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Adobe Flash is Dead: Here’s What That Means

Adobe Flash Player website on a computer
Jarretera / Shutterstock

Support for Adobe Flash officially ended on December 31

, 2020, effectively killing the platform. The now-discontinued web plugin will be remembered for its golden age of animated Internet memes and the endless security issues that ultimately led to its downfall.

Let’s take a look back at Flash, what’s next, and how you can enjoy the old content in 2021 and beyond.

Flash goes away forever

Flash is no longer available for download since December 31, 2020, and Adobe will block full execution of Flash content on January 12, 2021. The company recommends that you uninstall Flash completely for security reasons. There will be no more updates for Flash, nor will you be able to download old versions directly from Adobe.

This also means that versions of Flash bundled with browsers such as Google Chrome will be discontinued. The change is unlikely to affect your daily browsing habits, as the vast majority of websites no longer use Flash in favor of modern browser technologies.

For security reasons, you should avoid installing older versions of Flash Player. If you still want to access Flash content, there are options, but none of them are officially supported by Adobe.

The History of Adobe Flash (1996-2020)

In 1996, a company called Macromedia purchased a vector-based web animation tool called FutureSplash, originally released by FutureWave Software in 1993. The technology has already been used by companies such as Microsoft and Disney Online to display animated content in a web browser.

Macromedia changed the name of the tool to Macromedia Flash 1.0 and released it alongside a browser plug-in counterpart called Macromedia Flash Player. By the mid-2000s, Flash had taken off, boosted by the popularity of browser games, animation, and interactive tools that relied on it.

Flash gained notoriety for its simplicity of installing a small plug-in that was compatible with most browsers. Because Flash used vector-based graphics, the file sizes for the resulting animations were small. This was important at a time when many people were using dial-up internet with slow download speeds.

RELATED: What is the difference between Pixels and Vectors?

Vector graphics are essentially text-based instructions. They scale infinitely because they have no defined size, unlike raster images which have much larger file sizes and will show pixels when stretched. Flash allows creators, marketers and anyone with an eye for new media to create games, animations, banner ads, and interactive menus. In fact, it was used to create entire websites that, for the time, looked great, loaded quickly, and were responsive to use.

Macromedia Flash 5 packaging

Macromedia has added more bells and whistles to Flash over time. In 2000, Flash 5 was released with ActionScript, a rudimentary scripting language very similar to JavaScript. In 2005, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe Systems (the same company that declined a bid for FutureSplash in 1995). Adobe took Flash under its wing and developed many more features over the next few years.

Flash brought to life some of the web’s most loved websites, cartoons, games, and more. Websites like Newgrounds originated as a hub for all things Flash. Comedy web series like Homestar Runner, stickman animations like Xiao Xiao, and seminal yet addictive games like Pandemic all thrived on the platform.

But Flash also played a big role in streaming video adoption. The FLV container made it possible to display video in almost any web browser, provided Flash Player was installed. At one point, Flash was even required to run websites like YouTube, Vimeo, Google Video, and more. The first on-demand video services such as Hulu and BBC iPlayer all required Flash in the early 2000s.

But web standards don’t remain silent forever. While Flash played an important role in making the web more vibrant in the beginning, cracks soon began to appear. It was soon apparent that the Internet would quickly outgrow the need for Flash and browser plug-ins.

The problems with Flash

Flash powered much of the web at the peak of its popularity, placing a lot of responsibility on Adobe. Since flash was a web plugin, it was maintained and updated by a single entity. As Flash grew in popularity, it increasingly became a target for hackers.

It didn’t take long for Flash to join other browser plug-ins such as ActiveX and Java and be labeled a security risk. Either way, Adobe couldn’t fix Flash, so in 2017 the company decided to halt development and stop Flash completely by the end of 2020. Adobe didn’t take any chances either: Flash content shouldn’t show in the final version.

Flash was able to grow because it filled a hole. Rich web content with animation, video, sound and interactivity was not possible with browsers that barely adhered to early web standards. The emergence of browsers such as Mozilla Firefox put more emphasis on new web technologies that could eventually replace Flash.

In 2007, Apple released the iPhone and made the historic decision not to support Flash on the platform. Flash was still very popular then, so this move had a disruptive effect on the web, but the writing was on the wall. Flash was no longer needed when browser technologies and dedicated native mobile apps would do the job.

Apple’s decision and the subsequent popularity of the iPhone helped take down Flash as developers tried to make the web accessible to all devices in an increasingly mobile world.

In 2012, Flash was widely regarded as a security risk. This prompted Google to bundle Flash with Chrome to create a sandbox. This effectively places flash content in its own safe space, isolating it from the rest of the system.

As time went on, internet speeds and browser standards went so far that Flash was no longer needed.

Life after Flash

By 2020, the web was already adapted to a new standard that did not depend on proprietary browser technologies. For the tech-savvy, this had been the case for years. Websites such as How-To Geek urged you to remove plugins like Flash as early as 2015. This was possible thanks to the emergence of browser technologies that effectively make Flash obsolete.

Websites designed entirely in Flash have been replaced by – wait for it – websites. Today’s HTML is responsive and scales with your screen size and device capabilities. Flash would scale in a linear sense, like any vector graphics tool, but it was nowhere near as advanced as what is possible with current browsers.

In 2009, the tag made its appearance as part of the HTML5 rollout. This allowed websites such as YouTube to display video in any modern browser that complied with the HTML5 standard. Faster internet speeds also enabled higher quality video.

Remove Adobe Flash on Windows

The HTML5 canvas element allows browsers to draw and animate images with JavaScript. These tools can be used to create games, highly interactive websites and animations. Throw in WebGL and you can now draw 3D shapes and models to display in a browser too.

Developers have used modern web technologies to create sophisticated software that runs in a browser, from services like Netflix to emulators like DOSBox. The use of JavaScript and CSS has both simplified web design and made it possible to bring rich and responsive designs to life. Where Flash had ActionScript, the modern web has JavaScript.

Even vector graphics – one of the original reasons for Flash’s success – have a modern equivalent in the SVG (scalable vector graphics) format. Using SVG files it is possible to create websites and apps that look pixel perfect on a smartphone or a large TV.

Access to Flash content in 2021 and beyond

Since there is so much online nostalgia in a Flash container, there are a few projects that will allow you to continue to enjoy Flash content even after Adobe pulls the plug.

The first of these is BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, a web game preservation project that supports Flash, Shockwave, Java, Unity Web Player, Silverlight, ActiveX and HTML5. It is available in two flavors: a 500MB “Infinity” player that downloads games on the fly, and a massive 500GB + archive that works offline.

BlueMaxima Flashpoint Runs on macOS

There is also a project called Ruffle that tries to emulate Flash. It can run as a standalone application on most major operating systems or as a browser app using the WebAssembly programming language. It is primarily intended for website owners who can install it server-side and their Flash content “just works” natively.

RELATED: How to play old Flash games in 2020 and beyond

The end of a flash era

Retirement from Adobe Flash is a bittersweet moment for many. While the browser plugin was responsible for a host of security issues in its later life, it was also used to create some of the most memorable moments on the web. Fortunately, thanks to projects like BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint and Ruffle, a lot of content has been preserved.

Flash was a fairly accessible creative suite for beginning animators and web game developers. If you’re feeling creative but lack the technical skills of a programmer, you can try making your own 3D games on a PS4 or PS5 with Dreams.

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