RIP, Flash (and Silverlight too)

on September 15, 2011

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.