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You don't have to be a villain to say Flash must die

Glenn Fleishman | July 16, 2015
I won't pretend to be Steve Jobs--I don't even own a mock turtleneck--but I have to repeat his words from April 2010: "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content." Flash is a constantly exploited, superannuated bit of technology that useful in the early days of multimedia in web browsers, and now deserves to die.

no flash

I won't pretend to be Steve Jobs--I don't even own a mock turtleneck--but I have to repeat his words from April 2010: "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content." Flash is a constantly exploited, superannuated bit of technology that useful in the early days of multimedia in web browsers, and now deserves to die.

When Jobs wrote "Thoughts on Flash" over five years ago, it was in response to the notion that Flash should be available on iOS. At the time, I asked repeatedly for Adobe to stage demonstrations in private using iOS development tools to show Flash running. They never took me up on it, or any other writer that I'm aware of, even though they had the ability. Flash for Android, when it appeared, was terrible. Within two years, it was dead.

Yesterday, Mozilla set Firefox and Google set Chrome to block every version of Flash, allowing only new versions to run. Adobe patched and released yet another update today that Firefox will accept--provisionally, as it's possible not all known exploits are fixed. This was Adobe's third critical release in three weeks. This was due largely to previously unreleased or "zero-day" exploits in Flash discovered in the data breach from security firm Hacking Team. But Adobe routinely releases fixes for both not-yet-known and zero-day flaws.

Facebook's chief security officer publicly called on Adobe on July 12 to set an end-of-life date for Flash so that browser makers could disable it permanently all at once. Mozilla's Firefox chief concurred.

What would we lose if we lost Flash? At this point, not much. Jobs was slightly ahead of his time, as he was with all things. But the Internet of 2015 can go Flash-free overnight--in fact, it mostly has already.

A flashback with caffeine jitters

When Flash first appeared as a browser plug-in in 1996 from Shockwave (later acquired by Adobe), multimedia on the web or through native clients was exceedingly primitive. Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were our two main choices for browsing. And the blink tag was still cool.

Flash had its purpose, encoding a multimedia presentation, video, or interactive experience once, and letting it play across all browsers and computer platforms that supported the plug-in. Shockwave, and then Adobe, did the heavy lifting of writing the plug-in software and developing the architecture, so Flash designers and programmers could just build on the platform. In that way, it had a lot in common with Java, which was ostensibly a write-once, run-everywhere code-development environment.

And Flash should suffer Java's fate. While Java was also an integrated part of many browsers, and seemed briefly a critical part of having powerful client-side apps, that's not how things shook out. It turns out that relying on a single company to develop code interpreters and compilers for a huge array of operating systems is problematic. You're relying on their competence, speed of development, and concern for security.

 

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