Adobe Phasing Out Flash Player, Will End Support in 2020

Adobe said it made this decision--which has been expected for a few years--in collaboration with several of its technology partners, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla.

Flash.HTML5

If Steve Jobs were here with us today, he'd undoubtedly yell: "At long last!" But he still wouldn't be completely satisfied because this story doesn't officially end for another three years.

Adobe in a corporate blogpost announced July 25 that it will end support for its ubiquitous Flash Player at the end of 2020, effectively end-of-lifing one of the foundational developmental tools of the internet.

Jobs, who died in October 2011, was one of the first and most vocal opponents of Flash Player, contending that it never worked very well and was a continual open door to hackers, among other irritants. Ironically, Adobe and Apple grew up together in Silicon Valley and have been business partners and customers of each other's products for nearly three decades.

For the record, Adobe Flash Player (labeled Shockwave Flash in Internet Explorer and Firefox) is freeware software runtime for using content created on the Adobe Flash platform, including viewing multimedia, executing rich Internet applications and streaming video and audio.

Created by Macromedia in 1996

Flash Player can run from a web browser as a browser plug-in or on supported mobile devices. It was released by Macromedia in 1996 and has been developed and distributed by Adobe Systems since Adobe acquired Macromedia in April 2005.

Adobe said it finally made this decision--which has been expected for a few years--in collaboration with several of its technology partners, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla. "We remain fully committed to working with these partners,  and our customers, to help existing Flash users put migration plans into place," a company spokeswoman said.

During the past 20 years digital firms have used Flash content for everything from clickable ads, to games, to interactive learning and rich internet applications.

"When I started at Forrester in 2006, Flash ran neck-and-neck with Ajax frameworks like jQuery as the preferred method for enterprise developers building rich Internet applications," Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond wrote in his blog.

'Mobile-first' Started Demise of the Player

So what happened to dislodge Flash Player from the top shelf?

"A shift to mobile-first," Hammond said. "As developers shifted their efforts from web to mobile ... and to the iPhone in particular, Apple's decision to deny Flash support on iOS resulted in native mobile development becoming more popular than Flash-based RIA development."

Adobe said that "as open standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly have matured over the past several years, most now provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered and have become a viable alternative for content on the web.

"Over time, we’ve seen helper apps evolve to become plugins, and more recently, have seen many of these plugin capabilities get incorporated into open web standards. Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins," the company said in a corporate blog post.

The Flash player will witness its own demise on Dec. 31, 2020, followed by Microsoft Silverlight Support in October 2021.

"If your firm still has Flash content or enterprise applications that use Flex, make no mistake – the clock is ticking," Hammond wrote. "You have a limited time to decide what to do."

Start by Performing Triage on Your Flash Portfolio

Hammond suggested that "as you assess your portfolio of Flash and Flex content, you may find different types of content and apps, each requiring a different migration strategy." Here's one way to proceed, Hammond said:

--Migrate current Flash content that still has value. If you have current Flash content that's still in use, try loading it into Adobe Animate CC (formerly Flash Professional), and using it to retarget production of HTML 5 assets. But be warned: Your migration result may vary based on the complexity of the content.

--Rewrite core-competency Flex apps.  If your organization still supports Flex- or Air-based applications that are strategic or unique to the business, your best bet is to plan for a rewrite using modern web frameworks, such as Angular, Ionic or React. Hopefully these apps are well architected with a clean separation between APIs and data access logic and UI logic. If not, it might be better to proceed to the next category below.

--Retire technically challenged Flex apps and old Flash content. If a Flex app is poorly architected, then it is a candidate for outright retirement. If content exists for old products, collateral or campaigns it should likewise be mothballed. When retiring an application, it is important to manage expectations by establishing and communicating an end-of-life support policy that governs retirement and sets a clear end-of-support date–in this case no later than the end of 2020.

--Deferred action is not an option in this case. When Microsoft announced the end of life for the Visual Basic 6 runtime, developers had more than 10 years to prepare for the final date. In this case, with only three-and-a-half years until the Flash runtime disappears, deferring action doesn't make sense, especially for Flex apps that enterprises may need to rewrite.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...