Finally: The end of the road for Flash!

Wow. I go off-line for a week on vacation and Adobe drops the bombshell that it’s abandoning mobile and set-top Flash in order facilitate the move to HTML 5. This is such monumental and welcome news that I had to pause my time away from the computer to comment. First, as usual, John Gruber of Daring Fireball has been covering this topic very well. It’s starting to be old news already but if you’re interested, you should check out some of what he’s linked to.

Overall, I’ve never really liked Macromedia and the Adobe Flash. Annoying video ads aside (as these can be done in HTML5 as well) Flash, while a cool technology, has always been a pain if you were interested in fiddling with funny, often Open Source, and under-developed operating systems on obscure CPU architectures. It happens that I’m in to this, so I’ve never really bought in to Flash and have been a vocal opponent of it for many years. Moreover, Flash is terrible from an accessibility perspective, as most screen readers can’t deal with it. Flash is why good web standards are so important. At it’s peak, it was installed on something like 98% of browsers. As a web developer interested in standards compliance, I’ve often had to explain to potential customers why Flash is a problem. Unfortunately, lack of screen reader support and poor accessibility in general are a harder sell than mentioning that it won’t work on iPhones and iPads.

All of this to say that I’m glad to hear that Adobe, who makes fantastic tools for creative people, is going to phase out Flash in favour of HTML5. Open technologies owned by no one, enhancing the web for everyone. Adobe has compelling tools for print and on-line media already. They recently acquired the companies behind TypeKit and PhoneGap. I can’t wait to use Adobe’s new Creative Suite that integrates these great technologies.

However, all of this great news isn’t what prompted this blog post. Rather, it was the following Economist article entitled “Flash Fried”. It is a mostly balanced, well-written article that goes off the rails in the last two sentences:

Widespread adoption of the new standard is likely to make it impossible for any one company to hold sway over online interaction. It may be too soon for Apple to gloat.

The first sentence is why the death of mobile Flash should be hastened and celebrated. The second sentence is rubbish. Apple wouldn’t gloat, though it did far more to see to the first sentence come to be true than any other company. The second sentence implies that Apple wants to be the one company to hold sway over online interaction. There is absolutely no evidence that would lead any rational, informed, person to jump to this conclusion. If anything, the supposedly “open” Android platform, very firmly controlled by one company, Google, is more likely to try to position itself to hold sway over online interactions. Even if this came to pass, it would be a better situation than what lead Microsoft to a 95% lock of the desktop market share, which then lead to stagnation of innovation on-line while the dominant browser (IE6) failed to progress for years.

In light of the realities of today, Flash is a dated and flawed technology whose time has thankfully coming to an end. It was an important intermediate step between pre-Flash-driven sites and what HTML 5 will bring. We could not have jumped straight from HTML 4 to HTML 5 without something like Flash to help show the way. For this, we should all be thankful for Macromedia, and now Adobe’s, contributions. However, Flash technology is fundamentally flawed: It is controlled by one company, it has, until Apple put it’s foot down, held too much say over online interaction, and now the security and performance problems of Flash, coupled with browser advances, have deemed it largely irrelevant. We don’t miss DOS, we don’t miss punch cards, we won’t miss Flash. Technology marches on.

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