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Goodbye, Flash: A Long Overdue Break up Letter

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Posted March 21, 2016 By Staff     Feedback

The end of the Flash era is coming, thanks to technologies that make it possible to build powerful applications directly in the browser.

By Dan Cunningham, ReadyTalk

Goodbye, Flash. I'm just going to say it: It's been rough these past few years, and it's about that time when we have to go our separate ways. Trust me, it's going to be better this way. I would say it's not you, it's me - but it's definitely you.

Flash had its moment in the spotlight. It's been a ubiquitous technology on the Web, with more than 99 percent of desktop browsers supporting it for the last decade. But over the last year or so, Flash has gained notoriety for its security vulnerabilities, performance issues and use in frustrating banner advertisements. Users are fed up with it, IT staffs are trying to remove it and browser providers are formulating strategies that avoid supporting Flash in the future.

Why Flash Sucks

The catalysts for this shift are clear. There’s a lot to dislike about Flash. To name a few:

  • Frequent, severe security breaches and vulnerabilities
  • Mobile incompatibility
  • An antiquated technology stack
  • It's resource intensive
  • Lack of support by Adobe
  • Constant updates and installs
  • Lack of support for modern audio and video standards
  • Enabling obnoxious banner advertising
  • Last but not least, it's a dying ecosystem

For these reasons, within a few months my company will have 100 percent browser-based replacements for the few applications we offer that were still using Flash. You may ask what's taken so long for us to move away from it. And why do so many popular websites continue to use Flash?

Flash actually had many advantages over the technologies in standard Web browsers for a substantial amount of time. Just a few years ago, browsers themselves could not support the use cases necessitated by the modern Web. Sites like YouTube that stream HD video had no choice but to use Flash, as browsers simply did not have the capability to do so on their own. That was also true for complex browser games, radio and music streaming sites, and live video and voice applications.

Flash offered a cross-browser (Chrome, Firefox, IE, Safari) and cross-platform (Mac, Linux, Windows) way of building these rich applications that could run in the browser. For browsers to catch up, they needed to support real-time audio and video streams, widely adopted voice and video codecs, better bi-directional networking, advanced 2D and 3D drawing, digital rights management and cloud streaming interoperability. That's quite the laundry list.

What Is Replacing Flash

Today's modern browsers, like Google Chrome, provide many features for which Flash was once the sole choice: WebRTC for video and voice, the Web audio API for sound manipulation, Websockets for bi-directional communication, hardware-accelerated 2D drawing, digital rights management and more. That combination provides the foundation for companies and developers to remove Flash from their repertoires.

Plus, these new technologies enable powerful applications to be built directly in the browser without the need for plugins or external applications. This makes developers happy, as they get a rich, modern environment to build complex applications quickly. IT professionals have fewer moving parts that could compromise their systems. And ultimately, the end user gets an improved, more secure experience.

Admittedly, unfortunate adoption issues remain and the migration from Flash to pure browser-based applications will take time. While many consumers have moved to browsers like Chrome, many businesses still rely on the Internet Explorer browser, which has been slow to adopt newer standards.

And while Microsoft has at least started supporting newer technologies in its Edge browser, so far Apple has not publicly stated support for WebRTC. For Flash to meet a definitive death, Microsoft and Apple need to support standards like WebRTC in their production browsers and IT staffs need to upgrade their users' aging browser software.

Flash is yesterday's technology; pure browser-based standards like WebRTC and HTML5 are today's. Cutting-edge browsers finally have the feature set to replace what used to make Flash relevant, but in a more secure, stable and better performing way. While Flash may not completely disappear tomorrow, it's time to start drafting that breakup letter. Consider mine signed, sealed and delivered.

Dan Cunningham is the CTO of ReadyTalk and is responsible for the overall technology strategy of the company as well as the management of ReadyTalk's software engineering resources. He is passionate about the building of technology to solve complex problems in creative and easy-to-use ways.

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