(Post-mortem) Thoughts on Flash

I have a long relationship with Flash. In fact, I met Flash at its infancy around the Millenium. It was at version 4 back then. Now, after 15 years it seems that its life is over. What happened to it due that short course of existence? Why people have turned their backs away from it?

First, the idea of Flash as a web plugin was about Scalable Vector Graphics, thus the undisputed strength of Flash Player lied in realtime rendering of vector graphics. Bandwidths were still exceptionally thin, so every byte mattered. You could easily deliver a game as a single SWF file that had its size comparable to an animated GIF. With processors getting faster quickly, the richness of user experience you could provide with Flash was progressing exponentially. But that's only in theory – you cannot grow forever.

Second, there was "simplicity".

ActionScript was aimed at designers and people who had no previous experience with programming. It was easy to pick up in a night. Write code, compile, test, publish – bang! Quick and easy. And fun. Flash gained thousands of fans and, lots of digital agencies had used Flash as a bedrock for their business.

Third, there's "phases" and "cycles".

Everything in the physical world has three phases of existence: birth, life course and death. Every star and perhaps every particle in the Universe follows this dogma. Same with our lives, relationships, projects and Flash. And my point is – you can't help it. It just happens like that. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you'll be free of it.

The great example of this is Sprite Sheets – how 2011 is that? [sarcasm here] The recent explosion of Sprite Sheet exporters, and everybody getting excited about it. But spiritually speaking, that's the reincarnation - Metal Slug for NES had them back in the 80's. Setting the memory pointer at the right frame and then blit it to the screen was always the fastest way. No doubts about it.

But hey, wait! Was it not all about Scalable Vector Graphics and resolution independency? Sorry, not anymore – we're getting back to square one – pixels.

Fourth, there's HTML5 and "canvas".

"The New Star is born. The Old Star is dying." But if you look on the HTML5 experiments it's feels like reinventing the wheel. We've been there. Web devs are facing problems Flash devs were facing (and solving) for the past ten years. The recent security concerns, cross-browser inconsistencies, unfinished HTML5 spec etc. make it look so infantile. But it doesn't matter that much – it's growing fast.

Fifth, there's "ActionScript 3".

Over the years AS3 became very mature and if you asked me – it had took over JavaScript miles ahead. Projects like Jangaroo and Haxe (with the recent NME) only confirm its maturity and strength.

AS3 is what Flash really is in its essence to me.


When I met PureData specialist Derek Holzer back in 2004, he said he didn't like Flash because it was proprietary (i.e. wasn't opensource). Just like that. I hadn't agreed with him but he was damn right.

Flash will come back but not quite as we know it. Actually, it has came back already in its new form, and it's getting more mature now – HTML5 API is the new Flash. People are talking about the "death of Flash" – yes, it's a fact and we have to accept this. But the spirit of Flash is alive – can you not see it everywhere in the web – web video, audio API, CSS3 with transforms and transitions – that's nothing else but reincarnated Flash. It wouldn't have ever been there if Flash hadn't treaded the path.

HTML5 will die too, when it's destiny is fulfilled. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Tomek Augustyn
Stockholm, December 2011

10:43 PM | | 0 Comments | Tags: ,