Sep 28, 2010 — by: E. Werner Reschke
Categories: Products

As a web developer I've had a love-hate relationship with Flash — and I'm not alone. In the beginning, when Macromedia brought this technology to the fore, it was simple, basic, but cool. A lot of things you couldn't do with HTML technologies were possible (animation, better fonts, better layout, better transitions, slide shows and then video). But over time Flash has become problematic not only from a consumer standpoint (What version do I have?"  and this site doesn't work on the iOS?!?!") as well as a developer's point of view.

Three Quick Reasons Why Flash Failed

  1. Adobe didn't improve the codec. While changes have been made to the "Flash player" it is sitll riddled with bugs. Sometimes at night, I'll hear my wife's laptop's fan roaring away because she has gone to bed with a web page loaded that has some flash animation which is causing conniptions with the browser, sucking CPU cycles, causing the CPU to get hot and thus the fan to roar like a lion. Closing the page, fixes the problem... but this shouldn't be. I'm not the only one who thinks this. Reread Steve Jobs' open letter about flash if you need more details.
  2. Adobe went Left Brain instead of Right Brain. Adobe took Flash from Macromedia and instead of making it easier for right-brained graphic designers to use, they created a language called Action Script to take over for most of the cool functions the program now enjoys. The problem is most graphic designers don't like to program. This would be like Adobe adding some cool functionality to Photoshop CS6, but the only easy way to access those features would be through Action Script programming.

    Today it takes both a left-brained person (programmer) AND right brained-person (designer) to product a sophisticated flash piece.  If you don't think so, have your Flash artist create a button that links to a PayPAL shopping cart item, without using Action Script. Yeah. This simple little task that takes two seconds in HTML can take hours of research until someone who's done it before steps to the fore.
  3. Adobe didn't take the codec and embed it in hardware. For a long while Flash was a web-standard. Adobe should've used this advantage and worked with Intel and other chip makers to embed the codec in their chip designs, so the codec became far more efficient in running in hardware than as software. I'm not a chip designer so I'm sure there would've been hurdles but this would've paid off as we become more mobile device driven and therefore more battery conscious. Hardware and software Flash would be way more efficient than Software-Only Flash is today.

In summary, Adobe took a cool technology and did all of the wrong things to it. Now it's trying to make Flash a mobile development platform in a world where new mobile development platforms seem to be announced on a daily basis. Too bad.

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  1. Peter ~ Sep. 29, 2010 @ 7:29 am

    Adobe did not create ActionScript (one word) - Macromedia did, and without it Flash would not be much more than a tool for creating time-line based animation. It is obviously used for much more than that - including creating irritating banner ads. Flash plug-in is not a "codec", it is a run-time compiler - amongst other things. And working with Intel to have it embedded would make it very difficult for Adobe to issue their frequent updates. ActionScript takes time to learn, and it certainly isn't for every "designer". Building sophisticated websites requires a team regardless of wether you use Flash or PHP/HTML/CSS/JavaScript. #
  2. Boom ~ Sep. 29, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Okay, I really have to second Peter's comment here. I rarely post comments on blogs but I had such a visceral reaction to your post, I just have to say something. As Peter mentioned, the word "codec" only belongs in reference to the way that video files are compressed. Flash itself is not a codec. ActionScript existed long before Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia; what I think you are talking about is Adobe's addition/upgrade of the language to ActionScript 3.0, which is, to your point, more complex for designers to learn. HOWEVER, in all of my years as a Flash designer/developer, one has ALWAYS needed to be both left- and right-brained to produce stellar Flash content. #
  3. James ~ Sep. 29, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    Just some clarifications that you could have easily made, had you done a little more research before writing this piece. 1. Flash (as noted in the previous comments) is not a CODEC. Flash is a media architecture for vector-based animation, interactivity (through it's scripting language ActionScript) and wrapper for video. As a wrapper for video, Flash supports a number of video CODECs, but is not a CODEC itself. 2. Flash began life as FutureSplash Animator, developed by Futurewave Solutions, who were bought by Macromedia. Macromedia changed the name to Flash and updated its features. Adobe bought Macromedia and has continued development of Flash, to its detriment in the opinion of many. ActionScript and other features that people both laud and chastise were a part of Flash before Adobe got hold of it. As with any acquisition, it takes time for the new company to come up to speed with the acquired assets and how best to take advantage of them. The question then is, has Adobe been a good steward of Flash? I'd say the jury is still out on that. Any kind of multimedia will require the judicious exploration of both cranial hemispheres, whether by single individuals, or more commonly, in partnership with others. 3. Flash has never been an official web standard and shouldn't be described as one. Flash is a proprietary authoring and playback system for animation and video on the Web (among other methods of distribution). I don't believe either Macromedia or Adobe (but I could be mistaken) even submitted Flash as a candidate for consideration as an official standard with the WWW and HTML standards bodies. True, Flash has become a standard way for various entities to create and deploy multimedia content and video on the web, but it should not be confused with actual official standards. As to hardware embedding, this isn't always a viable solution to what you consider the problem to be. While some software embedded in hardware is very useful, both in function and performance (the BIOS or Firmware of computers as a example) for other types of software, it can be more of an albatross. Adobe would have to wait for INTEL's chip cycles before updates could be issued (depending on the chip architecture, obviously FlashROM would be a better solution for that), but this also makes updates less nimble and could require hardware updates (like motherboard replacements) before users could take advantage of the benefits; hardly an optimum solution. Better is what Microsoft and Apple (more recently) have allowed, with regard to flash and video playback (primarily for MP4 video) and that's access to the APIs that provide for hardware acceleration for decoding of the video on the playback device. This, I believe, is a better solution that a chip embedded Flash. I more or less agree with the overall sentiment of your post, that Flash, and Adobe's handling of Flash still have significant issues for use across multiple platforms. That Adobe has had 3 plus years to build a mobile version of Flash, and is just now getting the basic version out, still not on feature par with the desktop version, and only on one platform (for now) shows that Adobe either doesn't have the needed mindshare, or they greatly underestimated the mutability of Flash. Regards, #

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