for a site that will appear exactly the same, (or very close to it,) in any modern browser, or one that uses a multitude of vector artwork, Flash is still the choice for you, as long as you can afford its price tag.

Never Fear, Adobe

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The above was a very simple illustration of sites that are more suited to jQuery or Flash. The bottom line, however, is that complex or 3D sites are difficult or impossible to create in jQuery, and it’s a waste of time and SEO to create most basic sites in Flash. In fact, the web is replete with sites that use either Flash or jQuery to do the same thing, such as display photos or sports scores. Alas, then, the reign of Flash looks set to continue, at least until a technology like Canvas can take over in areas where Flash still shines.

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