Flash death: Adobe killing reviled plugin by 2020

Chris Davies - Jul 25, 2017
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Flash death: Adobe killing reviled plugin by 2020

Adobe is dropping the axe on Flash, announcing that the little-loved – and in many cases, like that of Apple’s Steve Jobs, actively loathed – plugin is on its last legs. Flash will officially be put out of its misery in 2020, Adobe confirmed today, having already been forced out of contention from mobile. However, the company is also calling on support from some of the big names in internet browsing and technology to see Flash out smoothly.

Flash began as an engine for much of what made the web familiar. It was used to power online games and stream videos, to make websites “2.0 ready”, and generally push a vision of lightweight apps running on a common framework. However, Adobe’s pitch didn’t always match the user experience.

In reality, Flash was usually a nightmare. System-intensive, prone to crashing, and often demanding a software update before you could actually access whatever game, video, or other service you were wanting to see, it rapidly became the bane of the modern internet user’s life. Mobile, it turned out, was to be the final straw.

Steve Jobs notoriously wrote an open letter decrying Flash, particularly on mobile devices like the iPhone, back in 2010. “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice,” Jobs observed, having listed numerous reasons why Apple was opting not to support it in iOS. “Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”

Adobe protested, but the writing was on the wall for Flash on mobile. Late in 2011, the company announced it would kill off Flash mobile, focusing instead on things like HTML5, an open alternative. Now, it’s the turn of Flash on the desktop to go the same way.

Come 2020 it’ll be deprecated altogether. Adobe will focus on helping current Flash users to shift to alternatives, while Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Mozilla will each do their part of ease the transition. In Safari, for instance, Flash is already left switched off by default if actively installed; users need to explicitly say they want it to run. As of August, Firefox users will be able to choose which sites get to access Flash, and it’ll be disabled by default by 2019.

In Chrome, Flash will go away altogether by 2020. Between then and now, however, Google will make enabling it on a site-by-site basis a more explicit process for the user. Eventually, it’ll be disabled by default. Microsoft will do similar with Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, again disabling by default by 2019.

For Facebook, which still has several popular games on the desktop that run in Flash, it’ll be working with their developers to move to HTML5 and other alternatives. That includes Facebook’s own Gameroom system. “As open web standards like WebGL and HTML5 rapidly advanced to offer many of the web game development capabilities provided by Flash,” Facebook’s Jakub Pudełek wrote today, “it became clear that Flash’s lifespan was limited.”

You’re unlikely to find too many people disappointed by Adobe’s decision, and even if there’s a little work in store for some developers, there’s still a reasonable runway within which they can do it before Flash goes away altogether. As for the rest of us, we’ll probably not bother pouring one out for the fallen plugin. Instead, we’ll just enjoy not having all our CPU cycles taken up by laggy animations.


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