Flash is on life support…

Flash Is Dead - And STAY Dead
Flash is dead - and I hope it stays dead!

Ding, Dong, Mobile Flash is dead… and soon enough, the rest of the Flash technology platform will be dead, too!

As a developer, I gotta say… finally!  Now, stay dead!

I never cared for Flash at all, and I disliked it for the similar reasons to my dislike of ActiveX: it’s a hacky, insecure plugin with sub-par performance even in the best configurations, and it raised the barrier for entry for any new browser technology.

And, just to add icing on the cake, Microsoft has made noises that Silverlight, it’s alternative to Flash, may only get one more update, then it becomes a dead technology.  Two dead tech bases for the price of one – how fantastic!

However… I’ll also be quick to point out that I really don’t imagine HTML5 would have the feature set it does without the existence of Flash.  And we wouldn’t have Flash without ActiveX.

HTML started out as a pretty boring technology that enabled an exciting set of things to happen.  In the beginning it just gave is flat text, and the ability to imbed a graphic.  Animated .GIF files and (I’ll choke a bit saying this) the <BLINK> tag gave us a little bit of motion on the screen – nothing interactive, mind you, just a little bit of pizzaz (that was often abused in every possible fashion.)

When the browser wars really got rolling, Microsoft added ActiveX to it’s set of tools – something no one else could embed into their browser.  This gave highly interactive abilities to websites, as long as you were using Internet Explorer – and didn’t mind the risks that came with using IE!

JavaScript gave a more cross-platform way of doing client side “stuff”, but lacked the ability to add nice, flashy graphics (games, for instance) without a whole lot of hacky per-browser exceptions.  Java imbedded on a page could do it – but it ran like a dog, even with just in time compilation.  And even then, the idea of “write once, run anywhere” under-delivered for a very long time.

This is where Flash managed to make it’s toe-hold – eventually it had support for nearly every browser and operating system (with an important exception I’ll get into in a minute).  Simple browser based games were possible, user interactivity was fantastic, and eventually it grew into a platform that allowed just about anything a developer could image become reality on the browser page.

Well, except speed and security.  Flash was (is) a resource hog – even with hardware accelerated rendering and other optimizations.  Apple and Microsoft both have pointed out that one of the largest points of instability in their browsers came from Flash support.

The first blow to Flash was the iPhone.  Steve Jobs and company decided no Flash.  No way, no how, uh-huh.  When Android phones hit the market, they also initially had no Flash support – that came later (in fact, there’s still a ton of Android phones that don’t support flash.)

What they did support was HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.  The trinity of technologies that suddenly made Adobe worry.  HTML5 started supporting more than just text, images, and 3rd party embedded plugins.  Suddenly it supported native 2D canvas displays, 3D rotations (on Safari) using CSS3, WebGL, sound (OK, it’s still a little weak on sound), and throw JavaScript with some AJAX support and suddenly you’ve got nearly everything Flash supported.  Apple started the quest to kill Flash with WebKit’s heavy support of HTML5.  Then Google, with the Chrome browser that’s also built on WebKit at it’s core, committed to HTML5 on it’s mobile platforms and desktop platforms, extending it with WebGL and a few other bits of technology.  Mozilla followed suit with the Firefox browser.

But the one I was really waiting to see give in to the HTML5 wave was Microsoft – and they did.  Heck, they did more than I expected – with Windows 8 on a tablet, for instance, in it’s non-desktop mode it doesn’t support 3rd party plugins.  IE, no Mobile Flash – a level of support I hadn’t expected to see!  (Regular desktop mode apps will support it.)

I like some of Adobe’s products – I use Photoshop on a regular basis (for instance, the Flash tombstone I created is done in PhotoShop), but their loss of Mobile Flash doesn’t surprise me at all, and I’m happy to see it go.  Adobe isn’t dumb – they started prepping for that over a year ago – take a look at the new versions of DreamWeaver and you’ll find good HTML5 support.  They even support using HTML5 for mobile app development – they purchased one of my favorite app development technologies, PhoneGap, and are integrating “PhoneGap Build” into it (and, in a moment of unbelievable openness, they donated the core PhoneGap technologies the the Apache Foundation to keep it as a free technology!)

Adobe isn’t dead by any means (even if they did lay of 750 people), and I expect to see them leverage HTML5 as far as it can go.

But even if their announcement only covered Mobile Flash, it means we’ve got about two more years of Flash on the desktop before it dies there too.  Plenty of time for Adobe to adapt to a new, more open cross-platform technology!

Oh, and this also means I don’t have to listen to any Android users telling me how superior their platform is because they can run Flash 😉  (Funny story – I’ve had someone tell me that once.  I asked if THEIR Android phone actually ran Flash – it didn’t, and the manufacturer wasn’t releasing any updates for it in the future.  The conversation was pretty much over at that point. 😉


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