I've been thinking a lot about the HTML/Flash player platforms recently, and Adobe's slow deprecation of Flash support, and I've noticed something interesting.
In the heydays of Flash, being tied to a "close" platform (Flash) controlled by a single company (Adobe) was a positive thing. It allowed the platform to move at a very, very fast pace, unencumbered by slow committee decisions. We'd get exciting new features added to the platform on every new version. I still remember when Bitmap capabilities were added to it, then filters, then the pseudo-3d, then bitmap triangle drawing... it was magical. I had been using Flash since version 2, so it was nice seeing it evolving as our needs did.
So at the time, one of the strongest arguments in support of the platform as a closed platform was that it could evolve at a very fast pace. HTML, on the other hand, was slowed down by lengthy discussions, to the point where any new feature would take many years to show up in most people's browsers. I remember seeing the jokes that HTML5 wouldn't be ready until 2022 or whatever. This was accurate and in my opinion overshadowed any of the other arguments against Flash.
This was the bright side of a closed platform. We're past a threshold now, though, and what we're seeing today is the other side of the coin. It's a much darker side.
Personally, the Flash platform is not moving in a direction that pleases me, or at least not at the right speed. Adobe seems committed and focused on the AIR platform, which makes sense - I like the new numbering scheme, for example, and the new fast release cycle. Still, what I'm seeing is features added in a scatter shot manner, often with showstopping bugs that go ignored for a long time or completely forgotten.
(Examples I can mention are GameInput, which still have one showstopping performance bug on Windows machines and one very weird bug on Android, and Stage3d/StageVideo integration which was removed from the platform a couple of years ago and never added back despite promises to the contrary; many more examples of forgotten bugs exist.)
This, in my opinion, is the dark side of a closed platform. We have bugs no one can look into because, of course, no one has access to it. We have things that are barely documented and kind of arcane with a lot of legacy misinformation (e.g. wmode/renderMode) because no one can look at the code path to see what it is actually doing.
On top of that, several (brilliant) engineers and evangelists have been moved out of the Flash platform in favor of other technologies (HTML). You don't see people posting about exciting new features, you don't see engineers talking about the internals of the Player. They're gone or silenced. More than anything, this is the writing on the wall for developers: Adobe is phasing Flash out.
I'm a realist. I think HTML5 is the future. I can't blame Adobe for their move. I'm sure they have very limited resources so they need to put their chips on what they think will give them bigger rewards in the long run.
HTML development may move slower. You need several different vendors to agree on a feature before it's implemented. This is the interesting part, and the point of this whole rant, though: thanks in part to the path braved by Flash, HTML(5) is now arriving at a pretty mature state, and you don't have to add features to it at a very fast pace. Sure, things like workers and sockets and local storage are good, but the reality is, 90% of what you'd want to create with a "rich" website is already fully possible with HTML5+. The agility of a closed platform is now moot.
I think the lesson here is that we just can't give labels to a platform. Being either closed or open isn't a good thing by itself. It depends on context.
At a certain point, being closed was good for creators of Flash content. Right now, it's pretty detrimental.
At a certain point, being open was bad for HTML(5). Right now, it doesn't matter that much, and it's probably a good thing in the long run (there's room for experimentation).
For Flash, this all contributes to create a zombie community. Gone are the days where we'd have daily amazing blog posts about a new feature or some striking visual created with Flash. We do see that with HTML, even if it's mostly repeating what was done 5 years ago. And it's electrifying. It's a brave new world, even if in a shape previously seen (and let's face it, even what Flash did was old stuff for a lot of people, e. g. Director developers).
My current project at work is a Flash project. I love it and using Flash was the right thing for this (it runs on a standalone application). It wouldn't look as good in other platform, nor be done as easily.
But still? I can't wait to spend more time with HTML(5), and especially WebGL. I'm doing a bit of that on my free time, and it's just much more exciting because of the community, and because you know you're not painting yourself into a corner.