Adobe Flash start up screen

HTML5 - and Adobe - Finally Kill Off Flash

5 minute read
David Roe avatar

Finally, after years of external pressure, Adobe announced a timeline for the decommissioning of its Flash platform.

The company has been working with the web browser teams at Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple to make the demise as painless as possible.

Many of these companies issued statements in response, laying out details of the phase out. Facebook also outlined how it will phase the platform out for any developers building apps for Facebook using Flash.

The cut off date? According to a blog post from San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe, the company will stop offering support as of the end of 2020. 

Once Loved, Now Reviled

Adobe describes Flash as a “multimedia software platform used for production of animations, rich internet applications, desktop applications, mobile applications and mobile games.”

The platform was once the darling of multimedia developers, supporting audio and video streaming and capturing mouse, keyboard, microphone and camera input.

But Flash has fallen out of favor over the years as HTML5 emerged as a better — and safer — way of developing rich content for websites.

And yet the platform lingers on in corners of enterprise websites and intranets, in spite of the ongoing security threat it poses. 

According to W3Techs, a division of Q-Success Web-based Services, Flash is still used by 6.3 percent of all the websites. 

Adobe: Defending Flash Till the End

Adobe admitted in its blog post that Flash has been bypassed by technological developments over the years.

And even in the face of ongoing calls for Flash's demise from the web industry, Adobe still defended its unruly offspring in the termination announcement. The company described the platform as a "pioneer" in the realm of interactive content development.

“Where a format didn’t exist, we invented one — such as with Flash and Shockwave. And over time, as the web evolved, these new formats were adopted by the community, in some cases formed the basis for open standards, and became an essential part of the web,” the blog read.

Standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly can “provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered and have become a viable alternative for content on the web,” the post reads.

Learning Opportunities

“Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins.”

Just a Few Reasons Why Flash Must Go

There are many reasons why Flash should go, and everyone has their pet hates, but organizations should note three specific points, particularly in light of the better alternatives now available:

  1. Lack of device support — Apple led the way in 2010 by announcing it would no longer include Flash by default on its computers. The platform has seen a steady decline since then.
  2. Security threats — A large part of the calls from the web industry to replace Flash was driven by its use as a launch pad for cyberattacks. Based on an analysis in 2015 of over 100 exploit kits (EKs) IT security vendor RecordedFuture and known vulnerabilities, Adobe Flash was the most frequently exploited product and has carried the title ever since.  
  3. Lack of browser support — As browser builders moved forward, they didn't take Flash with them. This accounts for the quick response from the major players in the field to Adobe's announcement.

Browser Builders Respond

Google issued a statement on the announcement:

“Sites are migrating to open web technologies, which are faster and more power-efficient than Flash. They’re also more secure, so you can be safer while shopping, banking or reading sensitive documents. They also work on both mobile and desktop."

Chrome started moving away from Flash in late 2016, when it made open web technologies its default experience. It will continue to phase out, until removing it completely from the browser in late 2020.  

Microsoft promised to pull the plug in its Edge browser and Internet Explorer even before that date.

“We will phase out Flash from Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, culminating in the removal of Flash from Windows entirely by the end of 2020. This process began already for Microsoft Edge with Click-to-Run for Flash in the Windows 10 Creators Update.”

If you are using Flash in Edge though you need to check the timeline as it will be a gradual withdrawal of support.

It appears Mozilla can't rid its browser of Flash quick enough either. Benjamin Smedberg of the Firefox product integrity team wrote in a blog post:

“Starting next month, users will choose which websites are able to run the Flash plugin. Flash will be disabled by default for most users in 2019, and only users running the Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR) will be able to continue using Flash through the final end-of-life at the end of 2020."

For any enterprises with a dependency on Flash built into some, or any of its applications: it’s time to start moving now. The clock is ticking and Flash will disappear for good in late 2020.

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