Mink Machine

Modern Flash development

The classic attitude towards Flash is that while it is an excellent tool for interactive visual effects when applied properly, it is a pain in the back when it comes to accessibility and semantics. This black-and-white view often leads to arguments between the Flash developers and front-end coders.

Since I’ve never really liked trench warfare, I’m glad to see that great minds have conceived clever solutions during the last years. We all know about the eternal struggle between the elements <Embed> and <Object>, the classic Flash Satay method (better but still flawed) and its modern successor SWFObject (a progressive enhancement approach) together with swfAddress.

In the last years, we’ve seen the birth of sIFR (scalable Inman Flash Replacement), a way to replace typeface text with Flash movies on the fly. Also, swfIR (swf Image Replacement) was using unobtrusive JavaScript, progressive enhancement and Flash to enhance existing images with visual effects. Faust is another example using a similar technique. Even the old issue with SEO and Flash has seen progress using unobtrusive Javascript.

If you’re feeling tipsy, you can also put HTML elements on top of your Flash movie by adding the following parameter:

<param name="wmode" value="transparent">

But be careful, there are several reported problems with this method including reduced framerate.

However, most solutions come down with the same weakness: They rely on JavaScript to insert Flash content, and you cannot rely on Javascript being available. Graceful degradation must be provided. Or better yet, go straight for progressive enhancement (since it automatically guarantees graceful degradation). This is even more important these days when the Ajax hype adds more fuel to the fire-and-forget usage of Javascript.

Accessibility is still a problem with Flash, but I’m glad to see that some progress happens every year. I suppose that WPF/E will start it all over again in a year or so, but that’s another story.

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