You can’t have been on the Internet in any capacity for the past fifteen years and not come across Flash, a software platform created by the company known as Macromedia (now part of the overall Adobe empire, although at one time Macromedia and Adobe were bitter rivals). It’s been used for low budget animation, gaming, advertising and video streaming, and without it, sites such as YouTube simply wouldn’t exist now. That being said, YouTube streams via HTML5 predominantly these days, and many sites have switched away from Flash. Famously, when the first generation iPad came to market, it did so with no support for Flash media at all, something that’s persisted to this day. Early Android devices did offer Flash support, but it was quickly dropped there as well, meaning that it’s a medium for desktop and laptop PCs only now.
While Flash has enjoyed a healthy life on the Internet, it’s pretty clear that it’s in its final phases of being useful.
You’ve probably had those little pop-up windows turn up reminding you to upgrade your Flash player. That’s incredibly sensible advice, because one of the things that’s made Flash particularly problematic has been the use of it to deliver Malware in sneaky ways. Adobe’s worked fairly hard to minimise the impact, but it can only do so for updated installations of the Flash player — which is why some months you might be pestered for multiple updates to Flash.
Flash has also been accused of being something of a memory and processor hog, although some of that can come down to how well a given Flash application has been programmed. Just to twist the knife in a little further, if you’re using it on a laptop, it’s also something of a battery hog, but then anything that sucks up processing power is likely to kill your battery life.
Flash has been popular for autoplaying ad software as well. Again, you’re probably familiar with the sudden shock of having audio come from your desktop browser even though you don’t recall opening a video site per se. It’s effective as advertising, because it grabs your attention, but there’s a wide gulf between “effective” and useful, and it’s one that’s going to lose a lot of steam rather quickly.
Google’s announced that its Chrome browser will shortly stop auto-playing Flash content, leaving it up to the individual user to specifically click on a Flash ad or video to start it playing. The change is due to kick in for Chrome users on September 1st, although given Google’s a US company, that’ll probably be September 2nd for Australian users.
It might seem a little odd that Google, a company that makes its money from advertising is disabling software that serves ads. In Google’s case, it’s giving preference to the more open HTML5 standards, including the addition of a tool that’ll try to automatically convert Flash ads uploaded to Google’s own AdWords program into HTML5 content.
Flash isn’t likely to last much longer on the desktop once the world’s biggest online advertising company declares it no longer welcome. If you’re particularly annoyed by Flash, you can always look into extensions or plugins that limit its use, although depending on your choice of sites that may also produce some interesting layout issues when using tools such as Flashblock.