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Flash is Dying...For Real?

ZZT Ultra is built in ActionScript 3. As we all know, AS3 is used to run Adobe's Flash plug-in, and ZZT Ultra on this site is hosted as an embedded Flash object.

Why in the world would I set out to make ZZT Ultra in a platform that is dying? And has been steadily dying for years, now?

WARNING: This post is going to get political.

Thoughts on Thoughts on Flash

First and foremost, I need to get something out of the way. It concerns the late Steve Jobs and his "Thoughts on Flash" back in 2010.

They were thoughts on Flash as the plug-in stood opposed to Jobs' anticipated vision for mobile devices and mobile gaming. All in all, it was a decent open letter, which detailed why Adobe hadn't been able to overcome the barriers to entry, real and perceived, to hosting any arbitrary web-based content on mobile.

My biggest issue with "Thoughts on Flash" was not that it was dishonest. By and large, it was honest, at the time of publication. But it was not complete. A more complete way to describe the ultimate decision of non-support (and blocked support) for Adobe Flash on the iPhone should have been "Thoughts on Apple's mobile application monetization model."

What Steve Jobs' argument really boils down to is that Apple didn't want hosting to be purely in the domain of the web on its mobile devices. They wanted greater control, which meant that Adobe's business model constituted a direct threat.

For a fleeting moment, Adobe was doing everything right. AS3 has become an amazingly solid API, and an excellent foundation on which to build something like ZZT Ultra. So why the dis from Apple?

Thoughts on ActionScript 3

As I have identified in other posts, the truth is often less satisfactory when the details become known. Apple didn't say that the whole AS3 API was trash--they only put a stop to the Flash browser plug-in.

AS3 can live in an environment that isn't Flash. You can use AS3 to target Apple's mobile devices. In a way that isn't Flash. Read: Adobe AIR.

Adobe AIR and other AS3-compiling environments are thriving. AS3 is similar to JavaScript, so deployment in platforms that don't support the Flash plug-in is a distinct possibility.

Adobe has been surprisingly tight-lipped over the last several years in apparent non-response to all the Flash-bashers. The rationale is that their products (Flash CSx authoring tool and other tools) have always deployed to multiple platforms. The Flash browser plug-in is but one.

I guess to properly figure out what "Flash is dying" means will require us to look at HTML 5.

Thoughts on HTML 5

Supposedly, back in 2010, HTML 5 should have been the perfect alternative to Flash at a time when it was incredibly inadequate to serve as a comparison. If you look at a side-by-side comparison of features today, it's still lagging. Like, a lot.

Can you make browser-based games in HTML 5? Absolutely. Can you make something like the Hall of Music? Uh...maybe. With a relatively new Mozilla API specific to Firefox, and a completely different one for Google Chrome.

HTML 5, keep in mind, is a somewhat loose protocol. It is impressive where it stands now, but it is still behind the curve. And to me, it's a moot point.

If I wanted to deploy ZZT Ultra to HTML 5, I could do this, at least partially, from Adobe's authoring tools, or Haxe if I have a mind to pick that up one day. It has become so politically correct to trash Flash that many folks have failed to notice that today's tools now target multiple platforms almost seamlessly.

The day that HTML 5 becomes synonymous with Flash...Adobe will respond with, "Yeah, whatever. We have been gearing up for this day for the last five or six years."

Thoughts on Browsing Experience

I suppose that I've focused too much on the technical side of things. When people say Flash is "dying," they are probably referring to a more practical consideration: browsing experience degradation due to ads and malware.

As more security exploits become known, the Flash plug-in takes a hit. Advertisers aggressively try to target individuals, often with spyware that prompts users to resist with ad-blocking software. Each time a major security patch needs to happen, the Flash-bashers whip out their megaphones.

What about Java, though? Similar problems, with security holes in the runtime that need to be patched regularly. Given Java's reach, you'd think Java would be hated even more.

If Flash ads eventually "die" due to near-universal ad-blocking of the plug-in, no one will miss the ads. But I seriously wonder if the nefarious advertisers won't just move on to HTML 5 and the relatively new DRM model of content delivery.

It's probably not a coincidence that the vast majority of Flash plug-in crashes due to ads...happened after "Thoughts on Flash" was published. Unscrupulous people were undoubtedly trying to kill the plug-in. I have no way of proving their motivations, but there doesn't seem to be much advantage to delivering site-breaking ads in such a fashion that scores an overwhelming negative response from a website's constituency.

The shift in ad reliability may not reflect a real strategy, but it sure looks like one.

Thoughts on Flash Dying

Is Flash dying?

I'll agree with this, when the following come true.

  • Advertisers stop targeting the plug-in altogether.
  • Game developers stop targeting AS3 altogether.
  • HTML 5 evolves into something truly feature-complete (even after five years, it's still lagging).
  • HTML 5 can guarantee malicious ad circumvention.
  • Agents of Apple destroy every counter-narrative, everywhere on the Internet.

Five years later, Flash isn't dead. But I'm sure that those who have informed "Thoughts on Flash" have at least some idea about actuarial integrity in general.

Oh, wait...


2015-12-02 08:29:05:  Appetite4 +1

UPDATE: Adobe is officially changing the name of the authoring suite from Flash to Animate.

The pieces fell in line, just like clockwork. Flash developers half-expected something like this all along, and Flash detractors shouted from the highest mountain that Flash is now totally buried, never to return.

Part of the problem, I think, is that without Steve Jobs still alive to pontificate, people just take the last words he said and feed the echo chamber. The new reality, however, isn't much different from the old.

The move by Adobe tells me two things:

1) The word "Animate" is a far better characterization of the development suite. Given all the deployment target options, it fits.

2) Adobe has pretty much had it with the Flash name being trashed all the time, so a new moniker is warranted.

2020-05-09 11:07:01:  Jim Hendricks

I noticed in the news, in 2018 was the possibility of an HTML 5 version. Is that still in the works?

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