With the advent of Adobe Flash, website designers found a new development platform that could produce a more visually rich and interactive browsing experience than the traditional HTML and CSS combination could provide. But using Flash for web design in its early versions had its disadvantages.
Conventional wisdom held that Flash websites could not have their content crawled by search engines. The argument was, what was the point in having a gloriously visual interactive website if nobody could find it? Furthermore, Flash sites were notoriously difficult and time-consuming to update on a regular basis, particularly by a person not trained in the Flash platform.
But Flash has come a long way since it was first distributed by Macromedia. Do the original disadvantages of Flash websites still make HTML the best choice for creating websites?
Advantages of Flash Websites
Flash achieves resolution and cross-browser independency due to rescalable vector graphics. HTML web design needs to factor both different resolution sizes and browser types, as different web browsers interpret HTML and CSS differently. For example, Firefox and Internet Explorer do not agree on the size of a pixel.
The modern browsing audience no longer expects only to be informed: they also expect to be entertained. Flash-powered websites can achieve that wow-factor through interactive animations of a type that leaves traditional HTML-driven websites looking primitive by comparison.
Fonts in Flash Sites
Flash can contain any embedded font, allowing a web site developer the luxury of design freedom. This freedom of design is denied to the HTML developer because HTML cannot embed fonts – the end user would have to have the specific font on their computer in order to see it used in an HTML-driven website.
Disadvantages of Flash Websites
The most obvious disadvantage of Flash is the cost of the software. Flash retails for up to $400. In contrast, HTML can be composed in a text editor such as Notepad, which ships with the Windows operating system. In effect, a web developer can write a website for free using HTML.
The two other most common arguments against Flash as a viable tool for web development is that Flash webpages are intrinsically search-engine-unfriendly, and that Flash sites are notoriously difficult to update. However, advances in Flash technology and cunning use of external XTML pages has largely overcome both of these disadvantages.
SEO for Flash Sites
Traditional web pages separate content – coded in HTML – from style – coded in CSS. Flash can imitate and surpass this process. The textual content of the website can be parsed into XTML pages that are loaded into the Flash site. Thus, the best of both worlds can be achieved: XTML supplies the text-based content while Flash powers the visual dynamics of the website.
This also means that search engines can crawl Flash sites, by spidering the content-rich XTML pages. This considered, poor SEO for Flash websites can now be regarded as poor implementation on the part of the web developer rather than a shortcoming on the part of Flash itself.
Update Flash Website Content
Using parsed XTML pages to provide SEO-friendly textual content for Flash websites also means that updating the content of Flash websites is as simple a task as updating the HTML equivalent. It remains true that updating the style of a Flash website is a complicated task, but the style that is achievable in Flash, from interactive pixel-perfect menus to absolute control over embedded font types, is far more advanced than the basic options achievable in CSS.
Flash Pros Outweigh Flash Cons
Flash has introduced increasingly advanced features and functions with every new version. In contrast, HTML and CSS have remained fundamentally unchanged since their conception. As a consequence, Flash has become very accomplished at achieving that which HTML and CSS have traditionally been used for – creating web sites.
The only true advantage HTML has over Flash as a medium for web development is cost. However, Flash is becoming increasingly affordable, and budget alternatives to Flash are already on the market.