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Goodbye Flash!

Let’s take a journey back through time. Not so many years ago, the best — and sometimes only — method to present video on a web site was Adobe Flash. Indeed, we still have some Flash content one site, devoted to the sci-fi novels I wrote with my son, “Attack of the Rockoids.”

But when the iPhone and the iPad came out, with desktop class browsers, Flash was nowhere to be seen. Adobe insisted that Apple add Flash to these devices because most online video used Flash.

In a widely-qu0ted blog back in 2010, “Thoughts on Flash,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained why Flash wasn’t part of the picture in iOS. He went on to speak of three problems, “reliability, security and performance.” With regular reports of Flash-based exploits, Adobe was forced to release regular updates to beef up security. Jobs also cited its impact on system resources, that it would reduce battery life. Flash also offered poor support for touchscreens.

At the time, beta versions of Flash were installed on some Android gear, but they didn’t work so well. Since I was persuaded by Jobs’ arguments, I publicly challenged Adobe to deliver a version of Flash that would work satisfactorily on an iPhone or iPad, a true iOS version. They never responded, and I did make sure they were aware of what I wrote.

Maybe that’s when I began to have difficulties getting media access to Adobe products, but I’m not about to engage in conspiracy theories.

That said, more and more sites moved to HTML5. Many that continued to include Flash content, such as YouTube, offered videos in both versions, so people with mobile gear would have no problems seeing the content. That even includes Android. You see, the Flash beta, such as it was, never moved beyond the beta stage.

So there is still some level of Flash support out there, and I assure you that I will soon remove it from the Rockoids site. I actually had assistance from a web developer to make it responsive, meaning it would work well on a mobile device with no reliance whatever on Flash. But he never finished the work, and is off doing other projects now.

In recent years, Adobe has deemphasized its Flash tools, so it’s clear they knew the handwriting was on the wall, and they’d eventually get with the program and leave Flash behind.

So Adobe has now announced that Flash will go away by 2020. Browsers from the major companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla, will slowly phase out Flash support. Flash games on Facebook are also going away. It’s going to be a unified wholesale move to end reliance on Flash.

Now this should come as no surprise. Standards change and standards improve.

To me Flash is largely a relic of the 90s and it’s served its purpose. But it was also supremely buggy, and Adobe was kept very busy chasing after security exploits. It’s a good thing that they finally got the memo, though I realize that web developers have had plenty of work to do to dispatch Flash.

So while the new browsers will dispense with Flash in the appropriate fashion, there will still be a measure of pain for people with older Macs and PCs, particularly those that will never receive upgrades to browsers that embrace the newer standards. There are hundreds of millions of them overall.

But that’s the way of the industry. Even if the move is slow, there comes a time when its time to embrace the future. Consider the migration from text-based operating systems to point and click systems through the 1980s and the 1990s. While millions used a Mac, it took Windows 95 for Microsoft to deliver a relatively useful version of its graphical OS.

After arriving several years late, what was referred to as Mac OS X 10.0 was released in what was essentially beta form, even though it was sold for $129 (minus the $29 for those who bought a public beta). It wasn’t so useful, didn’t support optical drives, and printing was barely functional. Jobs was even forced to face reality and admit it was a version strictly for power users and developers. In a few months, they released a version 10.1, which was free if you picked up a copy from a dealer. But it otherwise sold for $19.95 if you wanted to order a copy. You can’t imagine the protests over that move.

I just wonder if Adobe realized, after that 2010 blog from Jobs was published, that Flash would disappear completely a decade later. Did they believe even for a moment that Jobs would somehow come around, or did the inability to deliver a release version for the Android platform confirm that problems with mobile gear couldn’t be solved?

So I really won’t miss Flash, any more than I miss floppy drives, SCSI and other standards of the past. Although I can handle the command line after a fashion, I was so happy to switch to the Mac in the 1980s and give up on MS-DOS and its ilk. So when I finally remove the small amount of Flash content from the Rockoids site, I’ll have no regrets.