Gone in a Flash
2 January, 2021
On 1 January 2021, Adobe Flash was discontinued. In fact, Adobe went so far as to say that:
Adobe strongly recommends all users immediately uninstall Flash Player to help protect their systems.
If you've reading this, you should do the same - Flash has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. I already uninstalled Flash with the advent of Safari 14 - which doesn't support it. This has been a long time coming.
Chief among them was Apple's polarising and sometimes problematic CEO Steve Jobs, who decided to exclude Flash from the iPhone. In his manifesto Thoughts on Flash, he listed his problems with it. It wouldn't run quickly on the power-efficient iPhone OS (now iOS). It was proprietary. It was unreliable. And it was insecure.1
At the time, his piece received both support and strong criticism. Many viewed the Flash-less iPhone as handicapped, and Apple as wanting to stifle innovation. But the fact that Flash never took hold on the rival Android operating system proved its critics right. And with the corporate mothership now behind the rising sentiment, Flash begun to fall.
According to the internet consensus, Flash is a nostalgic part of the web that was mercilessly snuffed out. I too have plenty of nostalgia for the software: I grew up using it to play weird online games, interact with stuff, and... design kitchen layouts. Yes, the last one is true.2 I'm still convinced that the web is better off without it though. In addition to its many intractable problems, it's basically one company's toehold into the open web. Great emulation software like Ruffle and swf2js exists to carry its torch.
Nevertheless, I see where its supporters are coming from. Flash represents a time where the web was free for all. When everyone had their own site instead of being funnelled through mega-corporations. When netizens were more than commodities. When going online elicited wonder instead of frustration and alienation. But Flash just happened to die at an ominous time. And although my early web experience was more satisfying, in some ways it was never more than an ideal - remember AOL?
The Flash design tools were also great for quick content creation.3 The art of creating an early HTML page or spinning up an SWF has not been quite replicated - although there are projects out there trying to do it. Web design is now inaccessible to the beginner, an impenetrable stack composed of a million different technologies.
To be fair, Jobs probably had additional ulterior motives in that Flash was competition to the App Store.
As a kid, I used to spend hours on the websites of cabinet makers and car manufacturers designing the ideal versions of their products. They get you while you're young.
Or so I'm told.
Think of the last time there's been innovation in the web search arena. Google's monopoly means there's no incentive, and their control of search essentially means they gatekeep the web.
Hence why I don't have a Medium or Substack instead of this blog.