Why Flash really died

By Larry Velez, co-founder & CTO

In less than 3 years, Adobe's once popular plug-in will no longer be welcomed on the web. So, what's the reason why Flash really died? I would say it goes well beyond security issues and is more about the shift in the way we want to receive information from and interact with our devices– a pendulum swing from the user interface (UI) happening on the device itself or centrally from a bank of servers (a.k.a., the cloud).

True, Flash poses serious security risks that it hasn’t been able to address and most popular browsers already block the plug-in. You likely run into the slightly alarming and quite inconvenient message about updating your Flash player several times a week.

In fact, the death of Flash has been several years in the making. Google automatically blocked Flash ads from running in September 2015 due to the security risks. Mozilla did the same in late 2015. These highly publicized blocks of the popular plug-in came soon after Facebook's security chief Alex Stamos publicly called for Adobe to kill off Flash earlier that year. More browsers have followed suit: Firefox started blocking some Flash elements last summer and Internet Explorer, albeit late to the game, announced it will disable Flash by default in 2019.

In addition to the security risk, Flash really died as it has become obsolete. Steve Jobs anticipated its demise back in 2010 when he “banished Adobe Flash from the iPhone. It was too insecure, Jobs wrote, too proprietary, too resource-intensive, too unaccommodating for a platform run by fingertips instead of mouse clicks,” according to a recent Wired article. 

More from Jobs in his Thoughts on Flash: “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

Adobe might have been well-served if it heeded Jobs’ advice.

The pendulum swing (and eventual demise of Flash) becomes much clearer when we step back and look at the evolution of how humans have interacted with our devices and data. Early computers were mainframes and all the work happened on the mainframe – the terminal was not much more than a keyboard and a display.  Then “minicomputers” came around that individuals could use alone (they were not timeshare). When the micro/personal computer emerged and modems began connecting them together, the pendulum shifted in the other direction where the personal computer was connecting to a web server and eventually a bank of web servers (and today a massive self-healing structure like Gmail).

This is likely when Flash’s demise began: when all the hard work being conducted on the device (ex. desktop computer) started shifting to being done from a mothership (ex. Facebook’s iPhone App). With less work being done on the device itself, we can adopt more and faster apps that offer a similar UI across devices. We are even willing to replace these machines every year or two in order to be able to have a UI that meets our ever-increasing demand for ease-of-use, speed and mobility.  

Now that we are moving to solutions/games/applications which can’t possibly run exclusively from your mobile phone because they are relying on “AI” (see Alexa), we may have come to the end of the pendulum swing. But it is hard to see into the future and who knows what wonders might be coming in another 20 years, especially if they can figure out a quantum processor that fits in your phone. You might be able to run your own little world inside your phone. Your own private virtual world of your own design – could be heaven or hell. I will let the Sci-Fi writers expand on that…