Evil tongues will say this day should have come much sooner, but many will likely feel a touch of nostalgia on the 1ster January. From that date, Adobe will stop distributing and updating Flash Player software. Two weeks later, from January 12, the American company will block all content that uses this technology.
It is a page of Web history that is closing. Adobe Flash Player is a software that allows you to display, on most browsers, animations, videos, even more or less basic games. For many years, Flash was installed on the vast majority of computers and compatible with the main browsers (Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome). It was then the most efficient way to display a video or an animation on its site. Until 2015, it is even this technology that was used by YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing site.
Born in the 1990s
The history of this software, told to the point of wear, dates back to the early 1990s. In 1993, three Americans, Jonathan Gay, Michelle Welsh and Charlie Jackson, started the company Future Splash, and marketed SmartSketch, a drawing software for computers. The tool evolved very quickly to also offer to compose animations, and thus compete with other software of the time : Macromedia Wave. The affair finally ended, in 1996, with the acquisition of Future Splash by Macromedia, then by the release of a new software: Macromedia Flash.
For nearly ten years, Macromedia Flash, the software for designing animations and then interactive games, and Macromedia Flash Player, the tool used to display these creations on Internet sites, have grown in popularity. Until the takeover, in 2005, Macromedia by Adobe, for approximately $ 3.4 billion (2.7 billion euros).
A community of passionate amateurs
The same year was born the YouTube site, today the largest video platform in the world. From its inception, YouTube has used Adobe Flash Player software to display videos to its users. This adoption accelerated the popularity of Flash as a tool for streaming videos on the Internet.
But at the same time, Flash tools have, in the late 1990s and then in the early 2000s, gathered a huge community of passionate enthusiasts. At that time, thousands of Internet users wanting to create their own animated minifilms, or basic video games, seized on Flash. And they found refuge on a small site that has become a mastodon: Newgrounds. “Flash was the creation tool I had always dreamed of”, explains, in an interview with the Ars Technica website, Tom Fulp, creator of Newgrounds. “It allowed all kinds of people to do activities and games; people like me who, without Flash, would not be where they are today ”, he adds in an interview with the Kotaku site. Newgrounds was, at the time, a flea market of amateur creation, with so many games and animation series that have become cult only doubtful or morally reprehensible works.
A nightmare for safety
However, Flash is not only an ideal technology for displaying videos or creating video games, it is also software that has earned a very bad reputation in the field of computer security. As software installed on the vast majority of web browsers and computers on the market, Flash has naturally become a prime target for hackers.
From year to year, security breaches sometimes critical were discovered, then corrected. In 2015, Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos (who has since left the company) even called for Flash’s death, saying the software posed too much of a risk for internet users. “It’s time for Adobe to announce the end of Flash’s life”, he then declared on Twitter, after the news of a new wave of security breaches.
In 2010, already, the CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, had explained in an open letter why it did not allow the use of Flash on iPhone and iPad, citing, among other things, security concerns.
Software at the end of its life
Thus, when in 2017, Adobe finally announced the disappearance of Flash from 1er January 2021, the software was already at the end of its life. Because since then, web standards have evolved. HTML5, the language used to design and display Web pages, now makes it very easy to display videos, or to integrate games coded on Unity or in Java, for example. In 2015, YouTube stopped using Flash to display its videos, now relying on HTML5.
The decline of Flash was illustrated by figures released by Google in 2018: according to the company, that year, only 8% of Internet users using the Chrome browser had loaded a web page with Flash content, compared to 80% in 2014.
When it comes to Flash games and animations, enthusiasts endeavor to save them, as far as possible, to keep track of the creativity of thousands of Internet users in the early 2000s. By relying on software emulating the Flash technology, the Internet Archive foundation has already preserved more than 1,000 content. For his part, the developer Ben Latimore maintains, since 2017, Flashpoint software, which aims to preserve tens of thousands of Flash productions.