Alternatives to Macromedia Flash Player

by Michael Garrett

Adobe Flash Player (formerly Macromedia Flash Player) is a multimedia platform which has become the standard for implementing animation and interactivity into web pages to create ads, integrate video into websites and even develop feature-rich web applications. Despite being the 'de facto' standard, there are a few alternatives that can create similar results to Flash on the web.

SVG and SMIL

Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) and Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) are two technologies created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) aimed at being an open-standards alternative to Flash. SVG is a format for describing both static and dynamic two-dimensional vector graphics. SMIL is used to define the markup for additional effects such as animations, visual transitions, embedded media, timing and layout, similar to Flash. The most limiting factor of SVG and SMIL, introduced in 2001, is browser support, which is incomplete at best (although improving) in browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Opera. Internet Explorer requires users to download a plugin (similar to Flash) to accurately render SVG markup. Adobe has also had its own SVG viewer application since before it acquired Flash technology, though support for it has now been discontinued.

Microsoft Silverlight

Silverlight is a web application framework developed by Microsoft which can achieve similar results to Adobe Flash player. First released in April 2007, Silverlight is a fairly new technology compared to Flash, which has been around since 1996. Despite this, a growing number of sites are implementing Microsoft's Silverlight, such as the official Major League Baseball website (to display video highlights), Windows4All.com (to create an online virtual operating system) and GoGoPin Ad (an online classified ad/flyer creator). Since its release, Silverlight has become the closest competitor in the small market of Flash alternatives. Microsoft, however, has been known for ignoring open standards, and Silverlight is no different with its lack of support for the SVG standard, instead making use of MIcrosoft's own Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML).

OpenLaszlo

OpenLaszlo, a fully open-source platform developed by Laszlo Systems, is designed to develop and deploy rich web applications. This technology consists of the OpenLaszlo Server and LZX programming language, which is a JavaScript and XML description language similar to Microsoft's XAML language used in Silverlight. Because OpenLaszlo applications can be compiled within the browser dynamically and run as traditional Java servlets, it is only required that the web server be running the OpenLaszlo server, which increases compatibility with browsers, compared to SVG and Flash. No additional downloads are necessary for end users to view Internet applications built using OpenLaszlo and deployed in this method. Additionally, OpenLaszlo applications can be compiled into DHTML or SWF files to be loaded statically into web pages, although this manner of deployment lacks the full functionality of servlet-contained files.

Potential

As these Flash alternatives mature, so does their potential for additional features and more widespread use. Adobe Flash has been around the longest of any of these technologies, and therefore, has an instant advantage. As each of the other technologies grow, especially newcomer Silverlight, more and more developers will be willing to implement them across the web.

Considerations

When considering any of these alternative to Flash, developers must keep in mind the browser support (or lack thereof) for each technology. Silverlight (and SVG for Internet Explorer) require end users to download additional plugins to view created applications and animations correctly. Depending on the browser being used, SVG may not render accurately due to incomplete support. Also, although OpenLaszlo applications can be completely server side, increasing compatibilty, it may require a bigger learning curve for developers used to creating Flash applications. For the widest possible audience, it may be necessary for developers to just use Flash, which is already the accepted standard used by most interactive developers, and viewed by millions of Internet users on a daily basis.

About the Author

Living in Plano, Texas, Michael Garrett has been blogging since 2005 and has been a freelance writer covering electronics and technology since 2007. Garrett is currently a full-time college student, attaining a degree in Graphic Design.