Gone but not forgotten: Adobe Flash is no more

Adobe Flash, a staple of the internet for much of its nearly 25-year life, is officially dead. Adobe promised that its support for Flash Player would end on December 31, 2020. True to its word, Flash has ridden off into the proverbial sunset.

Beginning January 12, 2021, Adobe will block Flash content from running Flash Player. Furthermore, Adobe ‘strongly recommends’ all users immediately uninstall Flash Player ‘to help protect their systems.’ Adobe will no longer be issuing security updates for Flash Player, making it important to remove from your system. For information on how to uninstall Flash Player, refer to this Adobe support page.

The move has to sunset Adobe Flash has been a long time coming, as Adobe first announced its intention to discontinue Flash back in 2017 after asking developers to move on to HTML5 in 2015. By 2018, a very small proportion of websites still used Flash, with many opting instead to use Javascript, WebGL or HTML5.

This screenshot from the website ‘Is Flash Dead Yet?‘ is a somewhat lighthearted take on Flash’s demise.

While Flash may be gone, it is not forgotten. Flash has underpinned many cultural icons of the web. From Flash games to animations, Flash was an important component of the internet experience for many users for a long time. To that end, the Internet Archive emulates Flash via Ruffle in order to preserve a selection of Flash games and animations.

The Internet Archive, with the aid of Flash emulation developed by Ruffle, is preserving many Flash animations, games and artwork. Here you can see a classic Homestar Runner cartoon from 2009.

As web browsers, and thus the experience of using the internet, evolved in the 90s to allow users to view images and graphics in addition to simple text, the demand grew for a solution that would allow animated images, sound and even video to be displayed on the web.

This demand gave rise to massive competition among numerous companies and resulted in the development of Flash. Flash went through numerous names and owners until Adobe purchased Macromedia in 2005, resulting in Adobe Flash.

During its heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s, Flash allowed amateurs and professionals alike to create complex games, animations and more. On the web development side, Flash allowed for visually pleasing menu and navigations systems and proved to be a popular means of creating photographic portfolio sites during its heyday.

‘Badgers’, now archived by Internet Archive, is a classic Flash animation created by John Picking in 2003. The animation is considered one of the biggest internet fads of all time. If you’d like to view it again for yourself, you can find it here.

Following Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia and Flash in 2005, Adobe Flash underwent numerous updates, but issues with security, a loss of interest in Flash from creators and other factors contributed to Adobe Flash falling heavily out of favor. In 2010, Steve Jobs published his famous ‘Thoughts on Flash’ open letter which outlined his and Apple’s issues with the Flash platform. The letter began a public feud between Jobs and Adobe’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen. The fallout of the letter had widespread impacts and the following year, Adobe announced that it would no longer develop its Flash Player plug-in for mobile web browsers.

With the death of Flash, we lose what is ultimately an outdated, problematic platform on the one hand, which is no great loss considering the nearly universal use of better alternatives. On the other hand, we lose the creations of many. Fortunately, the Internet Archive is working to preserve as much of this as possible.