The Death of Flash


It’s finally official. The Flash is dead, not the superhero red masked crime-fighter but a much more pervasive and powerful application that kept the web alive with graphics for over 10 years. Adobe has announced Flash will no longer be supported at the end of 2020. If you follow any tech news sites you probably have seen a headline for people demanding the death of Flash. Social media trolls condemn this demon of an application as “horrible” or “a disgrace to my battery’s power”, but the truth is that Flash played an important role in the life of interactive and beautiful websites.

Working in the microcomputer industry for over 35 years has given me the opportunity to see many business changes, but one of the more curious things was the relationship Adobe (Adobe owns Flash) had with Apple. In the beginning Apple and Adobe were kindred spirits. Apple’s groundbreaking Laserwriter with postscript technology paired with the Adobe font library helped make the Apple Laserwriter one of the most prolific printers ever to hit the market. What wasn’t widely known is that for every Laserwriter sold, Apple paid a bit of coin to Adobe in licensing fees. A contract that Steve Jobs very much disliked. His general attitude is that Apple made meant Apple made.

But I tell that story to tell another, I had met Steve a few times and when his article “Thoughts on Flash” came out, I couldn’t help but wonder why he focused so much energy on defeating Flash. At first I chalked it up to his maniacal attitude but then it came to me, Flash was simply too powerful. You see, Flash’s ability to create sophisticated applications was in direct competition with his newly formed “App Store”. If programmers could create identical applications outside of Apple’s control in the Flash environment, there would be no Apple profit for the “App Store” and thus no need for programmers to learn to develop in the Apple sandbox.

The development of the App Store was truly a genius Jobs move but Adobe Flash was just too great a risk and was, I believe, the true purpose for the letter to the internet. To close the loop the industry fell in lock step. “Do away with this hideous thing called Flash!!!” Fast forward to 2018 and poof! applications and websites no longer use the Flash plug-in. It is all HTML-5 now and developers have re-written code to use the graphics capabilities of HTML-5. Its funny, most of the command language and procedures came from the Flash toolbox and HTML-5 is simply another way of creating cool Flash-like webpages. The only issue to all of this is now programmers must write for different browsers because not all implementations of HTML-5 are the same.

So in an essence, we have taken a small step backwards, but I believe for the better. Creating a native HTML-5 browser based language is the future. Mark my words, very soon there will no longer be a “Desktop.” You will be running all of your applications from a browser window. You are already seeing it now, with Google Apps, Office 365 and even Adobe has the Creative Cloud. Your browser will be the launching pad for all your computing needs. Technically, there is no need to have local applications when they can be hosted and executed in the cloud. So while Steve fired the first bullet disguised as a security risk, I believe it was necessary for the industry to embrace change.

The next time you open up your app store, just remember, this thing could be on the web…