Microsoft just declared that browser plug-ins' best days are behind them, but Adobe is working hard to disprove the notion with its Flash Player.
Flash, the most widely used browser plug-in, will be barred from the new "Metro" version of Internet Explorer 10 that will ship with Windows 8, IE team leader Dean Hachamovitch announced last night during the company's Build conference. In response, Adobe pointed out that Flash will still work with the more traditional "desktop" interface--but also that the company has other plans for staying relevant.
"If you look a year out, there will be important differences between what you can do in a pure HTML world vs. what you can do in Flash," Danny Winokur, Adobe's platform general manager, said in an interview today. "Windows desktop is going to remain a fundamentally important part of Windows. By the same token, Flash will remain an important part of Web experiences for years to come."
In addition, Winokur announced that Adobe has been working on the version of Flash for Windows 8 running on ARM processors--the low-power chips that dominate the smartphone and tablet world. Those Windows 8 machines will include the ability to run IE10 in desktop mode. And when people using the Metro IE10 browser encounter a Flash Web site, they can seamlessly switch over to the desktop IE10 to proceed.
"We're not so concerned about what the right technology is for that as long as we'll be able to deliver those experiences," Winokur said. "We're working with Microsoft and other members of the HTML community including Google, Apple, and others to enable rich experiences on HTML5."
Over the years, Flash has given programmers a way to bridge browser and operating system incompatibilities and to embrace animated online games and streaming video. With that sort of usefulness, people installed Flash nearly universally on their personal computers.
That universality took a big hit when Apple barred Flash from the mobile Safari browser that ran on its iPhone and, later, its iPad tablet. Microsoft's announcement was another blow. Although the Windows desktop variety of IE10 won't be changed, it's clear that Microsoft's new focus is on Metro. For example, it's the only "touch first" interface geared for tablets, a hot new market.
Hachamovitch had discouraging words in a blog post:
Running Metro-style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers. Plug-ins were important early on in the Web's history. But the Web has come a long way since then with HTML5. Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro-style UI.
But Adobe has adapted in the past. When Flash was barred from iOS, Adobe came up with a solution using the closely related AIR technology for standalone apps that can use Flash and Web technologies. The Flash packaging approach turned a Flash app into a standalone, native iOS app. It works well enough to power Machinarium, a Flash-based game that rose to the top of the iPad charts.
"We expect you'll be able to do exactly the same thing on Windows 8," Winokur said, including the Metro interface. The approach uses what Adobe calls a "captive runtime," a version of the Flash technology bundled along with the application. Captive runtime is one of the features of the soon-to-be-released AIR 3 that accompanies Flash Player 11.
And because Metro runs Web apps, not just Web pages, on its IE10 engine, Adobe's customers can package their Web content for that environment, too. Both Web apps and packaged AIR apps can be sold through the Windows Store, Winokur added.
Adobe's support for Web technologies, though questioned by many Flash critics, is genuine. It has a growing range of software for employing Web standards that include Edge, Muse, Wallaby, and the years-old DreamWeaver. Adobe also has begun participating in Web standards development.
Updated 4:35 a.m. PT with correct title for Winokur.