Netcraft – er, Slashdot – confirms it: Flash is dead. Or at least it will be dead by 2020. Flash has been hovering on the brink of the tar pit for about a decade now, so this should come as faint surprise. HTML5, Java on the mobile front, and other multimedia technologies have been eating into Flash’s market share for years. Apple called it dead seven years ago. Recent versions of web browsers are dropping native Flash support; you have to ask for it and then it runs, grumbling.
Maybe Flash Will Be Adopted By The FOSS Comunity?
In fact, you can make Flash animations and applications without using any proprietary tools! SWFTools is an ancient scripting language toolbox licensed under GPL and capable of doing anything you want with Flash. The present author actually used this quite a bit back in the day, writing raw ActionScript right in Emacs from a terminal and compiling with image and sound files into SWF files. It’s actually amazing what you can do with Flash development once you can manipulate code from the Unix environment. Especially when you toss in POVRay and Image Magick, both of which can be scripted as well. When you put a ray-tracer, an image editor, and an animation framework together, you can basically produce 3D movies from pure code. Oh, the toys I used to make!
Now for an open-source Flash player. There is the Gnash player and Lightspark, but neither of them are exactly common to encounter. For those of you needing it this minute, Gnash is an up-to-date package available in most Linux distros; load it up as a stand-alone player and open your SWF file. There’s been a drive to petition Adobe to open source Flash for good, which would be the typical course for a proprietary platform whose corporate overlords have deemed it obsolete.
But let’s face it: Flash is obsolete. The chief interest in open sourcing Flash is to preserve Internet culture. Just like with other multimedia technologies, when you lose the platform, future historians lose the content. We came not to bury Flash, but to eulogize it.
Behold The Flash Era
Flash started out as Macromedia Flash. Macromedia was a San-Franciso-based web media company dodging the treacherous Dot-Com Bubble at the turn of the century. Adobe bought out Macromedia in 2005 and rebranded Flash as their own, though Flash still carries the “Shockwave” nickname even today – the ‘swf’ in Flash file names means “ShockWave Flash.”
As a multimedia platform, Flash managed to duke it out with the competitors of the early 2000s. This was a time when everybody knew three things: (1) Multimedia over the web would be big someday, (2) It was all but impossible to make a cross-platform open standard for multimedia since this was still the wild western days of the web, and (3) therefore whichever corporation pushed its multimedia platform to the fore would rule the world. The only problem was that each company encumbered their platforms with so much cruft that it was all equally crappy. In the 2000s, your choices were:
* QuickTime: Not using Apple? Too bad!
* Windows Media Player: Would you like a virus with your system crash?
* RealPlayer: This contract you signed with Satan specifies that your computer’s sole purpose is to continuously download RealPlayer updates forever, along with spying on you. All your soul are belong to us.
* (Sun Microsystems) Java: Alright, I’ll play on the web, but I’m going to do it really slow so you never forget I’m actually supposed to be enterprise software.
With friends like these, Flash made a nice enemy. In the mid-2000s, the typical web user groaned when encountering a media file. Not only did you have a one-in-four shot at not having the right player installed, but whatever players you did have were actively plotting against you. When Flash support started coming standard in web browsers, it was practically a miracle. It just played, and managed not to be a RAM-devouring monster at that.
As the Internet gradually seeped into the daily lives of every household, Flash came with it, bringing the very first instances of viral content to the world. And now…
The Flash Hall of Fame
…thanks for the memories!
* The End of the World – You know it as “Take a nap… ZEN FIRE ZE MISSILES!”
* Badger Badger Badger – Mushroom, mushroom!
* StrongBadZone – “Your Head Asplode!”
* Loituma Girl – Did anybody ever find out what she’s singing?
* ZoomQuilt – One of the more beautiful art pieces of the Flash era, this surreal infinite world was rediscovered and reposted countless times.
* Line Rider – It launched the drawing / physics genre. World of Goo owes a lot to it.
* Bow-Man – It launched its share of physics-engines ballistics simulators. Angry birds owes it a lot.
* The Crimson Room – You guessed it, launched the escape-room genre. Now infiltrating real life.
* Grow Cube – Another genre launched, for the non-linear puzzle genre.
* Flash Element TD – The mother of all genre-launchers, this was the very first tower defense game to become popular on the web.
* Orisinal: Morning Sunshine – The entire site demands inclusion. Orisinal is the longest-running perpetual classic Flash games site, shrouded in mystery: How does the author support it, and why did he give a cuddly Flash games site a name that sounds like a nasty-tasting brand of mouthwash?
A fond farewell to Flash! You were at the right place in the right time, but the time is past for retirement.