From one of the largest web technologies in the world, to being a forgotten mascot of 2000s web culture, what went wrong with Adobe Flash?
DISCLAIMER: This is not going to be the average post about how good Flash was. I have good memories, but this post is about my acceptance, and why I gave up with Flash. I enjoyed flash a lot, but I’m not going to be giving it fair views because of what it meant to me.
Ever since the mid 2010s, I knew that Flash would no longer have a future. The Internet is full of business options, however the ones that Adobe chose for their software is why Flash has failed us. Here is why, after over a decade of it’s presence, I gave up on Flash:
Total lockdown of proprietary file format
The World Wide Web is a building that is built off of the bricks of open standards and languages. Adobe Flash is neither of these things, it is a proprietary and vendor locked platform that required its own special player and also attempted to reject software that would try to play the SWF or FLV file types used in Flash.
As mentioned in the ‘SWF and FLV File Format Specification License Agreement’, Adobe licensed their documentation in such a way that if you read anything to do with the specification of their proprietary SWF or FLV file formats to make software that played the format(s), you were in violation of Adobe’s license agreement and probably at risk of legal action.1 However, people still try to develop, regardless of the risks.
‘You may not use the Specification in any way to create or develop a runtime, client, player, executable or other program that reads or renders SWF files.’
– Adobe Systems
This one entire move pretty much killed any sort of major support for the Adobe Flash platform outside of Adobe’s own software or web browsers like Chrome and Firefox. All the open source competitors don’t even come close to the offerings that Adobe provided. It is also worth noting that Steve Jobs said in ‘Thoughts on Flash’ that he mentions Adobe as a controlling third party, could he have been saying that Adobe was the one trying to shove Flash down their throats?
‘We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.’
– Steve Jobs 2
When Apple’s (late) CEO is schooling you on how proprietary this format is, it really shows…
Opportunities of open source destroyed
Adobe’s Licenses have caused concerns, and have slowed down opportunities to develop an open source player for the Adobe Flash formats. GNU Gnash tried being a clean-room implementation, and its developer also mentioned he did not touch the real Flash software and didn’t want developers who did in case of such legal issues or conflicts with the specification license agreement. 3 Gnash hasn’t been updated since 2011.
I am also aware of Lightspark, which seems to have active development. However, they are taking risks and are not doing it in a total clean-room design like Gnash (Lightspark’s devs use the proprietary Flash projector). For the paranoid, Adobe could try and take action against them for trying such a thing, even if it wont go anywhere legally.
Both programs also do not run a large portion of the most popular Flash games like some Bloons TD SWF’s and Epic Battle Fantasy. This may not be the software you want to use yet. 4
A company of assholes
Adobe are the worst offender when it comes to proprietary software, period. Creative Cloud is their suite of products which is only available by a subscription, and requires their account service, constant connection to their servers, and proprietary file formats for their programs. An example of this is Photoshop’s .PSD format. If you want software you have to pay for, please don’t EVER pay for it in a subscription.
Adobe’s one time purchase software suite ‘Creative Suite’ which was before CC is now no longer available to purchase.5 That’s your precious software invalidated in one snap of your finger. Adobe is also known for their very unfriendly acquisitions, purchasing Flash, Fireworks, and FreeHand by acquiring Macromedia, and proceeding to kill the latter immediately after buying. Fireworks was killed in CS6, and Adobe did no major changes to Flash prior to the acquisition.
Flash is insecure? No shit! It’s been unsupported now. Get rid of it.
Okay, jokes aside - the amount of arbitary code execution exploits Flash has is insane. Even if they get patched, it’s competitors barely had a track record as bad as this.6
False hope, remaining risks
I am aware of Flashpoint, a custom client and web server hybrid that can play an archive of several games and videos. I am also aware of its server emulation features that can bypass site locks in SWFs. I am glad people are dedicated to this, and I hope development continues. However, there is one big glaring issue which will stop me from using this program, and that is…
Flashpoint may be open source, but it is still dependent on Adobe’s proprietary Flash Player program and projector for flash programs. I do not care if it is more functional when done this way, I would rather not use Adobe’s proprietary software and continue to support it’s lock-in features. Flashpoint could try to develop further updates or special features to support Lightspark or Gnash in a later update as an optional feature to replace Adobe Flash.
Flashpoint also mostly negotiate development and archive additions through Discord (yuck…).
‘The Flash plugin and projectors that we use do not contain the “kill switch”; this was added in a later version of the plugin.’
– Flashpoint FAQ 7
Are we really going to be depending on the proprietary Adobe binary from 5 years onward? Come on now.
HTML5, CSS3, and JS really is the way to go for web media these days. There are great games like Krunker and WebGL games that straight up only use the web browser. These have far greater online capabilities than flash games, and could also be integrated much better than flash games.
Flash dying like this will keep the legacy of all the content produced in Flash in good faith, rather than Flash being seen as a joke or useless in the modern era as the years have passed. It is time to accept the death of Flash, rather than leaving it hanging lifeless like animals in a slaughter house. It’s time for the web to finally be cleaned up.
The message is that you can still make something good if you have the talent, even if you paint a canvas with your own shit, you could still make a masterpiece out of it. Flash was a stepping stone for many people who wanted to be web developers, animators, graphics designers, motion designers, or computer nerd inside the little kids using Flash games and movies on their PCs. Flash will always hold a place deep in my heart, even if the company behind it are not the best of people.
I want to give my homage to 2Advanced Studios, an amazing design team from the early 2000s that used Flash Technology. You can check out a playlist of their work in the citation here. 8 You all were my inspiration.