Mozilla’s announcement that Firefox will pretty much stop playing Flash videos and games early next year was a reminder that a big chunk of the Web’s history, both the good and the bad, will soon be gone but definitely not forgotten. For all the flak it has gotten over the years, it still gave birth to a multitude of content, some of which have never made it to the HTML5 transition. As keepers of the Internet’s long and massive history, the Internet Archives is announcing a safe haven for these animations and games, at least those that will be able to run in a special Flash emulator.
Flash delivered what was sorely needed on the young Web back in the 90s, when dial-up connections, inconsistent browsers, and the lack of standards made it more of a Wild West when it came to interactive content. Fast-forward three decades later, Flash has become a security liability but it would be a disservice to history and a lie to claim it didn’t produce a breed of content that would have been lost forever if not for the hard work of a few Flash fans and Internet historians.
Last year, the Ruffle emulator came into being with the exact purpose of preserving Flash content by allowing them to run even without the vulnerable Flash plugin. Both ironically and fatefully, it is written using Rust, the programming language born in Mozilla, which traces its origins back to the Netscape of old. Ruffle also uses WebAssembly, the new-ish low-level, high-performance code of the Web so that it will run in any modern browser, without the bloat and insecurity of Flash itself.
The Internet Archives is now using Ruffle, which it notes is still in development, to power the new section of its Emularity system. Compatibility with Flash isn’t 100%, unsurprisingly, but the amount of animations it can already play is quite impressive. They are also putting out a call for content creators and owners to bring their old Flash masterpieces (or mistakes) to the Archives for safekeeping.
Few will probably shed a tear when Flash officially disappears from the Web next year but many have memorable moments with the technology, whether good or bad. It’s definitely reassuring that the community has taken over where companies like Adobe never bothered to try, to preserve a huge chunk of the Internet’s history, embarrassing as it may be at times.