31 December 2020
In July of 2017, Adobe announced that December 31, 2020 would mark the end of the line for the Flash Player. Flash Player will no longer receive updates. Flash Player will no longer play Flash content as of January 12, 2021. If you have the Flash Player installed, you should remove it from your system.
Carolina Miranda, arts and culture columnist at the Los Angeles Times,says the end of Flash marks the end of
oddball art and media pieces such as Tom Fulp’s
Teletubby Fun Land game. Flash dramatically expanded what it was possible to do on the web, both technically and aesthetically.
The fun we had with Flash
It looked like nothing I had ever seen in a web browser. A beautiful, dynamic interface, driven by anti-aliased Helvetica type and buttery smooth vector animation? And the whole thing loaded instantly on a dial-up connection with nothing suspicious to install? What was this sorcery?
That sorcery was Flash.
Flash changed everything. With it, we could add animated menus components, and special effects to our web projects. In the days before widespread support for CSS transforms, and filters, I used Flash transforms and filters to create a faux-Polaroid component with rotated photos, and drop shadows that worked in Internet Explorer 8, and that the client could update by editing a text file. Better developers than I used Flash to build and deliver games for the web.
Thanks to Inman Flash Replacement or IFR, and it’s scalable descendant, sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement) we used Flash for robust web typography. No longer were we limited to Arial and Times New Roman. Now, we could use any appropriately-licensed font on the web, and perhaps fonts that weren’t licensed for that purpose.
Flash also accelerated the rise of audio and video on the web. Thanks to its cross-platform availability and its ubiquity, Flash became the leading mechanism for creating media players and delivering audio and video. Before Flash, web users had the choice of installing the QuickTime or RealPlayer plug-ins, depending on their operating system. Web creators had to decide which to support. Flash, on the other hand, allowed web creators to support users, (almost) regardless of their OS and browser. At one point, the Flash Player was the delivery mechanism for about 75% of videos on the web, including early versions of YouTube.
Why Flash died
The decline of Flash began with the advent of the smart phone — sometime around 2005. Early smart phones lacked the processing power and storage capacity of desktop and laptop computers. Instead of a full-fledged Flash Player, early smart phones shipped with Flash Lite, which was pared down and far less-capable.
Mobile data speeds were also abysmal in the 2000s. In the United States, at least, 3G network speeds were just starting to become widespread. Most Flash of the era were large in both file size and pizels. Not only did they take a long time to load on a mobile device, but as I remember it, sites made for Flash Player often didn’t work with Flash Lite. Nor were they optimized for small device screens.
Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash was the next nail in the proverbial coffin.
Thoughts on Flash was Jobs’ 2010 open letter explaining why Apple would never allow Flash on its mobile phones or tablets. His reasons boiled down to performance, a lack of support for touch input, and security. A year or so later, Flash abandoned development of its Flash-for-mobile platform.
Security would become a recurring theme for Flash over the next half-decade, and the final nail in its coffin.
The Hacking Team breach
The final nail in the coffin was the hack of Hacking Team. Back in 2015, a group of hackers breached an Italian company named Hacking Team. Hacking Team sells exploits and surveillance capabilities to government agencies, and probably to anyone else with deep enough pockets. Their internal documents and tools were published online.
This breach-and-dump lead to the announcement of three zero-day Flash exploits in a single week. About a dozen-and-a-half more were announced soon thereafter. Mozilla quickly released an update for Firefox that blocked Flash Player by default. Soon lots of people were calling on Adobe to kill Flash. Eventually, major browsers disabled Flash by default. Chrome, for example, published Intent to implement: HTML5 by Default in 2016. The following year, Adobe announced plans to kill Flash altogether.
As this was happening the World Wide Web Consortium and WHATWG resumed and expanded their work to make open web languages more robust and better-supported. Eliminating the need for plugins, such as Flash, drove much of this activity. Browser vendors also started to smooth out their quirks and inconsistencies. Eventually we reached the point where Flash was no longer necessary for creating or displaying animations and multimedia content.
Viva La Flash: Its legacy
Instead of relying on Flash to stream and display multimedia, for instance, we can use the
video elements of HTML. Add CSS, a few
Flash wasn’t just good for playing multimedia. It was also good for manipulating it. Using ActionScript, you could pan audio, adjusting the input for the user’s left and right speakers, perhaps when they shifted their mouse from one side of the screen to the other. Now we can do that using the Web Audio API.
Web Storage and the
sessionStorage APIs are conceptually similar to SharedObjects, or
Flash cookies. And the demand for rich web typography enabled by Flash and sIFR, helped bring us
@font-face, WOFF, and web-licensed fonts.
Flash also popularized the idea of the cross-domain policy file, an XML file that specifies whether one domain can read the content and data of another. It’s a precursor to cross-origin resource sharing (CORS), which uses HTTP headers instead of an XML configuration file.
Although Flash is no longer with us, its spirit lives on in the form of native APIs and better browsers.