Flash Is Dead, But Its Culture Should Live On

Flash is all but gone already, but as we approach the official Adobe end-of-life date on December 31st, it’s picking up traction one last time as people reminisce about the days of Internet past. Back in July, [Jonas Richner] created an impressive website that catalogs not only almost 20 years of Flash games, but also testimonials for the software from dozens of developers who began their careers with it.

Flash started in 1996 with the intention of being a standard for animations and vector graphics on the early Web. With the release of Flash Player 5 in August of 2000, Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe) presented the first version of ActionScript, an object-oriented scripting language meant to bring interactivity to animated Flash movies. Since then, thousands of games made with the platform were released online through websites like Newgrounds and shared all over the world, with the most popular games easily reaching tens of millions of plays.

These games became popular in part thanks to how quickly they could be created with the Flash authoring tools, but also because it was so easy for players to run them. With a single plugin for your web browser of choice, the barrier of entry was extremely low. Most home computers from the mid-2000s were able to run Flash software without needing dedicated graphics hardware. This prompted a “creative chaos” as [Richner] puts it, spawning millions of games and animations which started genres and careers lasting to this day.

Unfortunately, browsers have been dropping support for the plugin due to vulnerabilities in the most recent iterations of its scripting engine and Google no longer indexes Flash files. It would seem this particularly creative era of the Internet is coming to an end. However, you can still relive old games and animations made with plugins such as Flash and Shockwave with [BlueMaxima]’s Flashpoint, and like [Richner], we also hope that the people building today’s platforms and technologies keep the lessons from Flash in mind.

43 thoughts on “Flash Is Dead, But Its Culture Should Live On

    1. An interesting tidbit- For quite some time now, Adobes tools let you load in your Flash source and “compile” to HTML5 (as well as some other formats, depending on your use of actionscript)
      There’s many more tools available today to more-or-less do the same type of thing to varying degrees of success.

      I have no doubt there are some edge cases in there, but for over 99% of the .swf media out there, the reason it is going to disappear from obsolescence is by the creators wishes and the lack of sharing the original source project.

      I mention this mainly as it seems many point the finger purely at Adobe forcing this on everyone, when often it is actually the choice of the original creator.. An important distinction imho. Adobe is less of a cause of the dooms day situation and more of an enabler.

      Obviously sharing source code and information is the preference for many here, and I’m no exception.
      But when a person flashes an ST micro and pops the programming fuses so the code can’t be read, is the loss of that code 100% the fault of ST? Or is it the fault of the programmer and ST has enabled them?

      We may not agree with the creators choices here, but we have to ask how far we can go before removing that choice from them is worse than ensuring the freedom to make that choice in the first place. Food for thought!

      1. Adobe chose to make their ecosystem more and more closed, and provide tools to creators to do the same. It’s reflexive to use those controls because openness is scary and people want to control what other people do with their creations (really the end of that sentence isn’t necessary). But the closed platform always dies eventually.

        Adobe hasn’t learned their lesson yet.

        Are we losing all that stuff when Flash goes away? Or did we never have it to begin with?

    1. Oracle is the worst offender here. They are charging customers a lot of money for “maintenance” but are providing no affordable upgrade path. If you are running DB 12 and Forms 11, you are stuck with Flash and Java 8.

    2. Oracle is killing Java off because it’s Oracle and they are fundamentally opposed to Open Source and pretty much anything created by Sun in the first place. The only reason they didn’t kill it off the moment they acquired Sun was because they were busy using it to try to kill Android in a lawsuit.

  1. You can do everything that Flash did with javascript these days and a lot of stuff it couldn’t like proper 3D. The internet just moved away from that sort of design to a more ‘everything looks the same’ kind of thing. The Flash websites often had crappy UX due to not resembling anything the user has ever seen, great for art, bad for useability.

    1. The best part about flash was that it was containerized, so you could download the source file and play it separately. collect them, re-upload them somewhere else… nowadays the stuff is just baked into the website so deep that you can’t rip it out, which is nice for the copyright nazis but a pain for everyone else.

      1. This is honestly one of the bigger reasons Flash animations/games became so ubiquitous.

        It were largely 1 file, that didn’t really have too much “advanced features”.
        One didn’t have to worry much about it destroying one’s website.

        The problem with the modern day alternatives like JavaScript and HTML5 is that these are first and foremost meant to interact with the larger webpage itself and have more features than one cares to poke a stick at. So this makes integrating such user made content into one’s webpage in a safe manner a lot harder.

        One can think of flash as an image to a degree.
        All it really needs is a “box to run in” and one can be fairly certain that it won’t bugger off and do stuff outside of that box. (Except, it can bugger off and do all sorts of crazy/stupid stuff outside that box… But most honest flash animations/games didn’t. And reputable sites hosting such tended to ensure that were the case.)

        With HTML5 and JavaScript, the “box” is less obvious and way easier to step out of. Making websites more hesitant towards hosting such content, unless they make it themselves.

        If anything, this is what Flash should be, a box.

        So that a website builder can handle it as if it is an image file.
        It has certain dimensions, runs scripts that only effects things inside of the box, and if it wants to step out of the box, then it should be in a controlled and well mannered fashion.

        Ie, “a wide reaching array of features” isn’t really needed, support for cookies, local storage and poking about at the website itself or reaching out to the internet should in other words be handled in a standardized and safe manner.

        Like cookies can always be a flash.something.example.com cookie. “something” likely being the name of the flash application, so that a single website can have more than 1 flash application without cookies colliding, and starting with “flash.” is so that our flash runtime environment and also our webbrowser can trivially know that “this is for flash, so it’s okay.” while forbidding access to all other cookies.

        Accessing local storage should always use the OS’s file manager, and poking at the website shouldn’t really be needed, sending off network packages to the internet should as well only happen to a limited degree, not that flash multiplayer games were super common, but scoreboards were, so some internet connectivity will be needed.

        Also, locking the mouse pointer inside of the box should be a feature, since some applications do have valid use for it, but something that should be turned off via for example the Escape key. (Logically named key too, after all, we “escape” the box.)

        This is though the problem with most software.
        Feature creep, and excessively wide arrays of features tends to be the main things leading to security faults seeping in. Yes, security flaws will always seep in regardless, but less features makes it easier to ensure that it doesn’t.

        So can we get a new “flash”, something aiming at running inside of a box, with limited and standardized outside interactions.

    2. That’s a pretty bold claim. You might be able to achieve a similar end-goal, but the relative difficulty in getting there is very, very different. Plus as already said, you’re not going to have something that can easily be pulled down and used offline.

      I personally have no interest in keeping Flash alive, but we shouldn’t be revisionist. As explained here and elsewhere, there are some very good reasons that it became as popular as it did.

    3. This is a common misconception, trust me, even now that we’re a few years further into the future, javascript+html+css3 combo still cant do even half the things flash could do. Just because you only know flash as a engine for browser games doesn’t mean that’s all it could do.

      Oh and also i’ve worked with 3d in flash years before HTML5 CSS3 etc even existed and it worked just fine, heck at some point i even helped work on a 3d physics engine. Again, dont make assumptions based on some flash sites or games you remember please, most people are completely unaware how powerful flash was, and then that got even more powerful when they made flex (but too little too late)

      Honestly flash was bordering on C++ at one point, but most people never realized this, and that was the actual reason that Apple didn’t want it, it actually could choke up the hardware of early iPhones with very little effort, because Flash was much more then just some animation framework that most people considered it to be, it could be used to make the iPhone do anything you wanted.

      Steve Jobs went “flash is terrible because it runs like ass on iPhones” every flash developer went “iPhones are terrible because flash has good optimizations that work fine on other mobile systems, you suck dude” but it was Steve jobs so all the attention deprived morons trying to make a quick buck followed and also started screaming that this was the end of flash, so it actually became as much.

      This whole ordeal is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t blindly follow peoples tantrums and consider them educated decisions, especially when those people run a company that have their own agenda (pretending that making apps is somehow difficult, so the biggest portion of them ends up getting sold and you can take a % cut)

      1. “Even now that we’re a few years further into the future, javascript+html+css3 combo still cant do even half the things flash could do” – what are some examples of this?

    4. While that is true, web apps do the same. They do not follow the user’s OS standard, but instead reimplement the user interface in their own way.

      Worst are apps made with Electron that export web interfaces on the desktop, and provide their own “UX” while integrating badly.

  2. I am happy to see it go. Every flash site just just smacked of “lookit what I can do!”, and never “here’s what you came for, nice and easy to find.” Sure, there was creativity, but it was always misplaced. (Obviously, games or occasionally a small percentage of productivity apps are the exceptions.) This is one of those technologies that degraded 99.9 percent of every page it lived on.

  3. Earned my living as flash developer for almost 8 years, making everything from basic advertisement games (the usual pong memory etc bs) to photobooths built into a store window to a fancy system for customizing vouchers that directly fed a voucher-printer at the treasury of my country. By the time i managed to get into a sizable developer studio so the rest of my years working with flash would’ve been exclusive to game development, Steve already ruined my future about a year earlier…

    Boo Steve you suck & [expletive deleted] Adobe for never properly responding to Steve and simply letting flash die.

  4. It really annoys me how patronizing Google has become. I am all for moving forward and using other web technologies than Flash.

    But what if I want to find an old site that is not updated anymore, a reference I need. The web is not just the current, but also history and the past.

    It’s really annoying how Google choses for me what I want to find.

    Often it’s hard to find documentation on older software that is less popular now, or even older technical documents. I wonder if Google has been delisting sites because of other features they don’t like, which makes it harder to find them.

    How the Internet just “forgets” important information, starting with newsgroups is really maddening. It’s not about current technology, it’s about keeping history and (important) documents!

    Unfortunately other search engines seem to follow Google’s lead. When I haven’t been able to find a known existing site, others rarely performed better. We need an alternative.

    When you saw the web over a long time, it’s obvious how much is hidden now.

    1. Yes, the lack of other adequate search engines is honestly a bit annoying.

      Google does a lot of stuff great.
      But also a lot of stuff abhorrently bad…

      And knowing that they just stop indexing stuff for various reasons is honestly not nice.

      One reason I still use bookmarks. And collect my own list of websites that I know at least used to exist. The main problem is when a website changes domain name, thankfully rare, but still happens.

      Also have a literal library of locally stored PDF files, and even some saved webpages… Since one can’t trust that the internet remembers them.

      Yet, other stuff seems to just linger around the web for eternity.

      1. Yep, bookmarks are your friend. But over time you do have to ‘cull’ them when sites go away.

        I now just use duckduckgo.com as my search engine. Seems to get me to what information I need.

        I also download (as above) pdfs and such if available if important enough. Some things I even print and put in a binder for a hard copy.

  5. Never programmed Flash, but did dabble with Java Applets which I think is comparable (maybe I am wrong). At the time I was really excited about it’s future, as I could just embed our companies tools inside a web browser without having to ‘deploy’ apps via zip or installs. It would just ‘be there’ . But then the shoe fell. IT departments started not allowing Applets from running at customer sites and that was that…. Security always seems to get in the way of a good thing (regardless if you like Java or not) ! Back when, we used to have to FedEx programs on EPROM chips to customers. Then flash technology allowed us to email the program, and load programs on site. That was handy! Then shoe dropped…. security again stopped a good thing as Zip files were ‘blocked’ from being emailed. Really sad in a way, that all the ‘handy’ technologies were/are blocked for security concerns. At work now we can’t even use box.com (or any other file sharing sites) …. No we have to use Liquid Files to send our customers data/programs/code. Glad in a few years I’ll be retired :) . The internet used to be a real fun place to work and play!

    1. That would be the “this is why we can’t have nice things” effect. It would really be nice if humanity realized actions have consequences, sometimes long-term, but they don’t and we all have to live with it.

  6. Made my living with it for a little over a decade so yeah I was a big fan. I miss those heady days when anything seemed possible and much was. Those first conferences in NYC and SF … meeting Joe Cartoon in the hotel bar …

  7. Gnash to the rescue, it was only yesterday that I did a find -iname ‘*.swf’ to find the tens of thousands of flash files I seem to have laying around :)

    I really consider donating to gnash, because, while flash had it’s technical problems, there is so much culture in those files, and most of them just don’t translate well into video.

  8. It would be great to see Lightspark and Gnash developed to the point that the nostalgic can browse all the old Flash at the wayback machine or wherever it can be found forever.

    If anyone tries to create new authoring tools and revive the platform though they should lose all internet privileges until they back down!

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