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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.

The homogeneity of developing in Java and programming or using Flash still relied on a massive amount of heterogeneity: all the different versions of the Java Virtual Machine and the Flash Player required. Since Flash Player and client-side Java were not the core focus of Adobe and Oracle (which purchased Java's creator and once-mighty workstation company, Sun Microsystems), respectively, there was no sensible way for them to put operating-system scale focus on a business sideline. Flash didn't generate much revenue for Adobe per se, and browser-based Java had no financial impact, either.

In 2014, Cisco released a report that showed 91 percent of all exploits in 2013 ultimately relied on Java. Apple had already dumped Java as a bundled installation in 2012, and for a bit allowed software to essentially request a Java installation. Now, although Oracle continues to release versions, OS X users need to go to Oracle's site to download it for installation.

Java found its purpose: a parallel version is the native language for Android apps, and Java remains in heavy use in server-side application programming. On the client side, while software continues to be available, it has to be installed on most platforms, isn't available for iOS, and is essentially a niche product.

Java for use as an embedded web component died. Why can't Flash?

Those who forget Flash are condemned to reload it

At first glance, Flash still appears to be in much wider use than Java ever was. If you install a Flash blocker and visit many sites that have video, interactive content, or rich-media advertising, it'll seem like a good part of the site is broken. But that's a matter of inertia, not requirement.

Most Flash remains in use as a generic, cross-platform wrapper around video. When Jobs unleashed his Flash thoughts in 2010, it was uncertain what video format would wind up becoming dominant, or if any one standard would. Apple had settled on H.264, as did Microsoft, which is a standard that involves a pool of patents. Google, Opera, and Mozilla (makers of Firefox) pursued ostensibly patent-free standards, including the Google-backed VP8 (better known as WebM for a method of using it with HTML5) and Ogg Theora for video.

As long as every major browser, mobile and desktop, couldn't play H.264, this left Flash on the field of play: Adobe could encapsulate H.264 within Flash under its own licensing scheme and play back other formats as well. But the competing formats were under clouds: they didn't have advantages over H.264 except related to patents, and most sites weren't encoding using them.

In 2013, Cisco removed the last obstacle: it created an open-source H.264 module and would eat any associated licensing costs. That led Firefox to drop its objections, and Google had never fully backed away. Now all major browsers, desktop and mobile, can play the same video.

 

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