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How HTML5 Killed Adobe Flash

When it comes to interactive multimedia on websites, such as audio or video clips, animations, or even in browser-games, you have a couple of different options to build it in – the most common of which you’ll find across the web being (more recently) HTML5 and (now looking clunky and long in the tooth) Adobe Flash. While Flash seemed like it was going to stick around forever in the early 00s, it no longer is the most popular choice among developers building sites and apps.

Both technologies have been used extensively throughout the web, popular with things such as video sharing platforms, and casino game companies big and small who all use HTML5 for their development.

HTML5’s brief history

HTML5 was released a few short years ago, as a working draft back in 2014, and quickly gained traction as the go-to alternative for serving up content online. The previous HTML standard (HTML4) was released all the way back in 1997, and the internet landscape has changed significantly in 20 years. This means that it wasn’t functional enough to be a contender to Adobe Flash simply because it didn’t have the feature set required by modern websites. HTML is an open standard, developed in consultation with a large number of stakeholders including browser developers.

And what about Flash?

Adobe Flash, previously known as Shockwave Flash, was first released in 1996 as a Macromedia product that could be used to play non-static and interactive web content, before being relabelled Adobe Flash after the acquisition of Macromedia. Because Flash is a proprietary product, with other software by the company required to create web content with Flash, development on Flash was constant. This worked well for people who wanted to do animations on the web, because Flash is well supported and the feature set grew and grew.

Adobe and those updates…

Adobe Flash was never going to cut it as a reigning web champion. When you need to download or update a plugin simply to view content on the web, then who can be bothered? We are used to browsing the internet quickly, and we expect content to just show – we don’t want to have to go through some convoluted process just to view something.

Because Flash is a target for hackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities in the code, and thus gain access to a computer user’s system, this means that it constantly needs updating with security patches, with weekly and even sometimes daily updates necessary, which is extremely frustrating for users.

So, while Flash worked well for web developers, it didn’t work well for the internet audience in general. In this day and age, we expect things to just work – like automatic background updates and plug and play peripherals. We don’t want to have to configure things again and again. And you had to update Flash again and again with some browsers.

Flash failed in doing its job because it made life more difficult – instead of easier, which should be the intention of any software product.

Because everything is mobile now, Flash also struggled. In fact, one of the most irritating things about Flash is that it wasn’t compatible with iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. Apple were firm that they would never support Flash, and with mobile use on the rise, with people using iPhones and other Apple products, it made Flash simply an unviable option for many.

Other Flash pitfalls include slow loading times and resource-heavy function, which is not something that people want from web technologies, where speed and lightweight function are very important, because not all people in the world have super fast internet or powerful processors or unlimited battery life.

Flash was seen, to most people, as an annoyance, but the best choice available at the time, even with all its flaws.

A better way forward

So when HTML5 came along and it just worked, and was easy, and was an open standard, it meant that people were much more willing to adopt it. It was a breath of fresh air for internet consumers as well as developers. Even though it was a long time in the making, it was something that the community had been crying out for, for some time.

However, HTML5 on its own does not allow us to create multimedia content, it needs to be paired with CSS and JavaScript etc. So, if you are working with HTML5 you may need to learn a little more initially than you would if you were using Flash – simply because Flash’s proprietary toolset is fairly mature, because it’s a paid product with constant development and money being poured into it. This being said, there are now IDEs and other tools available for use with HTML5, because a few years have gone by since its release.

There could only be one winner and open won the day

Flash phasing out across the web

As with any technology, the proof is in the numbers – and who is using what. So when you see big names like YouTube swapping out Flash for HTML5 in their software, and Chrome not playing Flash by default anymore, you can see that Flash is dying out. Once everywhere, Flash is now considered something of an internet relic, that will only be an afterthought for many, and only maintained by others simply because they don’t want to have to convert projects to HTML5.

As Steve Jobs talked about back in 2010, in his post titled “Thoughts on Flash”, there are many flaws with Flash, such as a closed codebase, security issues, reliability, and battery usage. For a long time both developers and consumers had to deal with the flaws in Flash, simply because there was no working viable alternative. However, since HTML5 came along and addressed these issues, there really has been no need to continue sticking with Flash, simply because it’s what everybody was familiar with.

The beauty of technology is that if someone has an inferior product that everyone is using, it won’t be long until someone else comes along and gives people what they’ve been crying out for – and in this case, it has been HTML5.

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