Flash Finally Declared Dead - It Was Murder
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Adobe has finally announced that Flash will be no more after 2020. If you are one of the many programmers who thought that Flash was already dead this will come as a surprise, but presumably not an unwelcome one. People have had it in for Flash for many years and this is the final act in an orchestrated tragedy.



"Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our technology partners – including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla – Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats."

Can you remember when the web was a static mass of text with a few static pictures? It isn't that long ago and what saved the situation, and made the web a richer environment, were Java and Flash and much later Silverlight. Browsers at the time were simple applications that rendered a primitive markup language and offered a scripting facility that really wasn't much use. When Java applets extended what could be done, a door opened to a world where the web was as good as the desktop operating system.

Browser extensions were essential to pushing the envelope on what you could do on the web and it seemed a good way to extend things. Users could opt to stick with simple and presumably safer browsers and miss out on the new features or they could install an extension and see the world in technicolor.




The introduction of Flash wasn't just about playing videos or adding animation to display ads. It was a programming environment as rich, arguably richer, as Java. Its language was ActionScript and it looked a lot like VBA. You could use it to develop Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) and this was the first time that this was really possible. Also, as Flash was being used to create animations and had a simple language, it attracted many novice programmers to creative work. For a while Flash was indispensable and the way of the future.

And then it all started to go wrong.

There had long been some unhappiness that yet another proprietary system was gaining a strong foothold in the otherwise open web. Then the sky fell for Flash when Apple decided that it wasn't good enough for its devices. To this day Apple users have to explicitly install Flash and enable it for each website they visit. Even in retrospect the incident seems extraordinary. Steve Jobs started a personal crusade, or vendetta depending on your point of view, against Flash with an opening salvo in an article which made the point that Flash was not open:

"Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."

You can of course replace Adobe Flash by Apple and any Apple product you care to name to derive another true statement. This was a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black and it has grown worse as time moves on. You probably should read the original Thoughts on Flash and make up your own mind

Jobs made a persuasive case that comes down to:

- Flash is proprietary in an area that even Apple believes should be open
- it isn't really necessary because there already alternatives

- it doesn't support touch

 -it is a battery hog and its insecure.

Even if you agree with all of the points, it is a remarkable attack by one company on another's products. Imagine the outcry if Bill Gates had refused to support the Mac by withdrawing Office saying that the Mac was proprietary and listing the same reasons in Job's attack on Flash.

Anyway, whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, the writing was on the wall for Flash and no matter what its technical merits it was a dead man walking.

What is also surprising is that the infection spread to Java applets, Silverlight and all manner of plugins. They were all deemed to to be insecure and this was the one criticism that Jobs put forward that managed to stick. The press jumped on every security flaw found in Java or Flash and, no matter how hard Oracle or Adobe tried to plug the holes, the public perception was that plugins were evil and you were only safe if you didn't use them.

You can argue that this tirade against third party plugins is justified, but this isn't how technology is supposed to work. We should fix the problems, not kill the products. It is arguable that by murdering Flash we are in no particularly better place today than we were then. HTML 5 is still inadequate in so many areas and, as it extends its reach, browsers become increasingly complex and more vulnerable to hacks and exploits.

You can argue that a compartmentalized sandboxed plugin structure might have done better - and of course we still have plugins to worry about even if we don't have Flash.

Any well maintained sophisticated system will tend to be as insecure as any other of the same sophistication and care.

Flash didn't just die it was murdered.


More Information

Thoughts on Flash.

Flash & the future of interactive content

Related Articles

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Java Is Top Attack Target

Adobe Maps Out Future for Flash

2011 - The Year HTML5 Won

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Silverlight 5 - the end of the line

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 July 2017 )