The long-running Flash format from Adobe has gone through many iterations over the years. Initially, it was a great way to view video on the web – but as technology evolved, Flash failed to evolve alongside it. Coding issues and incompatibility problems ran amok for years and users begged and pleaded for change. Adobe itself kept upgrading Flash in small increments, but nothing that fixed constant crashes and browser freezes.
You could be stuck on a page for minutes on end due to a single issue or even worse, lose all of your work with a browser crash. Flash has been a boon for video creation at times though, with sites like Newgrounds offering a pipeline to creators to make animated content at a far lower cost than ever before. Similarly, Flash games were also a huge hit in the early ’00s. You could play popular past games via emulation thanks to Flash, or new original games as well.
Adult Swim frequently used the format for its shows and it led to a cleaner overall look than lower-budget cel and digital ink and paint at the cost of elaborate color shading. Today, Adobe announced an end date for the format and in doing so, signaled and end of an era for both the Internet and themselves. In doing so, Adobe is acknowledging that time has marched forward and that Flash is a product of a bygone era. Major sites like YouTube have long-since abandoned Flash video embedding in favor of HTML5, and after collaborating with companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, they came to and end-of-life plan for Flash. At the end of 2020, updates for it will cease and they are urging content creators to move their existing content to new formats.
It’s strange to see a company embrace the end of something so big, but as they said, they created a format to do something that hadn’t been done before – so it wasn’t all bad. In its heyday, Flash was essential. Now, Flash is a liability and one that has thankfully been replaced by more efficient and less taxing alternatives. Adobe’s plan to continue supporting it across a variety of operating systems and browsers is good though – and extending its lifespan to 2020 allows it to feel more relevant than it is. In reality, it’s in a lame duck period where we aren’t likely going to see much in the way of major change. Perhaps it will get some stability upgrades, but for the foreseeable future, it seems like Flash will be relegated to news items about major sites and video streaming services going away from it.
Microsoft announced that its own Edge and abandoned Internet Explorer browsers will stop supporting Flash, which is a smart move on their part. Microsoft itself has taken an active role in minimizing Flash by making it something you have to click to enable for Edge, with their current plan to disable it by default in 2019. By 2020, they will completely remove the ability to run Flash, which does mean that some legacy content is simply going to be lost to time. One nice thing about Flash video is that it is fairly easy to rip for offline usage – so if you wanted to view something via Flash that you saw online, you could do so with ease. Now, that will no longer be possible – at least with the exact technology and plug-ins that are being used now. For the sake of long-term preservation, it’s a shame to see the format die out – but it’s better in the long-run for everyone.
Adobe has put as good a spin on it as they can and announced that they will continue to work with HTML5 to make that better, while also helping the animation field with AnimateCC for HTML5 animation content. It’s great to see the company accept that things need to change and actually adapt to that change by offering up new programs that will accomplish the same basic goals. AnimateCC allows for the same kind of low-cost animation creation, but with a more modern interface and security that Flash just can’t match. Flash as a format is a bit of a time capsule and that’s an altogether bad thing. One day, folks will be nostalgic for fan-inspired games made with Flash just like they are with any other format. Hopefully, some of the more popular ones will get updates for modern formats, but it’s unlikely.
This will probably give rise to archive sites hosting the core Flash files for games and animations that aren’t updated, which is good for archival purpose. Sure, not everything on the Internet needs to be archived – but creators will likely want to have as many builds of their past work as possible even if it is just for portfolio purposes. Similarly, gamers may want to run through silly games like Abobo’s Big Adventure one day – so having it in any form is great even if it won’t have something like gamepad support worked into it. In the long run, Adobe is doing both uses and themselves a big favor by announcing the end of the format so far in advance.
It gives users enough time to get any existing Flash content they want, while also giving creators time to change things over and/or backup what they have made in Flash to a physical format. By moving forward with HTML5, it future-proofs things to some degree and prevents issues that going with a pat hand like Flash for too long have created. It’s a highly-flawed format and one that leaves people open to security issues and crashes, but definitely did a lot of good. We wouldn’t have things like the rise of YouTube without it, and while Netflix’s business model and the ever-changing shift towards streaming media would have happened at some point, Flash being so readily available as a format made it faster to adopt.
Flash’s place in history is secure – even if it isn’t always a happy tale. Adobe supported it for quite some time, and they’re showing a very forward-thinking approach by handling its demise in this manner. Hopefully, more companies can learn from this example when their time comes to move on from a particular creation.