The Beginning Of The End For Flash

Adobe made an announcement that it will stop updating and distributing the once -ubiquitous multimedia plugin- Flash Player– by the end of 2020. The two-decade long reign of Flash will finally come to an end three years from now. Until that time, Adobe will continue to partner with Apple, Mozilla, Microsoft and Google to offer security updates for Flash in their browsers, including security patches. But beyond that, Adobe will not offer any new Flash features. According to Govind Balakrishnan, the VP of Product Development, Adobe will also be more aggressive in ending support for Flash in places “where unlicensed and outdated versions of Flash Player are being distributed.”  This move is hardly surprising given that Flash and its outdated versions quickly became a prime target for hackers because of its wide distribution, and security vulnerabilities, which allowed easy access into their target’s machines. Flash today is considered a security risk and major source of browser crashes.

The Legacy Of Flash

Flash emerged in the late 1990s, and its popularity rose shortly after Microsoft’s Internet Explorer became the default browser in the world’s most widely used operating system. Flash creator Macromedia, was acquired by Adobe in 2006. At a time when all you could find on a webpage was low resolution GIFs or blinking text, Flash allowed designers and developers to make web-based video, animated, and interactive content that would work on any computer or browser. Quirky Flash-based cartoons (Homestar Runner) and video games (QWOP) were a far cry from the traditional media seen so far. In fact the gaming site Kongregate still has more than 100,000 Flash games  Flash has been a website workhorse, making it easy to play online games, stream radio station music and watch YouTube videos. It also allowed people to build features like photo galleries, use webcams for video chat and a whole array of multimedia features. The legacy of Flash is its profound and positive impact on advancing creative content on the web in the internet era.

The Long Road To The End For Flash

The Flash Player loads Flash content in a web browser and ensures that the content looks and behaves the same way for anyone who loads it, regardless of the type of browser or computer being used. But advancing technologies are now capable of running natively in web browsers which has made that same plugin requirement a liability.

The earliest signal of the big fall for Flash came in 2004, when three browser makers — Mozilla, Apple and Opera Software, launched a group to advance core technologies for HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to build websites. Instead of proprietary softwares they wanted industry standards. But the World Wide Web Consortium, wasn’t interested in their proposal and thus Flash continued its successful run.

But the first nail in the coffin was struck in 2007, when Apple decided not to support it in the newly introduced iPhone. Keeping mobile web in mind and the emergence of the fifth version of HTML that promised to replace some of the functionality Flash provided, developers began moving away from Flash and toward HTML5 and JavaScript. Steve Jobs published his thoughts on Flash in 2010 to further cement HTML5 as the new standard. Rather than use Flash, Apple adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript—all open standards that web browsers could build on. But Flash still remained integral to the web and was used to create native apps for iOS.  But now even video streaming sites such as YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo have made HTML5 the default video player.

Countdown to 2020- What To Expect?

Chrome: began asking permission to run Flash on some websites since 2015, and it’ll do so more often now.  Since end of 2016, Flash is allowed by default only on 10 websites including its own YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.  It will disable Flash by default by 2019.

Firefox: will ask you the sites you want to enable Flash on and it’ll disable Flash altogether by default in 2019. There will be lingering support in Firefox’s Extended Support Release through the end of 2020.

Edge: This Microsoft’s browser uses a click-to-play option for when you want to run Flash on a website, which will continue through mid-2018. After that Edge will be more aggressive about requiring you to authorize Flash. And in 2019, Microsoft will disable Flash by default, and by the end of 2020, Flash will be disabled completely.

Safari:  Apple’s Safari has blocked Flash from running since 2016 but you can re-enable it on websites that offer to download Flash.

Facebook: Facebook hosts a lot of Flash based games, including FarmVille and Words with Friends, which will run on Facebook until the end of 2020. But in a blog post it has urged developers to follow the timelines set by browsers.

Adobe meanwhile has renamed the software for making Flash, Flash Professional CC to Animate CC, which will be its “premier web animation tool for developing HTML5 content. Adobe is also pushing developers to migrate their content to open formats like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly. HTML5 has slowly and surely replaced Flash Player as a viable alternative for delivering content on the web.  Most browser vendors have integrated functionalities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and since HTML5 is built into most of the big name browsers already, there is no need to install anything to use it.

There is no need to spill tears over the demise of the pioneering software. Rather it is more appropriate to rejoice that Adobe is finally ready to help usher in the next era of digital content creation.