Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Here Lies Flash


Since Adobe will no longer be supporting Flash Player after December 31, 2020 and Adobe will block Flash content from running in Flash Player beginning January 12, 2021, Adobe strongly recommends all users immediately uninstall Flash Player to help protect their systems.

Mike Davidson:

Flash, from the very beginning, was a transitional technology. It was a language that compiled into a binary executable. This made it consistent and performant, but was in conflict with how most of the web works. It was designed for a desktop world which wasn’t compatible with the emerging mobile web. Perhaps most importantly, it was developed by a single company. This allowed it to evolve more quickly for awhile, but goes against the very spirit of the entire internet. Long-term, we never want single companies — no matter who they may be — controlling the very building blocks of the web. The internet is a marketplace of technologies loosely tied together, each living and dying in rhythm with the utility it provides.

Most technology is transitional if your window is long enough. Cassette tapes showed us that taking our music with us was possible. Tapes served their purpose until compact discs and then MP3s came along. Then they took their rightful place in history alongside other evolutionary technologies. Flash showed us where we could go, without ever promising that it would be the long-term solution once we got there.

I am not as rosy-eyed about Flash as Davidson. Most of the Flash-based websites I remember loaded slowly, performed poorly, and were hard to use. I remain conflicted about a more interactive web and the entire notion of websites as applications, and I find it hard to be so kind to a plug-in that was responsible for so many security and stability problems.

But I do appreciate its place in history. Streaming video in the pre-Flash era was a particularly painful mix of codecs only supported by one of Real Player, Windows Media Player, or QuickTime. Flash video players allowed the web to standardize around H.264, eventually without requiring an SWF-based decoder.

It is impossible to know if we would have ended up with rich typography, streaming video players, full web applications, and online games without Flash — and, in the case of the latter two, Java. Regardless of my ambivalence, the web that we have today is rich, universal, and accessible, and much of that groundwork was catalyzed by Flash.