3 Years Left: Flash’s Shelf Life Drawing to a Close in 2020

Video content has become so standard in every aspect of the digital world, from news to sports to commercial videos for business and many more examples of where you’ve been able to watch video from your computer or smartphone over the last nearly 20 years in much the same way you were only able to do so with a TV prior to that. Behind that capability was Adobe, and their much-heralded and long-ubiquitous Flash plug-in multimedia player. It’s been a staple for pretty much every device since it emerged in the late 1990s, but now it seems it seems its working life is drawing to a close.

Here at 4GoodHosting, we take pride in being a top Canadian web hosting provider and we believe that a small part of what gives us that distinction is in being in touch with all the reaches of the industry within which we operate. Given that dynamic multimedia content delivery is an important component of many of the websites we host, we feel this is a relevant topic for our blog this week.

Adobe has announced that it will stop updating and distributing Flash by the end of 2020. That’s right, the 2-decade long reign of the most commonplace media player will finally come to an end. Until that time, Adobe will continue to partner with Apple, Mozilla, Microsoft, and Google to offer security updates – including patches – in their browsers but no new Flash features will be forthcoming. The 20 year run as the undisputed ‘go-to’ guy for video within web browsers has been an impressive one, but one can’t deny that Flash and its more outdated versions have become prime targets for hackers because of the extent of its distribution and inherent security vulnerabilities which unfortunately allowed intrusion far too easily very often.

Flash’s Legacy

As mentioned, Flash emerged in the late 1990s, and its popularity was firmly cemented with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer becoming the default browser in Windows. Quickly leaving low resolution GIFs or blinking text behind, Flash allowed designers and developers to make web-based video, and animated, interactive content that could play on any computer or within any browser. Flash has been a website thoroughbred ever since, making it easy to play online games, stream radio station music and – perhaps most importantly for many of us – watch YouTube videos. It has also let people build features like photo galleries, and allowed a whole array of multimedia applications to be implemented, like using webcams for video chat!

So while it is indeed on its way out, we should celebrate Flash’s legacy, and that being one of a profound and positive impact on further creative content initiatives on the web in an era where content had become king.

A Slow, Lengthy Demise

Flash loaded content in a web browser and ensured that the content looks and behaves identically for anyone who loads it, independent of what type of browser or computer they were using to access it. Nowadays, however, we’re fortunate to have advancing technologies that are capable of running natively in web browsers. Having unilateral and wide-sweeping plug-in requirements has become a liability.

The earliest sign that Flash was inevitably going to be phased out came in 2004, when Mozilla, Apple and Opera Software came together to form a group promoting advance core technologies for HTML that would consolidate the building of websites. They wanted industry standards as opposed to proprietary softwares, but the world web consortium didn’t give them much of an audience.

The first death knell really came in 2007, when Apple decided not to support Flash in the newly introduced iPhone. Mobile web was rising to prominence and the fifth version of HTML was promising to replace some of the functionality Flash provided, and as a result developers began moving away from Flash and toward HTML5 and JavaScript.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before HTML5 became the new standard. Rather than use Flash, Apple adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript due to the fact that all were open standards that web browsers could build on. Flash still remained integral to the web and was used to create native apps for iOS, but here ten years later even video streaming sites such as YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo have made HTML5 their default video player.

What To Expect in 3 Years?

Safari: Apple’s Safari has blocked Flash from running since 2016, but it’s possible to re-enable it on websites that offer a download of Flash.

Chrome: Chrome began asking permission to run Flash on some websites since 2015, and it’ll likely continue to do so, perhaps even more frequently. From the close of 2016, Flash is allowed by default on 10 websites only, including its own YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. It’s stated it will disable Flash by default come 2019.

Firefox: This browser will ask you specifically regarding the sites for which you want to enable Flash, but it will also disable Flash altogether by default in 2019. There will, however, be lingering support in Firefox’s Extended Support Release through the end of 2020.

Edge: Microsoft’s newer browser uses a click-to-play option for when you want to run Flash on a website, and this will continue through mid-2018. Following that Edge will be more aggressive about requiring you to authorize Flash, plus in 2019 Microsoft will disable Flash by default, and disable it entirely by the end of 2020.

Facebook: Facebook is home to a large number of Flash-based games, including FarmVille and Words with Friends, which will continue to run on Facebook via Flash until the end of 2020. Nothing more is known regarding this at this time.

The folks at Adobe, meanwhile, have renamed the software for making Flash – Flash Professional CC – to Animate CC, which will be, according to them, the “premier web animation tool for developing HTML5 content.” Adobe is also strongly suggesting that developers migrate their content to open formats like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly.

HTML5 has slowly and surely replaced Flash Player as a viable alternative for delivering content on the web. Most browser vendors have integrated functionalities once provided by plugins now directly integrated into the browsers themselves, and with HTML5 built into most of the big name browsers already there is the convenience of no need to install anything to use it.

In the big picture of things, no one should be too distraught over the demise of Flash. Instead we should be eager to see how Adobe plans to usher in the next era of digital content creation.

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