Greetings, my wonderful fans! I realized the other day that I hadn’t quite finished my story on Flash before my brain went on a terrible rampaging diatribe so before I continue I’ll apologize for the tangent. My mind isn’t usually prone to fits of spiteful angst, but we all feel strongly about one thing or another, don’t we?
With that out of the way, let’s continue our journey.
Flash rose to a ridiculous level of mainstream popularity in the late 90s through the early 2000s with whole sites being completely built in Flash, aka “shocked” as we used to say because the platform was called Shockwave. It was truly a marvel of Web development and ingenuity as people created more and more complex and dynamic websites completely in Flash! Don’t believe me? Here are some examples:
Each of these sites (along with others that no longer exist) laid the groundwork for what would become an era of Flash proliferation and innovation on the Web.
Keep in mind that this short list represents only a fraction of a fraction of completely flashed sites. Digital creatives had found a new toy and were unleashing never before seen levels of awesome to the point that you couldn’t click through ten links without landing on a site done completely in Flash.
Even I was seduced by the hotness that was animated vector graphics. So much that I endured the unforgiving learning curve to teach myself this technology and used it on my first website (I created an animated navigation menu).
Later I moved on to create Flash intros which became a thing in the early 2000s. I made a few for friends and for freelance work. I felt like I was riding high on some very marketable skills!
For a time I thought Flash was the future. All website would be built in Flash!
Oh, how naive I was.
The most obvious problem has to do with SEO. How does a search engine index the content in a Flash site? It was also around this time that search engines began to rise out of the primordial ooze to begin their unending quest to index everything on the Web so many people were familiar with the likes of Hotbot, Lycos, Dogpile and [early] Yahoo and used these services to make their way around the booming landscape of the Web.
Unfortunately, unless you submitted an entry for your site to any search engines it was very unlikely that a direct link to your Flash site was going to appear at the top of the results.
Another issue with Flash sites is the amount of effort involved in maintaining them. Building a site in Flash is a deeply involved process which directly calls upon your graphic arts skills, information design skills and content management skills all at the same time. It’s like building your site in Photoshop except you also have to worry about animations and working with the lovely language that is ActionScript.
Of course there are ways to make your Flash site dynamic so the content can be streamed in from external resources and databases but if you wanted to change some visual aspect of the site you had better set aside a few hours.
The last problem many ran into with Flash in the early days was the lack of first-party support. The top two browsers at the time, Internet Explorer and Netscape, did not install with Flash support. If you wanted to run Flash media in either browser you had to go to [then] Macromedia’s website to install the Flash Player (known as the Shockwave Player in those days).
The installer was probably only a few dozen megabytes large but remember that broadband didn’t exist. We were all rockin’ out with our 28.8 or 56.6kbps modems or, if we were made of money, ISDN Internet connections. Only true Flash aficionados would tolerate the wait to update their browsers and install the Shockwave player so they can get their animated vector graphics fix. The other 90% of the connected world wouldn’t even bother.
Now, despite Flash’s widespread adoption and use, things are even more dire for the multimedia platform.
I first realized Flash was on its way out in 2007. Steve Jobs introduced the first modern smartphone, iPhone, to the world in January of 2007 and it was only shortly thereafter that I began to read reviews, articles and opinions on Apple’s latest magical device. Out of everything I read the one thing that stuck with me as a developer was the lack of Flash support.
Why? Why would you leave Flash behind? It enables new and innovative experiences and interactions on a desktop, imagine what it could do on a touch device.
While this decision was probably motivated by business-imposed technological limitations and Apple’s trademark stubbornness to play nice with others, I’m willing to give Steve the benefit of the doubt and say he genuinely wanted to push Web technology and standards forward by dropping Flash support in favor of HTML development.
It was as bold a move then as it is now, except now we have even more reasons to ditch our friend, Flash.
Firstly, Flash isn’t responsive. Load up a Flash site and shrink your browser window. Did the Flash media scale? Probably not. If it did I’ll bet it looked terrible. Now imagine looking at Flash content on your mobile device. How long would you stay on that site?
It’s become a massive resource hog! Flash consumes gobs of memory that you should be HAPPY that Google Chrome cordons off memory for each tab individually that way the next time you’re playing a Flash game or indulging in some other time-waster, your other tabs are safe when that tab freezes, then crashes and burns.
Flash is a security risk. We know that embedded Java is a huge exploitable mess but did you know Flash is just as bad? It’s true! Look at this list of patches since October, 2015. Now consider the fact that some of these issues were pretty damn serious and discovered not by Adobe but other security researchers or out in the wild. What’s worse, Adobe was never proactive or even reactive unless pressed for action.
The last reason kind of rolls all the other reasons into one and that’s the fact that Adobe doesn’t really care. Much like how AOL bought Netscape and let it die, Adobe acquired Flash just for the marketshare.
Adobe, however, doesn’t seem too bothered about the fact that Flash (under their management, I maintain) is still a bug-ridden and bloated platform. They are, however, bothered by the stigma that’s been attached to the Flash brand and that is one problem they’ve managed to do anything about. That’s right. Adobe renamed Flash to Animate. Fresh, new name! Same crappy product!
And now, here’s a video showing Macromedia Flash MX (circa 2006) in action.