Talk of Flashs Demise Is Premature

Opinion: Flash will die someday, but not at the hands of Microsoft's "Sparkle."

You can call me Jim Rapoza, the Peter Coffee Killer.

Well, not literally, but Im a killer of his Epicenters columns. Surely, now that youre reading my columns, youll soon find that you no longer need to read his columns—or the columns of any other tech writer, for that matter. Soon our own Eric Lundquist and David Coursey—heck, all the tech columnists of the world (bwa ha ha!)—will fall to me.

Or not. Actually, all signs seem to indicate that people like reading multiple technology columns by multiple technology writers. So, I guess I can forget about being a killer.

There are other, higher-profile and much-hyped killers out there who are even less likely to make a killing than I am. One recent example is more Mike "Austin Powers" Myers than Michael "Halloween" Myers: "Sparkle" technology from Microsoft. (Come to think of it, Sparkle is either a really good or a really bad name for a serial killer—of anything.)

Pretty much anywhere you turn, youll see someone touting Sparkle as a Flash killer, implying that Adobe is shaking in its boots and that its acquisition of Macromedia will prove pointless as Microsoft once again buries another victim. But if I were Adobe, I dont think Id be too worried.

Admittedly, there is some pretty cool stuff in Sparkle, and I expect to see some impressively rich GUIs built with it. But theres one problem: As things stand now, these Sparkle-based GUIs will work only on systems running Windows Vista or Windows XP Service Pack 2 systems with WinFX components (and, most likely, a Windows Presentation Foundation-compatible video card).

Lets look ahead to, say, mid-2007, approximately six months after Vistas expected release. If Sparkle is massively successful, with heavy adoption by everyone who could use it, what would that be? Five percent of the market?

Sparkle proponents list all the great things it will do that Flash cant. Of course, they are comparing some future, sure-to-be-buggy-in-first-release product against a currently shipping product. Who knows what Flash will be capable of in a year?

And Flash has become pretty experienced at handling so-called killers. Over the years, it has faced Java, ActiveX and DHTML, as well as alternative Rich Internet Application technologies such as Curl and, of course, Captain Cold. (Oh, wait, he was the killer of The Flash.)

Recently, AJAX has been touted as a Flash killer, and while it is a much more legitimate threat than Sparkle, I tend to think of Flash and AJAX as complementary technologies.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about the growing support for AJAX development.

In general, this whole idea of "new product x is a killer of established product y" that we in the tech industry have is pretty misguided. Sure, Excel killed Lotus 1-2-3, and Internet Explorer killed Netscape. But, in recent years, its become a lot harder to find examples of a product really killing another product.

More likely is a new technology killing an older one, such as the Web killing Gopher and BBSes or XML killing EDI. Really, the main way that one product kills another product nowadays is when one vendor acquires a competitor, sort of like the way that Illustrator will eventually "kill" FreeHand.

So, if youre looking forward to Flash and Sparkle going at it like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, forget about it. They arent even in the same ring. Flash runs on everything, from Linux to Mac OS X to Windows to handhelds. Sparkle wont even run on Windows 2000. And, graphics developers who still favor the Mac can develop in Flash but not in Sparkle.

Someday Flash will die, but it will probably be because of a big technological shift and not just because Microsoft has decided to do something similar. In fact, whenever you see some new forthcoming product being touted as a killer, take it with a big grain of salt. The only thing that is likely to die is the hype and FUD surrounding this new product.

And as far as that Peter Coffee Killer thing goes, you can forget about that. I hope he links to my columns from his so I can get some of that great online traffic he gets.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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