The long and painful death of Flash

Google puts the boot in

Google, a long-time Flash sceptic, sided with Apple against Flash and moved all of its YouTube videos onto the HTML5 format in 2015. The company also launched a tool, called Swiffy, to convert Flash to HTML5.

That service, which launched last year, was recently shut down by Google. "Today more consumers are using the web in HTML5-compatible environments than Flash-compatible environments," wrote the company in a blog post. In other words, so few people are now using Flash that tools to convert files are no longer needed.

Continuing a longstanding trend, Apple recently announced that the next version of Safari, which comes as part of macOS Sierra, will disable Flash (along with some other online formats) by default. Google has taken a similar approach with Chrome, and indeed Microsoft is also hastening the demise of Flash with its new Edge browser.

Mobile gaming

Of course, Flash still exists and is used most frequently for mobile games, which have very few alternative platforms to run on. Many games that millions of people play, including Angry Birds, Farmville, and AdventureQuest, are based on Flash.

The Flash platform was, and remains, one of the reasons that the early web, which was predominantly used on desktop computers, existed and took off. Playing games on Facebook, watching videos and so on was all enabled by Flash and millions upon millions of people benefited.

Facebook, however, did not see it this way. "It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day," tweeted Alex Stamos, the company's head of security. "Nobody takes the time to rewrite their tools and upgrade to HTML5 because they expect Flash to live forever. We need a date to drive it."

Demise of Flash

There are plenty of technical drawbacks when it comes to Flash

Flash flushed

Indeed, there were serious technical drawbacks to Flash – as highlighted by Jobs a long time back – and the format just isn't compatible with mobile, where a mouse is not the primary source of input.

"Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touchscreens using fingers," wrote Jobs in that aforementioned 2010 memo. "Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices."

The death of Flash was long, painful, and its death throes are still not quite over, but the once-great platform did drive a good deal of the early worldwide web's engagement. In the end, though, the future will be HTML5-based, available everywhere, and controlled by no one – just as the internet is.

Max Slater-Robins has been writing about technology for nearly a decade at various outlets, covering the rise of the technology giants, trends in enterprise and SaaS companies, and much more besides. Originally from Suffolk, he currently lives in London and likes a good night out and walks in the countryside.