Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where did Flash go wrong?

Harold McCracken has written a piece about Flash's origins and current condition. He lists a number of reasons why Flash finally flipped the TOO_ANNOYING bit. Among them:

Flash got unreliable. "On some of my computers," McCracken observes, "in some some browsers, it works fine. But while I was writing this post in Google Chrome, I got a message saying Flash had crashed–and the whole browser was rendered unusable."

Flash got cumbersome. Says McCracken: "I went through a bout of it constantly telling me I needed to allocate more memory–which was a problem in itself. Even worse: The interface it provided for doing so was hopelessly confusing."

Flash got abused. "Especially by misguided Web designers who built pointless intro screens that did absolutely nothing for consumers except make it harder to get anything done on the site in question. (If I were Adobe, I’d bribe sites if necessary to dump Flash intros–they’ve been enormously damaging to the software’s reputation.)"

Flash didn’t evolve fast enough in the right direction. "For eons," McCracken says, "Macromedia and Adobe have failed to seize the opportunity to make Flash as important in the mobile world as it has been on the desktop."

I agree with many of McCracken's points. But I also think Flash's problems are much easier to sum up than this. To my way of thinking, the main problems with Flash are simply:

It's proprietary. Adobe could have guaranteed a future for Flash by making it 100% open and putting its governance in the hands of a standards body. Right now, the last thing the Web needs is a major graphics format that's (largely) closed and under the tight control of one company.

It relies on plug-in technology, which makes it a nuisance, as all plug-ins are. People don't want to run plug-ins in their browsers, especially resource-hungry plug-ins that are in frequent need of upgrading.

It's arcane. Flash is an unfamiliar, quirky format with a significant learning curve. It's nonstandard. People have enough standard technology to learn without having to go to school on nonstandard proprietary boutique formats. If there's a choice between learning HTML5 and learning Flash, people are going to (wisely) choose HTML5. At this point, you're not doing your resume any good by showcasing "Flash" skills on it.

All in all, Adobe has a big problem on its hands. And it's probably too late to do anything about it. The tipping point, I think, has been reached. Flash will ebb. Mark my words.


  1. Anonymous6:08 AM

    > The tipping point, I think, has been reached. Flash will ebb. Mark my words.

    Mark McCracken's words, you mean?

  2. The title should be "How Flash can be used incorrectly - or any front end web technology".

    That would cover the first three points. On the third, you have to remember it was the first true interactive multi media experience on the web so of course the usages where additional to existing websites and in some situations a tad too creative. I don't think I have encounter an intro/splash for a while (apart from one I built 9months back but it was cool). The main abuse would be ads but that drives a fair chunk of the web industry. Needless points really.

    Did it evolve too slow? Or does it have many usages that need an overall direction of development so not to kill a strong existing area? I disagree as I know the mobile evolution has taken a strong direction with inclusion within Android's 2.2. Which is an exceptional efficient kick arse os, flash player 10.1 also takes a great stride with GPU support and many other efficiencies. Hell android 2.2 with Google's services has amazing potential than the iPhoney.

    And don't forget growth needs a base of real developers behind it and I know the high end flash developers are also peaking with and pushing amazing skills. And there is a shit load of them.

    Being proprietary and a plugin has meant Flash avoided the horrid browser compatibility issues. Will this change with the supposed savior of html5? Most likely not, gee wizz not even Safari supports much of the convention. Remember the flash player it has a massive spread for a reason.

    Flash use is educate from a creative/animation direction via a strong visual IDE in the Adobe Flash, what can you use to create timeline html5 animations in? Your mothers kitchen sink? It is also taught from traditional computer science disciplines and some with a media focus - a whole range of educational establishments. There is a wealth of knowledge about Flash. Why would an educational institution teach a non-released standard that has only a code centric approach? AS3 is hardly arcane, nor the amazing frameworks or the other aspects of the technology side of it - haxe, elips, air2 and more.

    Does Adobe have problems on its hands? Nothing is absolute but just watch what happens with flash player 10.1, AIR2 and Android.


  3. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I find it interesting that you dont think the format evolved fast enough, but at the same time you want to hand it over to a standards body. Something that we all know slow down progress immensely.
    Also opening it up to multiple implementations will only end up in multiple half-assed plugins that runs even worse and standards-non-complaint than the official plugin. We have all seen that happening with HTML where each browser renders pages differently, despite they all are following the (vague) standard.

  4. Anonymous4:49 PM

    You didn't say anything new. Everyone knows that the *tendency* is Flash to be over, so I won't mark your words. HTML5 is a long distant dream, as long as IE dominates, this has been like this for years, and yet you and others just ignores that, come on...

  5. Anonymous12:06 PM

    I rarely have my browser (Firefox on Windows XP) to crash and when it happens, I can't really connect the fact to a Flash applet.
    I am surprised that Flash made Chrome to crash, it was supposed to keep plug-ins in sandbox to avoid more than one tab to become unresponsive, no?

    I never had Flash to ask for more memory (perhaps it is a Mac thing?).

    Abuse: it is true for any technology, you can make annoying intros in HTLM5 too!

    Proprietary: indeed... even semi-open, Adobe can still do whatever they want with this technology.

    Note: AFAIK, the Flash format is "open", ie. it is a published spec and people not connected to Adobe used these specs to create tools to generate Flash movies (from Ming to haXe).

    Plug-in technology: well, plug-ins are useful, as they provide advanced tech not provided by the browsers (eg. reading a new image format, showing 3D content, etc.). But I admit I rarely, if ever, install new plug-ins. I prefer to see my PDF files out of the browser, for example!

    I am less annoyed by the "arcane format" than by the fact you need to pay for an editor to make Flash movies... :-)

  6. Anonymous7:03 PM

    Flash crashed my Chrome browser regularly until I disabled all plugins from running in Chrome. Now I don't get the flashiness, but hey, I'm running and viewing the content.

  7. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Flash can create stunning web sites. When done properly, sites that incorporate Flash, IMHO, are in a league of their own when it comes to design and usability. I think the popularity of Flash will only grow--and to imply that "showcasing your Flash skills" on your resume is somehow a liability is completely insane--Flash proficiency is in high demand when it comes to web design work.


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