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Dancing on the grave of Flash

Jonathan Hassell | Oct. 13, 2015
‘Do you hear the people sing?’ To borrow a line from “Les Miserables,” that chorus is the jubilation of Internet citizens worldwide that Adobe Flash is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

The security issue got so bad that earlier this year when two zero-day vulnerabilities were exploited, affected users got heaps of malware installed on their Windows machines, and it led the Mozilla Foundation to completely disable the Flash plug-in within users’ browsers until it was updated. That says something about your security when the browser developer has to turn you off, doesn’t it?

Flash did not respect the rise of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, and did not tighten and modify its code base to support these form factors and unique usage characteristics.

The biggest here was battery life: Flash on phones, especially phones before 2010, really just stank at conserving battery life. You even saw this on standard corporate-issue laptops – playing videos on YouTube would just eat up a battery like nobody’s business.

Adobe simply failed to acknowledge the post-PC awakening where people used devices on the go and expected to get more than two hours of life out of them at a time. It also ignored the fact that most Flash user interface elements were predicated on cool events firing upon mouse pointer events, and of course mice on smartphones were exceedingly uncommon … another example of Flash being the wrong product for the post-PC phenomenon. And whether it was infeasible (doubtful – the H.264 hardware decoder chip, which eliminated the need for power-eating software codecs was fairly common around this time) or the company was simply unwilling to make the necessary changes to the codebase, Flash simply became an also-ran, popular with web developers who disliked change but not well-regarded by users or anyone familiar with the benefits of HTML5, especially on mobile devices.

Flash did not secure the support of the industry juggernauts that bring the users and the audience with them.

Sometimes you have to stand on the shoulders of giants, especially in the tech world. Adobe essentially failed at that: When Adobe lost Apple vis-a-vis Flash, there was no turning back. Apple singlehandedly awakened the smartphone market with the introduction of the iPhone, and it’s impossible to ignore the power of that market when it comes to enabling technologies – and killing them.

You may well know that Microsoft tried to introduce a Windows XP-based tablet PC that was ahead of its time back in 2001-2002. It was highly functional -- and failed miserably in terms of market acceptance. Apple in 2009 decided to release an iPad that was more or less just a bigger iPhone without cellular service and it took the world by storm.

Even if you have the best tech in the world, which I don’t think anyone would argue that Flash is, you simply have to go with the big boys sometimes and live to fight another day. Steadfastly digging in your heels (as in the case of Adobe circa the late oughts) does nothing to improve your technology’s chances of survival when the giants turn on you.


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