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Wednesday
Jul262017

Adobe Flash has been given the death sentence

The Flash Player has been there for you all along, inside your browser, making it possible for you to play online games, stream radio station music and watch YouTube videos. But after a two-decade run, Adobe is killing it off.

Countless nails have been hammered in Flash's coffin in recent years, most notably by Apple's Steve Jobs and also by Adobe itself. Now, though, there's a date for the funeral: Dec. 31, 2020.

Flash has been a website workhorse -- online gaming site Kongregate has more than 100,000 Flash games -- but don't fret over the demise of the pioneering software. It's more appropriate to rejoice, since the software today is a security risk and major source of browser crashes.

"I am glad Adobe is ending Flash's life. It has honestly made the web a worse place for more than a decade," said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.

Indeed, Adobe's move is momentous enough that the biggest names in web tech -- Apple, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and Microsoft -- coordinated announcements to tell us what's going on and to reassure us all that it's going to be fine.

What's it mean for me?

For the time being, you'll have to jump through some hoops to play Crush the Castle. In the coming months, depending on what browser you use and how it's configured, the Flash phase-out could be anything between no biggie and a serious problem. Some games will stop working. Schools and businesses that rely on Flash-based instruction modules will have to move into the future. Some websites, especially old ones that are no longer updated, might stop working.

Today's workarounds all will break on mainstream browsers by the end of 2020. Here's a rundown of what you can expect:

  • Chrome: Google's browser began asking us for permission to run Flash on some websites last year, and it'll do so more often and later disable Flash by default. "We will remove Flash completely from Chrome toward the end of 2020," Google said.
  • Firefox: Mozilla's browser will start asking you in August which sites you want to enable Flash on, it'll disable Flash altogether by default in 2019, and there will be lingering support through the end of 2020 only in Firefox's less frequently updated Extended Support Release.
  • Edge: The newest version of Microsoft's browser uses a click-to-run option that asks if you want to run Flash on a website, a policy that will continue through mid-2018. The company's older Internet Explorer browser won't give you any grief. In mid-2018, Edge will be more aggressive about requiring you to authorize Flash. In 2019, Microsoft will disable Flash by default, and by the end of 2020, Microsoft will disable it completely in both browsers.
  • Safari: Last year, Apple's Safari started blocking Flash from running. If you really want it, you can re-enable it on websites that offer to download Flash, an action Safari notices and that will give you an offer to run Flash for the site.

Browsers have begun telling websites they can't load Flash content. This is one such error message. In Chrome, you can click to run the Flash game, but Google will disable it totally by 2020. 

Facebook, which hosts lots of Flash-based games, urged programmers to get with the program so ordinary folks don't have to suffer through any of these problems. "While games built in Flash will run on Facebook until the end of 2020, we strongly advise developers to follow the timelines set by browsers," Facebook said in a blog post.

Countdown to 2020

In three and a half years, Adobe will stop developing and distributing Flash, said Govind Balakrishnan, vice president of product development for Adobe's Creative Cloud Ecosystem. Browser makers have been pushing hard to eject Flash, but Adobe couldn't move any faster because web standards weren't mature enough and Flash developers in education, gaming, streaming video and other industries need time to retool and rewrite their software, Balakrishnan said.

"We feel the standards have arrived, and now is the right time to announce our intention to pull the plug," Balakrishnan said.

Flash exploded into popularity shortly after Microsoft's Internet Explorer won the early browser wars of the 1990s. IE was the default browser in the world's most widely used operating system, but Microsoft left the software mostly dormant. Filling the void was Flash creator Macromedia, acquired by Adobe in 2006.

Flash brought animation technology that was good for games, interactivity that let people build features like photo galleries, the ability to use webcams for video chat and multimedia features that wiped out an earlier confusing array of options. People installed Flash in their browsers, programmers didn't need to worry about differences between IE, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and other browsers, and lots of advanced web features just worked.

"Few technologies have had such a profound and positive impact in the internet era," Balakrishnan said.

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