Something has been weighing heavy on my mind for a while now. Years, in fact. I didn’t realize it however until the past few weeks while delving back into interactive media for the book publishing industry.
In the mid to late 90’s I spent a lot of effort on interactive media for desktop computers and commercial television. There were promising technologies and great multimedia development platforms, and out of this open specifications emerged like SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), while HTML (HyperText Markup Language) flourished.
SMIL was quickly adopted by Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Real Player – the trifecta of heavy-weight vendors with a vested interest in interactive media. It was very promising that these vendors could all gather around this common open format for interactive media.
This was at the same time as Flash was also starting to take hold in the market.
Then over the following 10 years, SMIL was virtually assassinated from the landscape.
There’s a lot that can be written about SMIL and SVG’s failure in the industry.
Quicktime X no longer opens and runs SMIL files (Quicktime Player 7 does, and it’s still in the spec). Quicktime on the iPhone won’t handle SMIL. WYSIWYG SMIL editors now are nowhere to be found. Evolution of the SMIL specification slowed to a crawl. The once potentially vibrant ecosystem around open standards has withered to nearly nothing – with obscure projects like Ambulant remaining as last-chance efforts to keep an open format available to the world for interactive media.
My problem with Flash isn’t its capabilities – they are impressive. It is with the fact that it is a vendor proprietary format, with a closed ecosystem. Adobe makes the flash player. Adobe makes the flash development tools. Sure some other companies provide streamlined development tools based on Adobe’s APIs (like SWiSH Max) but Adobe controls what they can and can’t do with those APIs.
Apple is rallying behind emerging and open interactive formats like HTML, which have recently been trying to introduce new features like Video and provide a richer standardized interactive format – strangely what the world seems to be crying for all the time we let SMIL wither and die. Can you imagine what things would be like if HTML were a vendor-proprietary format? What would the world be like if Microsoft owned HTML? Adobe? Apple? Commodore?
What we continue to lack are modern versions of the great pioneering multimedia tools. Classic HTML tools don’t cut it – we need tools that average computer users can grasp, that they DID grasp 20 years ago but we seem to have lost. That a teacher can sit down and use to build an interactive aid for students. That a marketing professional can use to build an interactive product demonstration. That aren’t tied to a vendor proprietary format. That will play natively in a web browser as intended by the author.
So I say to Apple, help us remember that Flash is just ONE option in the world of interactive media. Help us to remember that websites don’t need Flash to be highly interactive and graphically rich. Help us to remember that we need tooling and support for open standards and to realize the interactive multimedia vision that seemed so clear 20 years ago.
Ignore the whining from the complacent and lazy market, stick to your guns, and KEEP FLASH OFF the iPhone / iPad!