Crocodoc Rolls Out Embeddable HTML5 Document Viewer; YC Startup Wants to Be “The New Adobe of the Web,” Sans Flash

If you’re a Web geek, you know all about the death match between Flash and HTML5. Even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard at least in passing about the controversy over Adobe’s proprietary video and animation platform, and how Apple won’t provide support for Flash videos on its mobile devices, and how Steve Jobs and many others think that the future of multimedia lies with HTML5—the latest revision of the Web’s basic structuring language, which includes support for open-source video standards.

But you probably didn’t know that the Flash-HTML5 battle spills beyond video and animation into other areas of the Web, such as document sharing. About nine months ago, “social publishing” startup Scribd, which lets users post and share office documents online, embarked on a huge project to convert all of its site content from Flash to HTML5; the Y Combinator-spawned company said at the time that it wanted to “deliver an impressive reading experience across all browsers and web-enabled devices, without requiring add-ons or plug-ins.” But Scribd’s embeddable document reader still uses Flash, meaning that Scribd documents might not show up correctly outside of Scribd’s own website.

Now Scribd has been leapfrogged—and by another Y Combinator-backed startup, of all things. Boston- and San Francisco-based Crocodoc, which emerged from Y Combinator last spring, today released the world’s first embeddable HTML5 document viewer. (You can see an actual example on page 2 of this article.) That may sound like a pretty nerdy milestone, but it means that developers who adopt the viewer will be able to integrate PDF, Word, and PowerPoint documents into any website or document sharing system without requiring end users to run Flash, Acrobat, Word, or other programs or plug-ins. It also gets Crocodoc one step closer to being able to show such documents even on mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones.

Yammer, the San Francisco-based maker of a popular enterprise instant messaging and social networking system, has already built the Crocodoc viewer into its software. “Crocodoc gives Yammer users a great document viewing experience right inside our site,” said Yammer chief technology officer Adam Pisoni in a statement about the new viewer.

Ryan Damico, Crocodoc’s founder, argues that “HTML5 is really the way of the future.” Converting any PDF, Word, or PowerPoint document into an active Web document means that users can “select text, search, zoom, scroll, or do anything you want with it, as opposed to being stuck in Adobe or Flash. It’s super-fast and it looks great.”

While the new embeddable viewer can’t be used to actually edit documents, it can be used to annotate them, essentially by … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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