The longest suicide note in history.
by David Dwyer on 02/10/2019 129 Reads
This epithet was coined by Gerald Kaufman to describe Labour’s 1983 manifesto, but it could almost apply to the long-running demise of Adobe Flash.
The slow death of Flash has been one of the most drawn-out affairs in the history of, well, slow deaths. Some say the Steve Jobs killed it, others, more conversant with the application say it was dead before that but simply refused to stop cadaveric spasms.
We’ll delve a bit further into this below, however Adobe themselves have put a date on the end of Flash; 2020. All good things must come to an end, this one just took quite a while.
What is Flash?
Depending upon your age and your technology habits, Flash has moved your world for many years. It was responsible for online animation, streaming content, games and executing rich internet content both on desktop computers and later on mobile devices, but it was never truly happy on mobiles, and that may have contributed to its ultimate end.
Dominant in the early naughties, Flash was commonly installed on desktop computers; used to display interactive pages, online games and video. When YouTube was launched in Feb 2005, it used Flash to stream compressed video content via the website. Jan 2008, nearly three years later, HTML5 was launched. YouTube would eventually address the fact that Apple mobile devices didn’t support Flash content and replaced it with HTML5 (Hypertext Mark-up Language 5).
Some of the earliest interactive or 3D websites relied on Flash technology – Nike, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and many others, but after the disagreement between Adobe and Apple, Adobe discontinued Flash for mobile forcing web designers to reconsider their options and approach with the expanding mobile market in mind.
Google developed a tool, Swiffy, to automatically convert Flash content to HTML5, introducing this in 2015. Only a year later Google would discontinue the use of Swiffy opting for HTML5. YouTube had gone entirely over to HTML5 by 2015, retaining Flash capability only for legacy browsers.
So why is it being retired?
It was, as Steve Jobs of Apple noted in 2010 – ‘… too insecure, too proprietary, too resource-intensive, too unaccommodating for a platform run by fingertips instead of mouse clicks’. While some might cavil at Jobs suggesting that something was too proprietary, only Adobe themselves would argue that he was wrong in this analysis. Google removed Flash support from the Android operating system two years later.
Flash was also notoriously insecure, indeed in 2009 Norton singled it out for special criticism, and Malwarebytes recommended to all their users that they should remove it from all devices. Google has for quite some time blocked Flash advertising, forcing it down a ‘click to play’ route and at present only Internet Explorer still runs it without restriction – and that state of affairs will end this year ahead of Adobe pulling the plug in 2020.
What will replace it?
Replace is possibly the wrong term to use here – there won’t be a sudden shift from Flash to another technology or technologies. It’s been the case that there have been alternatives to Flash for many years and they have matured, improving and offering distinct advantages over the ailing Adobe offering.
Had they persisted with Flash, Adobe would have to continue to devote considerable resources to maintain and develop the platform at a time when HTML5 can do what Flash did without the need for plugins – which are no longer supported on any but the oldest browsers. The exponential adoption of mobile devices, a platform on which Flash’s heavy resource requirement did nothing for either performance or battery life, have pushed it further into the background. Even Adobe’s attempts to reposition Flash as an authoring platform for HMTL5 in the guise of Adobe Animate, failed to generate sufficient interest and as of 2017 Adobe were indicating 2020 as end of life for Flash.
It’s not immediately clear if there are real lessons to be drawn from the end of Flash. It was developed at a time when proprietary software was very much the norm, and it’s not as if that has changed hugely in the field of computer software. The explosion in mobile computing, on the other hand, has introduced the concept of ‘freemium’ software to a very much wider slice of the global population.
Lacking a techie’s understanding of the way that operating systems and applications operate together, or not as is sometimes the case, there is less understanding of why poor performance should be tolerated. Apple clearly felt that way in 2010 and in their actions (and 22% of market share as of 2019) have been profoundly influential, whatever your view of the company and their products.
Flash simply couldn’t operate successfully on a mobile platform and that alone was always going to be an insurmountable hurdle. The truth is that these things happen - with the best will in the world, products and concepts will simply fail to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving marketplace. The more capable mobile devices became, the more they were relied upon by their users, the more was expected of them. Anything that compromised utility, enjoyment and battery life was going to receive short shrift from consumers and manufacturers alike. So it was to prove for Flash as indeed it did for the Buggy Whip manufacturers of Massachusetts, see our article on “Innovate or Die".
Adobe Flash served its purpose, but that purpose is now better and more efficiently handled by HTML5 and other technologies.
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Looking ahead is as necessary now as it has always been, anticipating how new technologies might dramatically affect the marketplace and the online world.
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