The best way to think about Flash – for the purposes of this discussion – is as a bit of magic, included on a Web page just like an image, that can do all kinds of really cool animations, transitions, play sound and movies, and nearly display nearly identically on nearly all browsers that have the flash plug-in installed.
Flash has been around for quite a while and has a very robust set of tools (made by Adobe, and formerly by Macromedia). It has been used to create the sites, movies, slideshows, or multimedia players, that you see on millions of Web sites. For the sake of this comparison, I am going to talk specifically about slideshows that are created in Flash compared to those using jQuery because that is the vast majority of the Flash that we have traditionally used in our projects. And ’cause that’s what this post is titled.
- Great looking fonts
- Smooth, complex animations
- Robust development tools
The jQuery library can either be downloaded from the jQuery Web site, or you can link to hosted versions from jQuery, Google, or Microsoft. I tend to use the Google-hosted version because it is very popular and likely in use on many other sites. Because of that, if your visitors have previously visited a site using the same linked library that you do, their browser will not have to download it again and you’ll save the 150-ish KB of download that the library requires.
- Generally smaller, and quicker (150KB+ though, for the main library)
- Less time to create, very simple to manage
- Superior accessibility and findability
- Works on iPhones
There is no cut-and-dried answer to the question “Flash or jQuery,” though I’d argue that in the limited scope of slideshows jQuery has a decided advantage. In the end it really depends on what you are trying to communicate, to whom you are trying to communicate it, and how you want it to look. If you want to be able to use any beautiful font available to your designer, utilize sophisticated transitions (though jQuery can match much of Flash’s capabilities in this regard), ensure that your slideshow works on all browsers with the Flash plug-in installed, and don’t need to support iPhone users, then Flash may be your best bet. If you are, however, willing to limit your font options, want to be sure that your content is available to all users, on all browsers, regardless of platform, and are willing to limit slightly the sophistication of transitions and animations, then jQuery is the clear winner.
And that brings us to the end, but I simply cannot leave without a final parting shot regarding putting a lot of time and money in to designing and developing a slideshow. I, and others in the office are looking with an increasingly critical eye toward the effectiveness of using slideshows at all to highlight important information. A too-cursory review of too-few site analytics begins to suggest that very, very (very!) few visitors see more than the first slide of any slideshow; Even fewer engage with the sideshow controls (if present, to move forward, back, or pause); And fewer still click on any links found on slides beyond the first. Do not assume that the third, or even second, slide will get any attention at all.