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Goodbye Flash (and Good Riddance!) December 8, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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People don’t remember that up until the mid-2000s the vast majority of websites were static. You went to a webpage, it loaded a pre-arranged series of text and images, and when you clicked on what you wanted to see more of it would take you to a new page. Other than a simple background MIDI tune or swirling effect added to your cursor, there wasn’t much actual interactivity a web page could do at that time. I got my first real computer around 1996, and one of the first websites I ever visited on the web was the official webpage for the feature film Beavis and Butthead: Do America. (ED NOTE: If you haven’t seen it, it’s a pretty funny movie that still holds up to this day.) However, when I tried to play one of the site’s minigames I noticed the simple custom web browser made by my (now defunct) ISP required something called the Flash plugin for me to play it. After several attempts to download and install the plugin failed, I discovered the poor browser I was using was downright incompatible with Flash and while I had no interest in using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, installing the (then) new Netscape Navigator browser followed by the Flash plugin seemed to solve my problems. This was the first time I ever used Flash, and it would not be the last.

Flash emerged early in the internet browsing marketplace as the Go-To plugin for creating interactive in-browser content. In the early 2000s, having it installed on your PC was practically as required as having a web browser. Most people my age probably remember the interactive party games you could play on a Flash-powered website. My classmates used to sneak onto the school’s computers and play games of Billiards. Heck, even I would play some simple adventure or even puzzle games on days we would have a substitute teacher.

Most people who remember Flash likely do so because it was a common tool for early internet creators to produce crazy animations. Since the internet existed as more of a Wild West at the time, it was common for creators to use copyrighted sound clips or images for their creations. But personally, I remember the wholly original content most of all. Out of all the animations created with Flash I probably have two favorites. One of them has become an internet phenomenon and thankfully was archived, it’s called “End of Ze World”.

The second animation was done for a (now defunct) website called ubergeek.tv. It was a parody of those annoying Switch to Mac commercials Apple forced us to watch throughout most of the 2000s. At least this video provided us legitimate reasons and a legitimate platform to switch to, Supervillians use Linux.

You could do more than play games or watch animations with Flash, you could stream prerecorded video with it. While most people remember YouTube originally used Flash to show their video content, they were hardly the first to do so. I remember (now defunct) websites like Atomfilms offered the ability to watch independent short films in the very early 2000s. Since they would only publish films they approved, there was a very high bar to get on the site. In fact, the very first Star Wars fanfilms most people remember, such as “Troopers” and “The Jedi Hunter” were originally published on Atomfilms. My personal favorite was “Wan-Abi: Making of a Fanfilm”.

University-level classes were even requiring students to learn how to use Flash, as College Professors would commonly create custom programs with Flash and expect their students to be able to run them. I actually spent the first month of my freshman year installing Flash on nearly every PC in my dorm all because one professor everyone (except me) seemed to have required it installed for certain assignments. Since nobody but me apparently knew how to do this, I was very popular in my freshman dorm for at least the first month of classes.

At this point, most of you are likely asking, “If you had all this positive stuff to say about Flash so far, why post Good Riddance at the end of your headline about it?” Take a quick look at some of the dates I’ve mentioned up until this point. Almost everything I mentioned happened in either the late 90s or very early 2000s. All of the positive stories I just listed happened on or around two decades ago. I would have listed newer positive stories about Flash, but I have none.

Flash had a lot of benefits, but eventually its frustrations began to outweigh its benefits. Most obnoxious webpage advertisements used flash at the time, and uninstalling it became considered an early form of ad blocking. Most of the great sites I listed above would dissolve as the years passed, taking all their original content with them with next to no warning. The majority of Flash-powered game sites would end up dissolving on their own as time went on, taking with them the opportunity to replay the irreplaceable games created with the plugin. Here’s a look at just some of the Pokémon-games that were created with Flash courtesy of CandyEvie.

And here’s her look at some Pokémon-inspired gems that were also created with Flash.

Flash was also bloated and unbearably insecure, and Adobe released CONSTANT updates for it in the late 2000s. These updates didn’t add new features, they fixed major mistakes that left otherwise up to date PCs vulnerable to computer viruses! Unfortunately, most PC owners would ignore Flash’s update pleas to their own detriment. For half a decade between 2005-2010, not a single IT job on a Windows PC would greet me without a “You must update Flash RIGHT NOW” prompt. Eventually I saw it so much I created a stock response to whoever my client was and would just tell them, “You know that goes away if you actually do that right? Well, at least for a month or so.”

In 2007 the smartphone revolution began, and Steve Jobs, creator of the iPhone, said the iPhone did not and would never support Flash. Most of us knew that meant the end of Flash as we knew it would come, we just didn’t know when. While a lot of the web still required Flash to browse at the time, the steadily increasing install base of the iPhone made web designers think twice about further Flash implementation. Apple knew their users would still demand YouTube support on their phones, so they wrote a program specifically to play YouTube video in a format perfectly suited for the iPhone, so few users complained.

Most of the streaming video websites that used Flash, like Atomfilms or later Blip.tv, would shut down for to various reasons, wiping whatever wasn’t backed up of their content from the web entirely. Sites that planned to stick around, like YouTube, began to transition their sites away from Flash and onto HTML5. HTML5 didn’t put as heavy a load onto a computer’s CPU, and could even make use of a computer’s GPU to improve its performance. Now, with HTML5 able to deliver most of the same capabilities of Flash, Flash has been on its death march for quite some time. Microsoft stopped allowing Flash to be installed on their systems around the time Windows 8 was released, choosing to put the entire Flash suite in their Windows Updates (and stopping that annoying flash is out of date pop up once and for all). We all knew Microsoft did this so that it would be easier for them to kill Flash support on their OS when the time came.

At this point, Flash sites have become wastelands. Most of the great web pages that used flash to create games and animation have all gone defunct long ago. Thankfully some of the great content I loved from back in the day has been recovered and reuploaded to YouTube. There’s still some things that are lost (including the Star Wars animated fanfilm “Spoiler Wars”) but that could be chocked up more to the loss of the site that hosted it rather than the loss of Flash.

In the end, Flash will likely be remembered as a sweet footnote in the early World Wide Web, but as it kept on long past its shelf date that sweetness turned bitter. Since nearly everything that used it is either already lost or has been archived on superior distribution platforms, I feel it’s better Microsoft closes this severe OS vulnerability rather than keep it open. Goodbye Flash, and Good Riddance.

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