After 25 years in the public eye, the product now known as Adobe Flash is finally at an end. Seeing discontinuation on Chrome later this year, the software has been an important part of internet browsing since the days of dial-up, but this legacy is now closing the page on its final chapter. Taking a brief look back on Flash, we want to remember why this system achieved its prior heights, and why it’s now marching towards its place as a relic of the past.
The original versions of what would eventually become Flash went by the name of SmartSketch, developed by FutureWave Software. SmartSketch started its life as a program for the operating system PenPaint, which targeted pen computers. Following the failure of this OS, SmartSketch was ported to Windows and Mac under the name FutureSplash.
The first step in what would eventually make the program the giant it became was born with the addition of the frame-by-frame animation feature in 1995. This allowed what was essentially the creation of basic cartoons, and with a little modification, even games. Following the acquisition by Macromedia in 1996, the name was finally changed again to Macromedia Flash, and the program’s domination began in earnest.
Why was Flash Popular?
The strength of Flash was twofold. First, it was a relatively simple system to work with on a base level, giving it enormous initial appeal. Secondly, despite it’s easy to learn nature, the deeper features of Flash were remarkably robust and well supported.
In what was no doubt a sort of feedback loop, Flash was widely adopted because it was popular, and it was popular because its mass adoption seemingly implied its superiority. This reputation would lead Flash to become a de facto leader in the browser integration of many systems.
Flash did what many browsers couldn’t do alone, and this led to its acceptance on the likes of Linux, Chrome OS, Solaris, Blackberry Tablet OS, Android, and Pocket Pc. Through the inclusion of data formats like XML, AMF, and SWF, as well as multimedia formats like MP3, FLV, and PNG, Flash appeared like it could do almost anything.
Age of Obsolescence
So why is Flash dying out? Primarily, this answer comes down to the fact that browser technology has evolved beyond Flash’s necessity. For an example of this, consider the extremely popular world of sports betting websites. Formerly, HTML limitations on systems like these would mean Flash’s inclusion could be a requirement. With modern CSS and HTML5, however, moving components like updated scores, odds, and the ability to bet simply no longer needed Flash’s grunt work.
Contributing to Flash’s downturn were growing concerns about privacy and security. Over time, hackers found increasing numbers of ways to infiltrate Flash’s systems. Eventually, this became a losing battle, and combined with it’s growing rates of general obsolescence, Flash could no longer keep up.
Maintaining a Legacy
In many ways, Flash represented a teething period of a more developed internet. Unfortunately, with it gone, we risk losing a great deal of older systems forever. For some services, we’ll be happy to see Flash go. In others, like those relating to older browser games and animations, the death of Flash means some of the best entertainment that the early internet had to offer may no longer be accessible.
Thankfully, there are efforts among internet historians to collect and maintain Flash’s legacy. The Flashpoint project from BlueMaxima is a fantastic example of this, and one which we can only hope stands the test of time. Already having backed up more than 52,000 games and 4,900 animations, this collective work is helping us hold onto that which would otherwise fade away.
This time next year, you won’t be able to use Flash anymore, but the effect it leaves on the modern internet will remain indefinitely. It’s not the first piece of formerly standard software to die of old age, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only question is, what might fall next