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Flash, It Saved Everyone of Us

Gordon Kelly

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Flash - a-ah - saviour of the universe

Flash - a-ah - he'll save everyone of us

Flash - a-ah - he's a miracle

Flash - a-ah - king of the impossible

-Queen, lyrics – Flash (1980)

Steve Jobs must be smiling somewhere. That was the common reaction to the news this week that Adobe is killing off development of mobile Flash. A second was to celebrate, jump around like a lunatic and a sing 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead'. We'd suggest a third: quiet respect – would be far more appropriate.

"Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores," revealed sources close to Adobe when speaking with ZDNet. "We will no longer adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations. Some of our source code licensees may opt to continue working on and releasing their own implementations. We will continue to support the current Android and PlayBook configurations with critical bug fixes and security updates."

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The shock here is the speed with which Adobe has changed its stance. Responding to Jobs' famously critical open letter towards Flash in April last year, Adobe said it was convinced it "could provide a terrific experience with Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch" and would bring "Flash Player and AIR to all the other major participants in the mobile ecosystem." Two months later Adobe unveiled the release version of 'Flash Player for Mobile'. 17 months later it is dead. HP has taken longer to massacre webOS.

This all seems very strange for a company which, to this day, still crows that Flash Player is used on 85 per cent of the top 100 websites, is responsible for 75 per cent of all web video, is relied upon by 98 per cent of enterprises and is installed on 98 per cent of PCs, not to mention the three million active Flash platform developers or that 19 of the top 20 device manufacturers worldwide have committed to shipping Flash technology on their devices (stats here). There is good reason for these figures: Flash was brilliant. Thinking otherwise is like dismissing the role Shakespeare played in the eBooks your read on your Kindle.

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Flash itself has been around for over 15 years, an eternity in tech terms. It originated in the SmartSketch application, was published by FutureWave Software, turned down by Adobe in 1995, bought by Macromedia in 1996 and ultimately acquired by Adobe at the second time of asking when it paid a whopping $3.4bn for Macromedia in 2005. The reason this purchase cost so much is because Flash was at the heart of the Web, it was the primary driving force – when all others faltered – in transforming the dull text heavy layouts of web pages into the living, breathing, dynamic multimedia sites you visit today, and that deserves a lot of respect. So too does killing Flash while it remains the dominant player…

lensmann

November 12, 2011, 6:46 pm

This is one of the best comments I've read on Adobe's announcement. You're quite right - "ave atque vale" is the appropriate response to Flash's obsolescence, not the triumphant "good riddance" that seems to be the blogosphere's general response.

Flash's PR problem, I think, had a lot to do with the fact that the most prominent examples of Flash were the most annoying for users - blinky Flash ads, annoying intros on websites, implementing copyright protection, and so on. The really useful implementations of Flash were mostly behind the scenes - e.g. the flash uploader Gmail used before the input tag began generally supporting multiple files (and before widespread support of HTML5 made drag and drop possible), educational applications and so on. As you've rightly pointed out, Flash was what made interactivity possible, and for every website that had a perfectly needless processor-killing Flash menu, there were (and are) legions of websites that use it to do things that genuinely improved our experience of the web as users.

Gordon394

November 14, 2011, 3:38 am

Many thanks lensmann. You're right. Flash has been a wonderful tool often poorly used. I'm thankful that HTML5 is now ready to replace much of it, but I suspect it won't be long before poor implementation of that also begins and we'll all be franticly searching for the "HTML5 Blocker" for our browsers ;)

ElectricSheep

November 14, 2011, 7:02 pm

Excellent article, certainly the best on the web on the subject. Well done Adobe on being a proactive company & taking the tough and correct business decision. I love flash, without it the web is a hollow and 2 dimensional place (iPad owners will probably disagree). There's no doubting that its had its day though and it can be immensely frustrating if implemented incorrectly but as you point out, will poor implementation of HTML 5 eventually result in a similar situation in the future?

Keithe6e

November 14, 2011, 8:24 pm

I'm not a total Flash hater, @frankyboy might disagree, I just loved winding him up.

But Adobe are totally to blame for the hatred, yes Flash adverts are very annoying and something Adobe is not really responsible for. But what Adobe is responsible for is stopping Flash from hogging CPU, this could have easily been avoided, a badly written Flash App should not have been able to do this.

Here is an example of CPU hog that should not have happened, using a Revo(Atom based PC) as a media box, if I say left a website open with Flash active and then decided to play a Movie it would stutter due to Flash hogging CPU, for a starter Flash isn't even visible so it should have been taking Zero CPU usage, basic optimizations like this would have really helped there case.

Also taking over 2 years to fix security flaws didn't help either, and the only reason I believe they ended up fixing them was because of Jobs remarks.

So far I have not seen HTML5 become a CPU hog, fingers crossed it stays that way and badly written HTML5 websites won't drain Laptop/Smartphone etc battery's within 5 microseconds. :)

Gordon394

November 15, 2011, 3:49 am

A number of these points are very relevant. Of course the obvious response is who - for the last 16 years - has come up with an alternative to do it better? Only now is HTML5 becoming ready for mass adoption.

Also Flash being far more of a system hog than HTML5 hasn't always been true, certainly not until recently: http://www.streaminglearningcenter.com/articles/flash-player-cpu-hog-or-hot-tamale-it-depends-.html

Keithe6e

November 15, 2011, 3:02 pm

> alternative to do it better?

Well in 90% cases yes, HTML & CSS, Javascript has been able to do pretty neat things for a while now. I personally see no reason now or in the past that websites required Flash, unless it was a Games/Interactive type website, but even then there was Java. (Yes, ok Java has had it's day to :) , even though it keeps nagging me with updates. )

> Also Flash being far more of a system hog

Please note, that is just a comparison of video playback. Flash of course does a lot more than that.

Ok, I'm now starting to sound super Anti-Flash again. It's not the concept of Flash that bothered me, it certainly had it's place, it's just a shame Adobe didn't spend more time in R&D on it, to sort out all the niggles it had. Your link also pointed out another issue, if you wasn't Windows, support was even worse.

simon jackson

November 17, 2011, 9:49 pm

I'm a software developer by trade, though more in the desktop rather than web space, but i was under the impression HTML 5 doesn't replicate all flash functionality, rather just vector graphics and embedded media playback. You still need java script and CSS 3 to get animations and real interactivity.

I appreciate it's never going to happen, but what i'd really like to see in the web is a single, unified, proper object oriented technology, which replicates the interop/RPC capabilities of CGI as well as the interactivity of "proper" applications by way of a "proper" message loop/event handling. It would be really cool to be able to develop applications which can either execute code locally on local resources, and at the same time seamlessly switch to RPC to pass data to be processed to a server which is them pushed back to a client. I appreciate one can create this impression with asp.net/vb or javascript and CGI, but it'd be nice to have a single standard which did it all. If you like, a proper object oriented web language to replace the old model of marked up text.

Just my two cents!

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