Can the web stack be replaced?

This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.

In this article about the transfer of somebody from Adobe to Apple there was an interesting remark: Adobe had the chance to set the standard for the web with their own technology and failed. Twice. First they had Postscript, a scripting language for working with text and visuals (if I understand correctly). And they had Flash, a language for visuals, mainly. If, back then when they invented these technologies, they made them an open standard, they would have replaced the current web stack, writes the author. I find this a fascinating thought. It could be true for Postscript, I know nothing about this language, but it’s definitely not true for Flash.

One of the most important principles of the web is that it should work everywhere, on every device, on whatever browser the user has. Maybe this is even the most important principle. We are able to create responsive websites because of this principle. The web was always meant to be responsive, we just ignored this fact by creating fixed width sites – something I, and others, never understood. The reason why I think Flash could never have taken over the web, is because it completely ignored this principle. It’s even opposed to it. A typical flash application has predefined dimensions and is optimised for people with a mouse only.

Another reason why Flash could never have taken over the web stack, is because Flash is made for authors first, not users. This is another major difference with an important principle of HTML: in case of conflict, the user (visitor, viewer, person who sees the work) is more important than the author (an artist, designer, writer, developer), the author is more important than the implementer (the people who build the browsers), the implementor is more important than the specs, and the specs are more important than theoretical purity. Flash was created to give the author complete control over how people would view and use your product. The user had no control over it whatsoever. This is exactly the reason why Flash failed on mobile: there was no way to adapt all these Flash canvasses to these smaller screens and different ways of interaction. Yes, it’s flashy if you can see it, but no, it’s not flexible at all.

So if you really want to replace the web stack with something else, carefully study the principles of the web, and then make something better.