Flash will officially be dead in three years. Adobe today announced it will stop updating and distributing its Flash Player at the end of 2020, encouraging content creators to migrate existing Flash content to open formats. Furthermore, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla have also announced their own plans to help Adobe kill Flash.
Flash is a multimedia software platform used for building animations, web apps, desktop apps, mobile apps, and mobile games, as well as streaming audio and video. It displays text, vector graphics, and raster graphics but can also be used to capture mouse, keyboard, microphone, and camera input.
The history of Flash is tricky to follow, but it arguably begins in November 1996, when Macromedia acquired a small company called FutureSplash. Macromedia re-branded and released FutureSplash Animator as Macromedia Flash 1.0, which was made up of a graphics and animation editor called Macromedia Flash and a player known as Macromedia Flash Player. Adobe acquired Macromedia in December 2005 and in turn rebranded the two again by replacing the Macromedia prefix with Adobe.
So, why is Adobe finally deciding to kill Flash now? The company argues “open standards like HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly” have matured over the past several years to the point where they can handle “many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered.” Adobe explains the trend over the past few decades as: helper apps became plugins, which in turn became open web standards. “Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly in the browsers and deprecating plugins,” Adobe explained.
This is true. Support for plugins has been slowly but surely killed off, with only one exception: Flash. In fact, Adobe’s plugin is also the only one natively supported by the major browsers, and so it is naturally the last one to fall.
Three years lead time is a lot when deprecating any technology, but Adobe argues that several industries and businesses have been built around Flash technology, including gaming, education, and video. As such, Adobe will keep issuing regular security patches, maintaining OS and browser compatibility, and adding features and capabilities as needed through 2020.
The company will, however, “move more aggressively to EOL Flash in certain geographies where unlicensed and outdated versions of Flash Player are being distributed.” We asked for more details on what exactly “aggressively end-of-life-ing Flash” entails, which geographies the company is referring to, and when this might occur. The company declined to share details at this time.
That said, Adobe’s partners were more than happy to outline their plans.
It’s hard to discuss Apple’s role in the demise of Flash without mentioning Steve Jobs’ infamous essay in April 2010 brutally criticizing the technology. Posthumously, Jobs will get his wish.
And of course, Apple isn’t missing the opportunity to emphasize it paved the path to Flash’s grave:
Apple users have been experiencing the web without Flash for some time. iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch never supported Flash. For the Mac, the transition from Flash began in 2010 when Flash was no longer pre-installed. Today, if users install Flash, it remains off by default. Safari requires explicit approval on each website before running the Flash plugin.
Apple also argues that Safari’s rendering engine WebKit supports “the latest standards,” including HTML Video and Media Source Extensions, HTML Canvas and WebGL, CSS Transitions and Animations, WebRTC, and WebAssembly.
Never mind that other browsers are much further along than Safari. In terms of not supporting Flash, Safari is way ahead.
Check and mate.
Unlike Adobe’s other four partners, Facebook doesn’t make a browser. The company does, however, support Flash games on its platform, and so it is sharing a migration path for developers, noting that
open web standards like WebGL and HTML5 have rapidly advanced to offer many of the web game development capabilities provided by Flash. Facebook will also be hosting training webinars on August 30 and October 25 to teach developers about effectively migrating games off Flash with minimal impact to their business.
Indeed, while games built in Flash will run on Facebook until the end of 2020, Facebook would like to “strongly advise developers to follow the timelines set by browsers, as this may impact your decision to migrate sooner.” If you need a timeframe to work towards, Facebook points to the summer of 2018 — that’s when Chrome will require click-to-play for Flash-based content (see the Google section below for more).
Facebook only has “more than 200 HTML5 games” on its platform today, and most launched within the last year. But the company notes that many of the largest developers on the Facebook platform, including King and Plarium, have managed to migrate at least one Flash game to HTML5 “with minimal impact to their existing customers.”
Facebook is outlining two options for game developers:
- HTML5 — Supported by all major browsers today, without the need for plugins, this is the best path forward for web game development. There are several methods to migrate Flash games to HTML5: tools and libraries, HTML5 engines, cross-platform engines, and the Unity-Facebook WebGL Guide.
- Gameroom — Facebook’s PC desktop gaming app was built to support games in native or web formats developed from game engines and standards including cocos2D, HTML5, Unity, Unreal, and WebGL. The platform has more than 1,000 games across over 10 categories. Developers can learn more by checking out the Gameroom resources.
In short, whether you’re building a new Facebook game or updating an existing one, it’s time to ditch Flash for open web standards.
As it typically does when announcing the end of support of a Chrome feature, Google shared that its users are relying on Flash less and less. Three years ago, 80 percent of desktop Chrome users visited a site with Flash daily; today that number has fallen to 17 percent.
Aside from Apple’s refusal to support Flash on iOS, Google has arguably done the most to accelerate Flash’s demise over the years. That includes across not just Chrome but also via its ads and through YouTube.
Google reiterated its argument for encouraging this trend: Open web technologies are faster, more power-efficient, and more secure than Flash. They also work on both mobile and desktop.
Last year, Chrome started asking users’ permission to run Flash when sites needed the plugin. The next steps include prompting users for permission to run Flash in more situations (in the summer of 2018, Chrome will ask for your permission to run Flash every time you restart it), disabling Flash by default, and eventually removing Flash completely from Chrome toward the end of 2020.
If you’re a Chrome user who regularly visits a site that depends on Flash, the only difference you should see if the site migrates to open web standards is no more prompts to run the plugin. If the site continues to use Flash, and you give the site permission to run the plugin in Chrome, everything should work through the end of 2020.
Microsoft points to HTML5 as providing what Flash does, except with improved performance, battery life, and security. The company thus wants to make sure Flash is ready to be removed from Edge and Internet Explorer, and Windows in general, by 2020.
Unlike Google, Microsoft has laid out a slightly more detailed timeline:
- Through the end of 2017 and into 2018 — Edge will continue to ask users for permission to run Flash on most sites the first time the site is visited, remembering the user’s preference on subsequent visits. IE will continue to allow Flash without prompting for permission.
- Mid to late 2018 — Edge will require permission for Flash to be run each session. IE will continue to allow Flash for all sites.
- Mid to late 2019 — Flash will be disabled by default in both Edge and IE. Users will be able to re-enable Flash in both browsers.
- End of 2020 — Flash in Edge and IE will be removed across all supported versions of Windows. Users will no longer have any ability to enable or run Flash.
Interestingly, Microsoft notes that its timeline “is consistent across browsers, including Google, Mozilla, and Apple.” You can expect that there will be changes along the way, but generally speaking Flash will start to be curtailed in 2018.
And, because Mozilla operates in the open, it already has a roadmap for Flash support in Firefox. The company is updating it today: Starting with Firefox 55 in August, users will have to choose which websites are able to run the Flash plugin. In order to improve security and performance, Mozilla will also maintain a list of sites that cannot use any plugins.
Next, Flash will be disabled by default for most users in 2019. Only users running the Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR) — a version designed for schools, universities, businesses, and others who need help with mass deployments — will be able to continue using Flash through the end of 2020. Once Flash is no longer supported by Adobe, no version of Firefox will load the plugin.
Mozilla points out that web developers currently using Flash to implement video, games, chat, file upload, or clipboard access now have fast, secure, and reliable HTML features that can do the same. Because each browser allows Flash to run slightly differently, the company is also offering a comparison among the major browsers on MDN Web Docs.
If you’re a developer, you’ll want to check out the Flash to HTML5 migration guide, written by Mozilla and Google technical writers. It provides documentation and links to open web APIs, libraries, and frameworks. Game developers, meanwhile, should check out this documentation.
“We’re very proud of the legacy of Flash and everything it helped pioneer,” Govind Balakrishnan, Adobe’s VP of product development, said in a statement. “During the 20+ years it has been around, it has played a key role in advancing interactivity and creative content on the web. Few technologies have had such a profound and positive impact in the internet era. But Adobe has always been about reinvention and creativity.”
Adobe plans to keep contributing to the HTML5 standard, participating in the WebAssembly Community Group, and developing Animate CC, its web animation tool for developing HTML5 content. In terms of revenue, this strategy is working — and Balakrishnan told VentureBeat that the company doesn’t expect Flash’s demise to hurt its bottom line.
This was inevitable. For years, Adobe has been repositioning itself as the company that provides tools and services for designers and developers who want to create content for the web without Flash. In fact, Adobe has gone as far as actively encouraging the use of HTML5 over Flash.
Now it’s finally ready to put the final nail in the coffin by killing Flash itself.