Google hammers yet another nail in Flash's coffin, but Flash still refuses to die

More and more nails are being hammered into Flash’s coffin and we’ve been hammering those nails in since at least 2010. The most recent nail being driven in comes courtesy of Google.

More and more nails are being hammered into Flash’s coffin and we’ve been hammering those nails in since at least 2010. The most recent nail being driven in comes courtesy of Google. Fast on the heels of Apple’s Safari browser, Google has announced that Chrome will prioritise HTML5 content over Flash wherever possible.

Adobe Flash popped up at an awkward time for the internet. Developers wanted to do a lot more with the web than HTML standards allowed. Features like streaming multimedia content, rich interactions and animations, all these were close to impossible to implement. With Flash, Adobe offered a powerful tool that could do all this and more. But even then, it was an imperfect solution and for that, Adobe is entirely to blame.

YouTube iOS old vs new Tech2 720

The original YouTube app on iOS had to convert flash videos for playback on the iPhone

This was in the early 2000s, long before the iPhone and at a time when H.264 (you’ll know it as mp4 video today) wasn’t a mainstream codec. Early HTML was mostly about text and images, rich pages and embedded content wasn’t as easy to implement as with Adobe Flash. There was no real HTML standard when it came to streaming and animation and interaction was much easier to implement via Flash.

We call the solution imperfect because Flash, while easy to implement, was a little hard to fine-tune. In fact, we rarely notice the good implementations of Flash, partly because there are so few of them and the bad ones, they completely ruin our browsing experience.

Steve Jobs with the iPhone in 2007. Reuters

Steve Jobs with the iPhone in 2007. Reuters

To make matters worse, Flash was, and still is, a completely closed platform. As Steve Jobs himself put it in his famous “Thoughts on Flash” editorial, if something is positioning itself as a standard, it needs to be open. Apple’s iOS is a closed system, for example, but the standards it’s built on are all open-source. This makes for a more secure, reliable platform that is constantly updated.

On a side-note, Apple developed WebKit using open-source standards and it proved to be so good, that Google used it right until their transition to Blink in 2013.

Coming back to the topic at hand however, Adobe Flash’s closed and proprietary nature forced any developer that used Flash to be entirely dependent on Adobe for updates, features, libraries and more. Something that Adobe has never managed to stay on point with, especially when it comes to security. This is not ideal for either a developer or a user.

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If nothing else, Flash has developed quite a reputation for developing security holes. As Wired put it, the security holes almost seem like features now.

In the early 2000s, streaming video and audio services had no option but to use Flash. If you remember the birth of YouTube in 2005, all video on the site was Flash video until very recently. Today more than 8 percent of the internet still relies on Flash, Web-based games, streaming video (even on modern sites like FIA’s WRC home page) and ads are still reliant on Flash.

Almost all of this is down to the ease with which one can create flash content, and the reluctance of a certain group of people to upgrade. Why else would Internet Explorer (IE) still command about 10 percent market share (IE 6,7,8 and 9).

Flash is dying, even Adobe knows that, but as Pixlr’s CEO points out, people outside the “tech bubble” don’t really care what they’re using as long as it works. This makes Flash more of a necessary evil than anything else, but it's still more evil than it's necessary.

Like Safari, Opera, Edge and Firefox before it, Google is also not really killing off Flash just yet. All they’re doing is prioritising HTML5 content over Flash content. If you come across a site with Flash content, Google won’t stop you from viewing it.

As one developer points out, HTML5 is still not good enough or reliable enough to completely replace Flash, but it’s getting there. Of course, making Flash open-source would go a long way towards improving its chances. I doubt Adobe would ever do that, however.

Flash needs to die, but before that happens, HTML needs to stabilise fully. Hopefully, that will happen soon.

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