RIP, Flash (and Silverlight too)

Flash iconWhen Apple introduced the iPad last year without support of Adobe Flash, Steve Jobs was accused of everything from crippling his own product to pursuing a personal vendetta against Adobe. Events have proven the Flash ban, like so many of Jobs’s decisions, to be prescient. But if Jobs needed any vindication, he has now gotten it from, of all places, Microsoft, which has stuck a probably fatal blow to both Flash and its own competing technology, Silverlight.

In a post to the Building Windows 8 blog, Internet Explorer development chief Dean Hachamovich made clear the IE 10 browser in Windows 8 will not support plug-ins. That means that neither flash nor Silverlight will run in IE (though other apps, including other browsers, may support the Flash and Silverlight players.) Instead, Microsoft will follow Apple’s lead and rely on native HTML 5 for rich web applications and media play.

There are two big problems with Flash. One is that the plug-in has a nasty destabilizing effect on browsers. A large percentage of the browser crashes that I have experienced have been attributable to Flash misbehaving. Second, it is an awful resource hog. This is a minor issue in a modern PC with processing power to burn but is a huge problem on more constrained tablets. The ability to run Flash was supposed to be a big selling point for Android tablets, except that it turned out that they didn’t actually run Flash very well. The fact the Windows 8 is supposed to work on both PCs and ARM-powered tablets was clearly a major consideration in Microsoft’s decision.

The absence of Flash on the iPad has been a minor nuisance–and the popularity of the Apple tablet has greatly accelerated the development of HTML 5 alternatives. Microsoft is betting that by the time Windows 8 ships, probably about  year from now, HTML 5 will have matured to the point where Flash and Silverlight will not be missed.

Flash was an immensely useful technology in its day. It both enhanced media play–it’s not clear how YouTube might have happened without it–and enabled the development  of richer web pages than were possible with existing HTML techniques. So let us mourn its impending passing and celebrate the folks at Future Wave, Macromedia, and Adobe who developed it. And let us move on to a better HTML 5 future.



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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

8 thoughts on “RIP, Flash (and Silverlight too)”

  1. Remember the writing on the wall started with the original iPhone over *4 years* ago… one of the many “predictions” of the nascent device’s early demise was that it didn’t support flash. Job’s brilliance was laying the blame for what many people assumed was a universal browser problem at the feet of where it belonged, flash. In a weird way Chrome was the second blow — by separating tab processes people could now narrow down crashes to a misbehaving page, and the frequency of how often that page was running flash was easy to note. Even with that, I *still* get the occasional full browser lockup in Chrome that is fixable by killing the flash plug-in in Apple’s “Activity Monitor” utility.

    Were there hard feelings for the way Adobe abandoned Apple in the mid-nineties? Probably. But Flash deserved to die. Just like the floppy, the Apple Desktop Bus, AppleTalk and other aging proprietary technologies that Apple had invested a lot in, Steve was not afraid to scare the heck out of the analysts by cutting losses by walking away.

  2. What is this Silverlight of which you speak?!?

    Seriously, in all the years Silverlight has been out, I’ve never encountered a web site that used it. Not once. (And no, I don’t have it installed without my knowledge. I use an old PPC Mac and iOS devices, which aren’t supported by Silverlight.)

  3. Flash is more than your browser plugin. Ignoramus articles like these would kill Flash, and all its permutation that isnt just a browser plugin. There are enterprise applications and ipad applications running based on flash technology, see the award winning Machinarium game for Ipad.

    Blaming the plugin for poor programming by flash developers is laughable – its like blaming the ingredients for how the food taste – as opposed to blaming the cook.

    HTML 5 is no where near what flash can do at this point, and all comparison hillariously tries to reproduce what flash does…Look ma! I can almost recreate what flash can do.

    Flash, together with air, flex, actionscript and builder, can create programs for all kinds of platforms, including iOS and Android. And all you need is one competent programmer/graphic designer.

    Without it, trying to create something for iOS and Android needs 1 programmer for objective C/xCode, and 1 programmer for android. And then you’d need a graphic designer.

    Keep feeding the crowd.

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