HTML 5 and Flash – A reality check

If you are reading this, you are probably a fairly technical person that understands the complexities of HTML, JavaScript, CSS, Flash, and other web technologies.  Like me, you probably have more than one web browser installed on your systems and enjoy the very latest technology every day.  I bet you have already viewed the latest HTML 5 demos including the ones that only work with Safari 5, right?  A few days ago, I had an epiphany.  When it comes to web development, we are sometimes a bit narrow-minded when we think about our users.  Instead of thinking of our friends and colleagues in the industry, we need to think about the “real world” and the “typical user”.  The real-world is your mom, daughter, doctor, dentist, accountant, and coworkers in HR.  The majority of these people don’t think about what the various technologies are called  and which browser supports what.  They don’t care about the various debates and religious wars being waged over Flash, Silverlight, HTML 5, and other technologies.  They just want a barrier-free world of news, entertainment, and other content.  And they just need it to work!

To find out what browsers people are using, I decided to go find some data.  I quickly discovered some interesting stats at .  There are twice as many people using IE6 than Safari??!!  Wow.  After studying the data, I was reminded that w3schools doesn’t really provide good data for my purposes because your mom, daughter, doctor, dentist, accountant, and coworkers in HR never visit  It’s a site for technical people looking to learn more about web development!  The data is still interesting but keep reading…

I recently discovered a goldmine of information maintained by our new friends from Omniture called SiteCatalyst NetAverages, an online service that provides insight into current Internet usage trends. The data is based on anonymous aggregate unique visits across the majority of Omniture customers.  These sites are the big leagues and they are visited daily by your mom, daughter, doctor, dentist, accountant and co-workers in HR.

I won’t waste your time analyzing the results.  Take a look for yourself.  The charts below are from last month (May 2010).

After looking at this data, I realize that we are dealing with two different challenges.  The first challenge is getting all vendors to agree on the numerous aspects of the standard and implement them consistently across all supported platforms (I have to admit that I’m skeptical.  History does not build any confidence).  The second challenge is the rate of adoption.   Although Flash Player 10 was quickly adopted (over 90% in only a few months), new browser technology moves much slower.  I do think that HTML 5 will be adopted faster than previous browser advancements because the new features are compelling, but the reality is that it will take some serious time.  Keep in mind that IE 6 was introduced in 2001 and it still appears in the chart!  It’s depressing!

If you would like to take a look at the data from NetAverages, go sign up!    It’s part of CSLive and is complementary for 12 months when you register your Creative Suite 5 product or sign up online before April 11, 2011.  You can signup now at  There are other charts showing OS’s (Win XP is nearly 50% still!…geez), screen resolution, JavaScript versions, etc.   It’s fascinating to explore.

If you would like to see data from another source, check out NetMarketShare – the results are even more surprising (they show IE 6 at 17.6%!).  Check out their OS version chart – Windows XP still at 62%??!!  Now that I think about it, my accountant does still use Windows XP.  Thankfully my mom has a loving son that upgrades her often.  🙂

~ by Greg on June 15, 2010.

15 Responses to “HTML 5 and Flash – A reality check”

  1. Wow, Site Catalyst is fantastic. I didn’t even know it existed, but as I just bought CS5 I have the subscription. Thanks very much for the tip, invaluable!

  2. Hi,

    While its nice to see the statistics presented side by side like that, I think the majority of developers are fully aware of the imbalance. The problem is not with the actuality of the situation but with the perception of the situation. Flash has always been a favourite (in my opinion unfair) whipping boy of the standards crowd, but from what I can see this attitude was always quite localised. You could predict what a person’s opinion of Flash was fairly accurately by the developer demographic they inhabited, and from my experience, once you left the environs of developers, people (clients/customers) were at worst ambivillent and at best enthusiatic about Flash. I think that this has now changed. The wave of negative publicity has penetrated outside the tech community on an alarming scale. Friends of mine who have no tech background whatsoever have mentioned this to me without prompting. One even mentioned Flash Player’s security vulnerabilities. I think the problem for Flash now is not statistical or for the most part based on fact or evidence, but is a problem of (mis)perception, and from talking with other Flash developers, there is a strong lack of confidence in Adobe’s ability to reverse this situation.

  3. Most of my non-developer relations don’t care about technology. The want to use Facebook, broswe for stuff or share their fotos and maybe do a bit of blogging. As long as it works. They dont even know who Adobe is or that there is such a thing a webstandards.

  4. […] See more here […]

  5. Its feasible that the mobile markets will move much quicker with browser upgrades due to the lifetime of a phone.

    Also like you I suspect we will see adoption rates of browsers increase with HTML 5 as devs will build stuff that require it. When a user stumbles across a site that needs a newer browser they will probably install it. This is why the Flash Player has such good penetration as people dev stuff that required new versions, users come across it and upgrade, but this hasn’t been the case with HTML, HTML devs instead opting for graceful degrdation.

  6. […] Direct Link […]

  7. I am a Flash Fan– However the data leaves out mobile support. In 2009 more web session took place on mobile phones than in traditional notebook or desktop computers. This is the trend that is going to have the most impact– Not this silly HTML 5 vs Flash debate– as if it is impossible for duplicative technologies to exist…

    • I agree with you that the incredible advances in mobile devices does change things. ALL web developers are having to consider how their content looks on mobile and that consideration leads to different designs, especially for interactive content. This revolution also complicates things for developers. Now instead of only testing in IE, FF, Chrome, Safari, we have to test across multiple mobile platforms, multiple screen sizes that we never considered before, gestures support, etc.. fun fun! However, it is compelling to think that most mobile devices will support Flash soon because once again, I will be able to rely on a consistent run-time with wide adoption which will sometimes spare me from the ever growing matrix of browser/OS versions. Obviously it’s a bit early for me to say too much about Flash on mobile, but the early indications are really encouraging. I’ve loaned my Android phone with Flash Player 10.1 to a several people and every single one of them was pleasantly surprised. Even a hard-core anti-flash guy said, “Ok..I have to admit, this is cool”. Now, if someone is reading this thinking that Flash is only about video and animations, they won’t get what I’m saying… but… Flash is FAR more than that. I could go on for pages about how Flash is used in large-scale mission critical apps, complex real-time data visualization, backend integration with secure environments, P2P applications, adaptive bitrate streaming, etc., but each point would invite a new debate that I don’t want to start on this blog post. However, I do enjoy it when a Flash skeptic gives me 15 minutes to raise their awareness of what Flash is really about. Usually after 5 minutes of showing them some real applications, they start to be intrigued. After about 10 minutes, they hit the “holy sh*t” moment. Then, if they are a coder, I show them Flex and the entire conversation becomes a lot of fun.

      Ok – I’m done. I do appreciate your comment. Your point is a good one.

  8. This whole Flash-is-Great argument would hold water IF Flash worked.

    If I go view a page for which I don’t have full HTML5 support, the page just looks wrong. If I view a page heavy with Flash, the browser crashes and it costs me time ($) to get back to work.

    Adobe, please get off your ass and fix Flash. I’ve had to relaunch my browsers three times today so far, with Flash

    • Hey Dan – what sites are you seeing crashes? I use TONS of sites that have lots of Flash and never have to restart. I’m not denying that you are having problems.. I’m just curious as the content you are viewing. Enterprise customers use Flash/Flex in mission critical apps so if it so buggy that it required browser restarts multiple times per day, we would have never survived.

      Can you send me a list of sites that cause the issues? If you are not comfortable leaving it here, please email me at



    • Dan C, I’m also part of the vast majority of users that never have to restart their browser due to Flash. I’ve had to reinstall many programs over time (ie. antivirus, Microsoft Office, etc.) because some corruption has developed or some issues have arisen from upgrading. Even the best developed software in the world is going to have issues for at least some people if it’s installed on 97% of computers. But if the software is corrupted, I just go and ahead and reinstall it, rather than live with the crashes and whinge on blogs.

  9. It’s sites like that help to drive Flash adoption rate way up. Updating the Flash plugin, for most people, can be very seamless compared to installing a new browser.

    I noticed Disney has updated their site to use less Flash, used to be entirely Flash, but they still uses a ton of Flash. They are a great example of why Flash is not going anywhere anytime soon, to replace all their games, videos and to be completely HTML5 will take forever. Steve Jobs is on their board, but they have to face all the realities addressed above, so they will be a good indicator of where technology will go and how soon it will get there.

    BTW, I just worked on a site for a large company that starts with a “D” and they wanted an all HTML5 site with Flash fallback for IE. Many of the request we have been done must faster in Flash, but they wanted a Flash type UI in HTML5, but still work on all browsers. What a nightmare, there are so many browser based exceptions in our code, it reminds me of HTML in the late 90’s early 2000s, The problem now is that we have two – three times as many browsers to code for then we did 10 years ago.

  10. @Todd – good to hear a real world example of the pain developers have to go through to utilise HTML5. This is one of the reasons a lot of developers won’t bother with it. Unless of course I can sell my clients on a project that will cost twice as much, but only reach 1% (how many iPhone/iPad users are there?) more target audience.

  11. […] A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words: Why Flash is Hard to Replace […]

  12. […] obvious choice for playback of video on non-HTML5-ready browsers.  Read my prior article, “HTML 5 and Flash – A Reality Check“.  Are you surprised to see that more people use IE6 than Safari?  I was!  Of course there […]

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