Opinions on Flash vary widely. The consensus seems to be “It needs to end”. But not everyone feels that way, including some major online companies. That makes it all quite confusing.
First, a little history. The Adobe Flash Player plugin brought life to the web in the early days. It provided an easy way to add graphics and animation to any site. Flash-based games were – and still are – the most popular web games around. Almost all the Facebook games are still using it, even though they officially moved their video platform to HTML5 last December (and they have no announced plans to change).
Beyond games, many online ads use Flash. And of course, streaming video is delivered via Flash. Across the web there has been a movement to switch to HTML5 over Flash for video (and for games to a lesser degree). Progress has been slow, but that may change now Google announced that by December 2016 Chrome will be Flash free by default. Firefox also has announced its plans to move away from Flash in 2017.
This matters a lot if you’re delivering video to desktop browsers. Even with the massive growth of mobile, a large percentage of people still watch video on their laptops or desktops. Most of them use modern browsers like Chrome, but there’s some that hang on to older systems and browsers (for whatever reason).
Why should it “go away”?
If it was so great, why is there a push to get rid of it? Good question. Here is one answer, taken from the website of Occupy Flash, an organisation dedicated to removing the Flash Player from the web forever:
“Flash Player is dead. Its time has passed. It’s buggy. It crashes a lot. Requires constant security updates. It doesn’t work on most mobile devices. It’s a fossil, left over from the era of closed standards and unilateral corporate control of web technology. Websites that rely on Flash present a completely inconsistent (and often unusable) experience for a fast-growing percentage of the users who don’t use a desktop browser. It introduces some scary security and privacy issues by way of Flash cookies.
Flash makes the web less accessible. At this point, it’s holding back the web.”
The site goes on to ask everyone to uninstall the Flash Player. If you have it installed, you’ll see the first image with the sad face. If not, you’ll get the happy face below.
But seriously, why should the average person care whether or not they use Flash?
- Slow run time. Flash is notorious for being resource intensive. That means it takes more memory and more battery power when using it. For desktop users that may still not be an issue, though our patience for slow loading sites grows less each year. Adobe itself acknowledged the issues on mobile devices and hasn’t supported Flash on mobile since 2011. Of course, they also pointed out that Apple’s refusal to use it on their mobile devices played a big part in their decision too.
- Security risks. Hackers love Flash. And that’s not a good thing. For those paying attention, it seems like barely a day or week goes by without some vulnerability exposed that requires everyone to install emergency updates. If you’re not paying attention, you simply get annoyed by the constant reminders that Flash needs to update. Ignore them at your own risk.
- Adobe support or lack thereof. As mentioned in number 1, Adobe no longer supports it on mobile platforms. The company’s history with it on desktops is mixed. They maintain it, but it doesn’t seem their heart is in it anymore. The company has publicly admitted that HTML5 is the future of browsing.
Those three reasons add up to what Occupy Flash is talking about: an inconsistent user experience at best, unusable at worst. Most of us are ready for the web to “just work”. It doesn’t do that for everyone when you use Flash.
Why hasn’t it been replaced yet?
With so much against it, why hasn’t it been replaced? Well, it has in many places. According to this image from W3Techs.com, you can see a steady – but slow – decline in Flash on websites.
If you look further back in time another year, the percentage was just around 15%. So it has come down less than 10% in over two years. But the good news is that over 90% are Flash-free.
Who cares about the remaining 5-8%? You do. That’s because most of them are the big giant companies we can’t live without. As an example, here’s a comment from an article about using Flash on photography websites:
That was posted sometime in August 2016. So the BBC is still one of the big offenders, but they aren’t alone. The W3Techs website lists the biggest users of Flash as follows:
Google, awkwardly enough, is a major offender. YouTube now defaults to HTML5, but also still supports Flash. Their analytics programme visuals also use Flash. Despite being the ones behind the Chrome browser that will no longer support Flash, they have been silent on when their own properties will stop using it.
As for streaming, all the major companies are using it today. Some may offer HTML5 options (BBC is one), but they all still stream using Flash. According to PCWorld all of these companies still use it for streaming on their desktop sites: Hulu, HBO Go, CBS, NBC, MLB.TV, Showtime, Pandora, and Spotify. You can read this in a report from Encoding.com who include “wrapped” Flash video in their accounting.
Predictions are that those big sites who make up the last few percent will finally switchover to HTML5 between now and 2018. Maybe sometime in the next two years we’ll be able to finally bow our heads, say a few words of appreciation for Flash’s heyday, and celebrate a world with no more Flash updates or security scares.