Web fonts: HTML5 vs. Flash

How competing technologies handle fonts on the web.

With all the in-fighting going on between Adobe and Apple over which technology will someday rule supreme on the internet, I thought it would be a good time to look more closely at the issues at hand and think through what the implications are for fonts.

In a nutshell, Adobe wants everyone to use Flash to create content for the web that can be viewed by any and all devices (iPad, Blackberry, desktops, etc.). Further, they want Flash to be the development language for online applications, including games.

In the other corner, Apple thinks that Flash is nothing more than a third party nuisance that is not part of the open standards of the web, and has instead been promoting the use of HTML5 – the latest and greatest version of the programming language that is used to create web pages.

I think that sums it up pretty fairly. You can read Adobe’s position here, and Apple’s position here.

Here’s a quick overview on each of these technologies and how they handle fonts.

Adobe Flash and fonts

Flash allows designers to embed fonts into their Flash designs using the Flash authoring tool from Adobe. This has been one of the greatest advantages of using Flash over HTML in the past. This approach produces consistent, predictable viewing of typography – usually.

Sometimes fonts can get embedded incorrectly by Flash and the characters don’t look right in your design. Also, Flash files can tend to be very large and slow to download – particularly when you embed fonts, since each one has to be included in some form. Further, you can’t create Flash designs without buying the Flash software.

HTML5 and fonts

HTML5 supports linking directly to font files that live on your web server without using any other software or plugins. Fonts can then can be used in your web page just like you would any other design element (pics, video, etc.). This has never been possible in the past since HTML had no way to do that.

In HTML5 fonts do not need to be embedded (as with Flash) and the fonts should show up on your web page as intended, and speedily, since there is no middle layer technology reading/loading font outlines (as with Flash)

This of course opens up a whole new world of possibilities for web designers, and it’s available to all designers since it’s built into the web language itself. But it also creates some legal concerns for the font vendors that will need to be sorted out.

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