9 Reasons Flash Must Die, And Soon - InformationWeek
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9 Reasons Flash Must Die, And Soon

Whether you're a user or a developer, the reasons to leave Flash in the past keep multiplying.
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(Image: elianemey via Pixabay)

(Image: elianemey via Pixabay)

Alas, poor Flash. The trajectory from cool innovation to Web must-have, to reviled technology was dramatic, but there's no doubt that the time has come: Flash has to go.

Flash entered our lives around the same time as the World Wide Web, though it began its existence as a drawing program for PenPoint OS. It wasn't until 1996, after Macromedia bought the original developer, that Flash received a new name and a new mission -- enabling animation on websites. Macromedia continued to develop Flash until the company was acquired by Adobe in 2005. Under Adobe, Flash became a Web animation juggernaut.

It didn't take long for the backlash to build. Flash had some notable issues and at least one famous detractor -- Steve Jobs's 2010 open letter listing the reasons Flash wasn't part of the iOS universe was for some a watershed moment. The hate for Flash wasn't universal, though: Air, the system that allows Flash to be used as the basis for standalone applications, was named the best mobile development environment at CES for both 2014 and 2015.

Air isn't enough reason to save Flash, though. It's no longer required, and the alternatives have become better with each passing year. This week, another nail in the coffin arrived when Mozilla prevented Flash from running on its Firefox browser. It's time, therefore, for Flash to ride into the sunset (probably in an animated clip featuring kittens riding cartoon unicorns).

Whether you're a user or a developer, the reasons to leave Flash in the past keep multiplying. Still looking for your reason to delete Flash from your online life? We've put together a list of nine reasons we find compelling. If we've missed the reason that finally made you switch, let us know. And if you're one of the poor, deluded souls who thinks that Flash is still the best web-thing since animated sliced bread, please let us know that, too. We promise we'll be kind.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with ... View Full Bio

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ACorrectPerson
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ACorrectPerson,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2015 | 7:12:36 AM
9 Reasons This Article Is Misinformation (or Disinformation?)
I almost feel a little bad pointing all this out and negating this entire article, but misinformation has to be challenged.

1) "Flash is an interpreted language" - No, no, no, a thousand times NO.  Flash is a virtual machine platform which uses state of the art JIT (just in time) compilation like many other modern VM platforms.  This is not even close to comparable to an actual interpreted language and not even in the same league in terms of speed.  Flash is no more "hungry" than anything playing video on mobile.  You can't compare Flash running video or anything else intensive to an application which does nothing but render mostly static HTML.  Stop spreading Steve Jobs disinformation he created to attack a competing app store platform that Apple couldn't profit off of.  The reality is, Flash has had years worth of optimizations built into it.

2) Anything, including HTML5 video players, which does the same things Flash does will have to at some point interact with a machine's hardware. This requirement does not magically go away (along with the security risk) simply because you're moving the functionality to another location. Obviously the exploits aren't there yet because the alternatives are new. Adobe is also pretty remarkably fast at getting out security updates. Much faster than browser vendors have ever been, actually (you know, the guys you're now trusting to handle all those security risks with HTML5).

3) While Flash is proprietary, it is not completely closed--the open source Tamarin JIT compiler was developed by Adobe and is a core portion of Flash. Of course Adobe believes that Flash's proprietary code is a strength which enables it to work consistently, unlike browsers. This is probably the only thing on this article's list which is mostly true, but it's also not very important. 

4) "Flash" is not a media format. SWF files which you are referring to are essentially compressed archives which can contain many types of resources and compiled bytecode. And it's existence is not making your life any more complicated than the mess of 50 technologies needed to build comparible software using HTML and JavaScript in a browser. The irony here is hilarious. 

5) Okay, yeah, Flash is not HTML5. So what. How is that a reason to abolish Flash? We're more productive when we need to seek out dozens of software libraries to build applications with comparable functionality? Obviously using a dozen additional technologies and integrating them all is more complex so I don't understand the logic here. 

6) Essentially a repeat of #2 which was already debunked. With HTML5 exploits on the horizon now we have many more moles to worry about. And good luck patching them--users may not be fond of updating Flash player to fix security issues, but they are even more annoyed when they are asked to update their actual browser (or mobile OS), where these security exploits will soon be moving.

7) #6 above already covered this. You can be stupid and delay or ignore OS updates. You can ignore browser updates. You can ignore native application updates. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

8) Putting redundant functionality into browsers makes them more complicated. By the way, Firefox backtracked on disabling Flash almost immediately after a massive user backlash. If they weren't biased (like the author of this article), they would have made "click to play" a default instead, which not only blocks Flash ads by default but also seriously mitigates any security risks. The vulnerability Firefox blocked Flash for during that day was not proven to be an actively exploited vulnerability anyway.

9) This one is just stupid and needs no rebuttal.



I look forward to reading your correction article. If you are an honest person, you will soon write one to be published and linked to here.
ACorrectPerson
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ACorrectPerson,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2015 | 6:30:31 AM
Re: HTML5 not a Flash replacement!
You say "Flash has to reach down into operating system territory".  Yes, but browsers have to do the same thing if they expect to provide the same functionality.  Browsers can magically work without accessing the same hardware Flash accesses?  How does that work?  And do you really trust the likes of Mozilla who have already racked up more security vulnerabilities than Flash (despite it being far older and much more widespread), according to NIST's National Vulnerability Database?  A quick search for the terms results in 1,371 Firefox hits and 744 Flash hits (and due to the name Flash, the first one is a false positive referring to "Flash drives" on Apple OS X).

Heavy weight?  Flash Player is less than 18mb.  Contrast that with Adobe's reader which is well over 100mb and sometimes as much as 400mb supposedly.  Foxit PDF reader's installer on my OS downloads 37mb.  Flash loads pretty much instantly on all webpages and most modern browsers nowadays have "click to play" options which effectively automatically block ads or anything you don't want to load.  It's unlikely that it could possibly be made any more lightweight.  Browsers are much more heavyweight themselves.
ACorrectPerson
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ACorrectPerson,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2015 | 6:10:55 AM
Re: Flash was a big part of my development life 15 years ago
Wolf29,

#1 you are completely incorrect - Google indexes Flash sites and it has for a long time (not that you should typically be making complete websites in Flash in the first place, unless it's a business application...which doesn't care about SEO whatsoever).

#2 all depends on what the hell you're doing. Development of certain types of complex Flash applications is much, much more productive because the toolset is vastly superior to browser-based alternatives.

#3 is a load of bull really, and as usual it depends on what application you're talking about, how it was built, how caching factors in, and what you're running on. On mobile this may hold some truth, but then look at how native applications are blowing away "HTML5 applications" on mobile to the point that HTML5 is irrelevant there. 

RIP more misinformation (or is this website actually full of disinformation?)
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/23/2015 | 10:16:00 PM
Re: HTML5 not a Flash replacement!
@moarsauce123, I come at this from the POV of someone who has both used a lot of Flash-based web sites and programmed quite a few Flash projects. I could overlook a lot (and did for a long time), but Flash has become a very heavy weight for a browser and mobile client to drag around.

And that heavy weight is dragged around, more often than not, for a purpose that could be programmed in another way with less system overhead.

My real problem, though, is that in order to do a lot of its magic Flash has to reach down into operating system territory for file and resource access. And it does that reaching with far fewer precautions than it should have taken, with the inevitable result that it's a popular attack vector. Put it all together and Flash should either be significantly overhauled or put out to pasture -- and Adobe has shown in every way possible that it's unlikely to give it a major overhaul.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2015 | 2:49:26 PM
Re: Flash was a big part of my development life 15 years ago
@jastroff, I've got all of those still sitting on my hard disk, though the tools have moved on in most cases. Adobe is pushing Muse to replace Dreamweaver (though Dreamweaver is still a better system for building large, complex sites), and I'm watching younger developers do things in After Effects that I would have chosen Fireworrks to complete.

If people want to stay in the Adobe world, Illustrator and Photoshop can each create animations using timeline tools very much taken from Flash. The fact that the resulting files don't have to be in a proprietary file format (or require a run-time interpreter) makes things so much better.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2015 | 2:44:02 PM
Re: vitriol off target
@RandyT255, I think you're on to something. While Flash is certainly one of the most visible plug-ins for most browsers, the sheer number of plug-ins required to see and use the modern web site can make browsers incrediblly slow and unstable. (Firefox, I'm looking at you, here.)

As to why so many people are Flash Haters, I think it's the combination of architecture and vulnerability. Now that alternatives are becoming available, it's just too compelling to leave it behind.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2015 | 2:41:26 PM
Re: Flash was a big part of my development life 15 years ago
@Wolf29, you make some solid additional arguments for moving away from Flash. I think your reason number 3, with the impact on performance and site size, is the most important since we know that performance is critical to the user experience for a web site.

The maintenace aspect can't be ignored, either -- especially if you don't live in Flash. Every time I have to maintain a Flash-based site I've built I have to take a little time to get back into the Flash mindset. Too often, it's time I'd much rather spend doing something else!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2015 | 2:30:19 PM
Re: I block it ...
@CY148, I think there are a number of tools that are replacing Flash -- as a matter of fact, I'd say that without alternatives we wouldn't be able to think about getting rid of Flash. The set of functions it provides are necessary for the modern web, I just think there are now much better ways of putting those functions in front of the users.

As for blocking, you're probably right, though some site owners are getting much more creative in finding ways to "block your blockers."
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2015 | 5:59:02 AM
HTML5 not a Flash replacement!
I stopped reading after the uneducated claim of HTML5 being a replacement for Flash. Flash and ActionScript go way beyond what HTML5 and JS can do. Even better, Flash /AS look and behave the same across browsers and OS platforms. HTML5/JS needs special CSS and code for each browser to just get it to work and then it still looks and feels vastly different in each configuration.

Flash is closed...so what? Windows is closed, plenty of enterprise apps are closed, many consumer apps are closed. If "closed" is an argument to ditch an app we would have to throw out a lot of stuff.

Flash is naive? So is Windows and MS Office...or how else do you explain that a simple PowerPoint can pawn your entire system? There is also no reason for an office suite to have such deep access into the OS guts. Yet I hear nobody yell that MSO needs to die. In fact, we gladly patch critical flaws in MSO on a monthly basis. But if Adobe does it it's plain wrong. Rather biased logic, right?

Unless there is something realistic and constructive to bring to the table this Flash bashing is getting old.
RandyT255
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RandyT255,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/21/2015 | 12:15:18 AM
Re: vitriol off target
I understand.

There is one important point about AIR.  Most of the important streaming media apps use AIR, because there is no cross platform substitute for Adobe's adaptive bitrate (ABR) packaging (HDS) AND because the Adobe video API is incomparably deep.  A few examples:

Dishworld, WatchESPN, FoxSports, many more.

 

 
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