How Flash Died

Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats. – Adobe

The go-to technology for web animation and rich interface programming will disappear entirely by 2020. Flash has died a thousand deaths but the first major blow, as I recall it, was this epic letter/rant from Steve Jobs in April 2010 (Thoughts on Flash).

In 2015, as The Guardian declared, YouTube killed Flash. The Internet behemoth delivered a killing blow that many thought would be the end of the technology right then and there. But it wasn’t. Many developers hesitated to port their apps to HTML5 because the flexibility required just wasn’t there, but that’s no longer the case with today’s robust implementations of Canvas and Web Assembly.

Flash died because it was never supposed to live a long life. Flash was born out of the shortcoming of HTML/CSS and the slow rate of innovation of the W3C. We needed animation and the open web standard had nothing for us in that respect. There was no interactivity, no animation, no video. Then, in 1995,  Javascript came, and according to Gary Bernhardt will die in a couple of decades (but that should be the subject of another post). Yes, no privately developed technology lasts very long on the Web, it will become an open standard or disappear in a couple of decades. Before 2008, Javascript was indeed a joke, something spicy to put on your website. But now, it permeates the fabric of the web. JavaScript is truly everywhere, and so was Flash.

Adobe will also remain at the forefront of leading the development of new web standards and actively participate in their advancement. This includes continuing to contribute to the HTML5 standard and participating in the WebAssembly Community Group. – Adobe

I write this post not to reinforce any notion that casts Flash’s death as one of strangulation by multiple corporations (Apple, Google, even Adobe) but to highlight that Flash died of natural causes and has been replaced by an even more powerful development model: mobile apps. In my opinion, this paradigm shift has signaled and eventually driven Flash, Shockwave, Actionscript (Flash’s programming language), and Flex (another Adobe Solution) into oblivion.

Flash was never the only way to consume web video but, for a long time, it was the best one. Flash was never intended to become a full site programming solution, but it became such a solution for photographers, DJs, and creative types that needed to convey an emotional message to their audiences. Those needs have been largely met by mobile apps and truly sophisticated native programming languages that (like Swift) have enriched the array of possibilities for web developers.

HTML 5 Canvas and Web Assembly have not killed Flash, they have simply threatened Flash and accelerated Adobe’s resolve to end support and development for the technology.  Flash has been dead for a while and its death was dealt by a thousand cuts. Thousands of app developers chose competing technologies to build mobile productivity apps and games and, in that process, showed the world that we truly can live without Flash. Web Assembly will, in my opinion, kill the mobile app paradigm, and we will gracefully return to an open web, ever more indexable, ever more entertaining, and ever more intelligent. For now, Flash has finally died. The web will soon be completely free from its oppression.