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Dec 02 2011

Flash is dying, long live HTML5

Adobe has ended development on Flash for mobile phones, meaning the venerable technology of the internet’s yesteryear may finally be on the wane.

Flash, the software made by Adobe, has been a fillip for the Internet for years. In the early days of web browsers, which couldn’t play video or do fancy graphics, Flash appeared as an almost miracle cure. It worked in all browsers, and let designers build graphically rich, sophisticated websites.

It was used by YouTube to play the one billion or so videos viewed on the site a day (the number is now three billion) and there were even web competitions for the funky sites designed in Flash.


Sadly, many websites still employ it very heavily, outside the “funky” designs mentioned. Because a number of video-sharing sites are still heavily dependent on Flash to operate, I suspect you may end up needing to install the memory- and CPU-hog to use a large number of sites, but with the advent of HTML5, those sites — and the designers who work with Flash primarily — will either evolve or die. Now that Youtube offers the ability to switch to HTML5-based video playing, the single biggest and most important video-sharing site on the internet is viewable in systems with modern browsers fresh out of the box, without installing any extra components aside from the HTML5-capable browser of your choice.

This marks the death knell for Flash. And it’s about damn time, if you ask me. It was a necessary bootstrap, pulling the internet into the era of content sharing. Now that the vestigial organ that is Flash has been obviated by newer, better, open technology, the web’s only going to get better from here.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    BrianX

    The death knell, I think, was actually Apple banishing it from iOS. A lot of people mocked Apple for it, but Adobe’s public reaction was, to put it charitably, blind panic.

    Flash is not a bad technology, though it’s horribly misused. It’s a great animation platform, and very good (if perhaps a little primitive) for games. It mostly got its reputation from being horribly misused to build inaccessible, poorly-designed websites, but in the end, Steve Jobs had a point — it doesn’t necessarily matter if the software is closed, but it should implement an open format. Adobe could have fixed this trivially by making the Flash Player open source, but they didn’t (Flex doesn’t count), and they’re paying for it now.

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    I’ll agree that that was the fatal blow dealt to Flash for sure. It’s just that it managed to stay upright for significantly longer than I’d thought.

    It’s not inherently bad technology, but man does it block your CPU something fierce. No technology used for minor bits of animation on a webpage should by rights peg a core on a multicore CPU. And back in the day, when you had one CPU with one core, and had to walk barefoot on broken glass uphill both ways to get to your keyboard, it was significantly more onerous. Sure, we’ve got lots of CPU cycles to go around nowadays, but animated ads shouldn’t kill your laptop battery dead so damn quickly.

    I’m so happy HTML5 is around, not only because it’s open and solves all the usage scenarios we so desperately want the internet to be able to do, but because it does it right — at the browser level, not in separate plugin sandboxes for each bit of animation you want to include. Hopefully now people will be able to do all the kitschy animation they want without destroying your mobile device’s battery life any more. And hopefully that means I’ll be able to close the page when I see all that extraneous animation without having to wait for the page to finish rendering to allow the keyboard’s Ctrl-W command — which I’d pressed half a minute before — to be processed.

  3. 3
    'Tis Himself

    The pffft of all knowledge sez:

    W3C is also developing a comprehensive test suite to achieve broad interoperability for the full specification by 2014, which is now the target date for Recommendation.

    It looks like flash will be around for a while yet.

  4. 4
    Brian Westley

    I don’t care if people use flash or html5 or something else for video; that’s not why I program in flash. I can create objects in a flash simulation that are flash movies themselves, and add new objects later. I don’t run it in a browser, I use the standalone projector. That’s nothing like html5.

    For a not-terribly-good analogy, if you used a swiss army knife to open cans for years, and then buy an electric can opener, you probably won’t use your knife to open cans much after that. But that doesn’t make your knife useless, as it can do a lot of things your can opener can’t do.

  5. 5
    Jason Thibeault

    I beg to differ, Brian — under Linux, all apps that have been rebuilt for Gnome 3 have the ability to output their application to a backend called Broadway. Instead of rendering to the screen, the GUI is built into an HTML5-based application accessible by pointing your browser to localhost on the appropriate port.

    You can evidently do all the same things with HTML5 that you can with Flash, it’s all just in a different language. And I’m certain it’ll cost significantly lower resource-wise in the proximate (e.g. CPU cycles, etc.), and long-term (in terms of how much you have to pay to get the Adobe tools to build the Flash applications).

    As for support for HTML 5, Firefox, Chrome and IE all can do it now, to varying degrees of success. Just because there isn’t a W3C testing suite, doesn’t mean there are no good tests available.

    And testing from a year and a half ago still showed surprising levels of support, and improvement in resource management over Flash. It might be nascent technology, but I’m throwing my lot in with it.

  6. 6
    Corey Schlueter

    I created Flash animations and web site for the Digital Media program I was in several years ago and Flash is still being taught in computer design courses.

    However, I will admit that I get annoyed when Flash crashes while I am watching YouTube videos or playing a Flash-based browser game and I have been using XHTML to create web sites and will look into using HTML 5.

  7. 7
    leftwingfox

    The thing is SWF was designed to be everything to everyone. It’s a vector animation program, it’s a multimedia content provider, it’s an interface tool, it’s a web application platform, it’s a standalone projector platform. Given time, it would also be a floor topping and desert wax.

    Or course, it started as a vector animation program with simple interaction: it had the features of Director folded in afterwards, and the multimedia added later. Macromedia, and later Adobe, just kept adding features to stay on the cutting edge, but failed to fix the problems with the existing program. So we now have something that has a dozen roles, but behaves badly at all of them.

    Of course, this has infected the Pro content creation software as well, which has similarly failed to keep up worth the needs of their existing clients while pushing for new markets. Now that the expansion game has failed with the exclusion by mobile, they now find themselves with a number of competitors in the design and animation department (ToonBoom, Anime Studio, Synfig), mobile video and web apps (HTML 5.0) and narrowed cross-platform support through the lack of mobile access.

    Adobe could save the SWF standard, but at this point, I think they need to ditch Action-script in favour of something more secure, stable and responsive. The Pro app would be easier to salvage as a top-notch HTML 5 creation tool, but unless they quickly refocus their support on the existing market, it’s going to be bleeding share quick. Right now the fact that it’s bundled with their current Production and Web bundles is ideal for a lot of small animation departments, but the instability and crap drawing tools are going to make the competition look increasingly necessary.

  8. 8
    Mitchell

    The games industry is rejoicing at this and excited about HTMl5, from everyone I have talked to. Let me put it this way, the two most powerful and popular middleware game design engines (Game Maker and Construct) were pretty much restricted for awhile in exporting to exe. or very very basic Flash, and that was after years. Within months of HTML5 getting the ball rolling and opening up, both systems released HTMl5 versions that are already outstripping what hey hoped a Flash version MIGHT someday do. As a novice coder who wants to build stuff, HTMl5 has already proven to be more accessible than Flash for me in the short time it has been around. All hail HTML5.

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