Javascript Ready to Be a Viable Alternative to Flash for Website Development

With the rapid rise of mobile devices as an increasingly common alternative means of accessing content on the web, the continued use of Flash-based site content poses a growing problem for webmasters. In the not-too-distant past, site designers really had no choice when building interactive site content: if an image or element needed any form of interactive animation, it invariably had to be created and displayed using Flash.

Flash has for long been synonymous with website animation, and until just a few years ago, very few web designers would have thought twice about using it liberally: entire websites were – and still are – conceived using Flash. The domination of Flash on the web for creating animated content for websites became second nature for most web designers, and almost every browser that shipped on any computer came with a Flash plugin installed by default.

Unfortunately, the use of Flash technology for integrating site content comes at a price: it’s resource-intensive, and is a non-standard (proprietary) technology. This only really affected a small minority of Internet users, whose choice of OS meant having to make do with a buggy or under-optimized Flash plugin, or none at all.

But these days, things are changing at a pretty rapid pace, and relying on Flash content to make a website means the growing legions of mobile web users accessing the Internet without a Flash-equipped browser just can’t view that content at all. Seemingly simple things like Flash slideshows, while a widespread and integral part of website, just don’t work for iPhone and iPad users, among others.

Until recently, web developers have had few options at their disposal for dealing with this problem by providing an alternative non-Flash content: their choices have been traditionally limited to providing alternate content like static images for incompatible devices, or replacing Flash content with rudimentary (and pretty crude) animations using alternative web technologies like javascript.

In some ways, we have Apple – and their Flash-free i-devices – to thank for the speed at which developers have embraced alternative web technologies like Javascript, HTML5 and CSS, as a viable Flash alternative. Over the last few years, they’ve feverishly tweaked algorithms, refined libraries and styled page elements to create animations and visual effects hitherto reserved for proprietary web technologies like Flash.

Replacing Flash with standard web technologies like Javascript to create complex visual effects for websites – like animations, transitions and reflections – means that content is accessible to site visitors independently of their choice of operating system, browser or device, whilst still providing the required functionality and interactivity.

Javascript slideshows: a case for a real alternative to Flash

It’s all very well and good to talk technology, and there’s no denying that – in theory at least – Javascript (with a little help from HTML5 and CSS3) should be able to produce fairly good results with animating site content, producing a result that rivals Flash.

In the “real world” (aka on actual websites), web designers are proving time and again that this theory is well founded. They’re increasingly looking towards universally accessible content to ensure their sites render – and function – the same way, from device to device, and from browser to browser.

Their embracing of Javascript to produce device-independent animations – from simply interactive elements like slideshows to complex ones like games – is going a long way to bridging the gap between the past and future of online content. What was once seen by technology giants as an Eldorado, basing their corporate strategy on the hope of dominating the web through the sale and licensing of proprietary technologies like Flash, is finally becoming the open, standards-based environment where even the little guys (from small tech firms to graduate programmers) enter on a level playing field.

The transition back to – or perhaps rather, the acceptance of – the Internet as a worldwide network, based on open and universal standards, is well underway: even Microsoft has finally decided to reorient its browser technology toward web standards, after more than a decade of trying to go it alone. Simple, small steps forward, like the replacement of Flash-based slideshows with workable Javascript alternatives, is a part of this giant leap towards an Internet accessible to everyone, and from any device.

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