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The End of Flash: What Happened and Why
Feb. 04, 2021
The End of Adobe Flash

The End of Flash: What Happened and Why

December 31st, 2020 wasn’t just the end of probably one of the most unforgettable years, it also marked the end of Flash. Your browsers likely showed warnings over the last 12 months reminding you the end was coming after the announcement of its demise back in July 2017.

On December 8, Adobe released its final update and warned that any Flash content would be blocked from January 12, 2020.

What is/was Adobe Flash?

So what was Adobe Flash and why was it created?

Launching in 1995, Future Splash, as it was named then, was primarily a graphics tool and later became a browser plugin in 1996.

It was a great tool; Flash made sites look far more creative than they previously did and it was easy to use. Beginners could make complicated vector graphics, animations, sounds, and videos with the help of flash - all with minimal developer knowledge. It was also used a lot for web-based games.

Zero-In Creative Director, Uriah Theriault, says

"Until a few years ago, HTML animation was very limited in comparison to traditional design tools. Flash allowed Zero-In, and other digital design agencies, to push the boundaries of interactivity and motion before HTML, and browsers, could catch up."

So what were the issues?

Shortcomings of Flash

As pointed out in a Twitter thread by Matt May, Head of Inclusive Design at Adobe, issues began to arise when people started building or trying to build full sites out of flash. They weren’t sites; they had no structure to them, they looked like websites on the surface of things, but these were all just a bunch of vectors ‘acting’ like functions of the websites. This ultimately made flash sites inaccessible to many later down the line when UX and accessibility finally became a focus for business owners and developers. Businesses couldn’t even rebuild their sites because there was nothing to rebuild. There were no HTML building blocks.

Why was it axed?

As you can see from the points we discussed above, it was problematic and heavily criticized by big names in the community. At one point, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter named “Thoughts on flash” defending his decision to ban it from the iOS platform citing numerous reasons. He mentioned that it was essentially closed software, that Adobe made many claims that Apple user’s didn’t have access to the full web for not supporting flash (when in fact they pretty much did as many videos at the time had newer formats that Apple supported), and security concerns.

The software was outdated and was succeeded by much more user-friendly and secure tech such as HTML 5, WebAssembly, and WebGL.

What was it’s major killer? It wasn’t accessible and as far as mobile optimization went, forget it. It just didn’t work. The team at Adobe did try to make things as accessible as they could but were encountering too many issues.

Since around 2015, Adobe started to push developers to turn away from Flash in an effort to begin phasing it out, so it was just a matter of time before we saw the back of it.

What’s Next?

"Today, we can utilize HTML5, and compatible browser technology, to achieve interactivity and engaging motion graphics. Javascript and CSS replaced the complicated and proprietary Flash ActionScript, ensuring user experience is seamless without plug-ins or security risks." - Uriah Theriault

For the few people who were a fan of flash games, or for those who wanted to remember a part of this technological history, open-source platform Ruffle is now acting as a flash player emulator that you can play games on. Additionally, the Internet Archive, more commonly known as the Wayback Machine said that it would be preserving Flash animations and games they have on there to act as a time capsule of sorts of the early days of the internet.

In terms of new tech, web pages no longer need flash to look good. With a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, webpages look clean, are accessible, and can be optimized fast. Thanks to platforms like WordPress, GoDaddy, Wix, and Shopify. Drag and drop websites mean that non-techy business owners can build sites like pros on a foundational structure that doesn’t cause a monolith of errors.