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Which Technology Is Better For Online Web Reporting – Flash vs. HTML5

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Adobe’s decision to donate Flex to the Apache foundation and so, end Flash player support for mobile devices has many newsmakers and bloggers eager to proclaim that Flash technology has been replaced with the new HTML5 standard.

Flash vs. HTML5

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While we see countless HTML5 sample applications roaming across the web, the enterprise applications market has large goals and exacting standards. HTML5 as exciting as it is, must be scrutinized by business analytics and team leads. A very good look into this issue was given by Farata Systems blog:

Key points:

  • If you want to develop two identical projects in Flex and HTML5, there is a high probability that the HTML5 project will be more expensive.
  • It is nearly impossible to achieve Flex-level quality in an HTML5 project.
  • Any HTML5 enterprise project will be forced to set lower requirements.
  • From the very beginning parameters like reliability, ability to adapt to different the screen sizes and densities will be simplified.
  • Instead of implementing these features, the functional specification must include testing under seven browsers. Developers will spend most of their time in the debugger.

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There is a common misconception that HTML5 is a completely new development platform. It is still a “sum of technologies” brought to us with a common, yet upgraded, components we know – the addition of <canvas> and <video> tags, the CSS3 (which was supported by HTML4) as well and Javascript which has not changed at all in its specification.

HTML5 itself defines an updated(and not yet finalized) standard of HTML 4.01. By introducing additional markup and objects like <canvas>, HTML5 itself is still a just web document markup language. In the middle of this technology stack, which HTML5 term refers to, lies the updated CSS3. The revised CSS3 now provides many exciting perks for web developers like animation, transition effects and image filters.

We see some amazingly cool, beautiful data work in HTML5 – but there is also an ugly truth. They don’t crunch very much data. Certainly not enterprise levels of data. Javascript and its high level application libraries such as JQuery or Node.js, interact with a backend using asynchronous data requests (referred as Ajax and also now becoming standard – REST). This is a potentially powerful environment, but one that still relies on the same set of HTML, CSS and Javascript that has been known for decades and more often referred as DHTML or part of Web 2.0.

Considering our challenging task of FAST and RELIABLE web reports driven by big data, we are laser-focused on the capacity of any platform to load big chunks of information. The information, taken either from CSV reports or OLAP cubes, must load instantly (or almost instantly) for any user to drill-down and filter the pivot grid in real-time.

The question we frequently ask ourselves is: is the HTML5 technology stack able to fulfill this requirement? According to our initial research, most OLAP grids based on HTML and Javascript can crunch only around five to ten thousand data rows. Higher numbers will causean unexpected crash of the javascript runtime machine, and, consequently, the browser itself.

Today’s Flash Player runtime lets Flexmonster Pivot load up to 100mb and then render and operate millions of records in a very reasonable time.

We see a continual stream of evidence that the Flash technology development is still going strong. Of course we wonder about the transition to Apache, too – but if handled correctly this actually has the potential to become a tremendous boost to the platform’s evolution. Time will tell.

As both standards progress, we continue to leverage the strengths of each without abandoning the other. For the foreseeable future, Flash and Flex give enterprise-class app developers big-data opportunities and advantages far beyond the severe limits of HTML5.