Adobe Flash (1996-2011): Will we really mourn you?

Rohan Pearce

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia.

Last time I took a brief holiday I came back to work to find that HP had killed webOS (and there was a lightsaber on my desk). This time, Adobe is playing grim reaper, announcing that it will stop pushing Flash in the mobile space.

A blog post by Adobe's Danny Winokur stated: "We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook."

In the mobile space Adobe will back HTML5 and focus its Flash-related efforts on "enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores".

Adobe says it will continue to support Flash on desktops — but with the mobile arena closed to the platform, does anyone really think it will last? Macworld's Dan Moren put it nicely: "If one were to weigh the importance of Flash to mobile platforms against the importance of mobile platforms to Flash, the balance has shifted decidedly towards the latter: The mobile Web no longer needs Flash nearly as much as Flash needs the mobile Web."

From the point of view of someone who is a fan of both open source and software freedom (as RMS would point out, they aren't the same thing), the demise of Flash — which will no doubt take some time, but seems inevitable — is nothing to especially mourn.

In April last year John Sullivan, the operations manager for the Free Software Foundation, responded to the Adobe v. Apple stoush over Flash. In a piece posted at ars technica Sullivan argued, "The past we need to leave behind is not just Flash, it's Apple's proprietary software as well."

"Watching two proprietary software companies deeply opposed to computer user freedom lob accusations back and forth about who is more opposed to freedom has been surreal, to say the least," Sullivan wrote.

"But what's been crystal clear is that the freedom these companies are arguing about is their own, not that of their users. And what they are calling freedom isn't freedom at all — it is the ability to control those users. Adobe is mad at Apple for not letting Adobe control iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users via Flash, and Apple is mad at Adobe for suggesting that Apple is arbitrarily abusing its control over Application Store users."

This is a view I have a lot of sympathy for. From my perspective, the demise of Flash on mobile devices and Adobe's promise to increase its attention to HTML5 is a good thing. That's not say that Flash didn't play an important role on the Web, at least in a technical sense, over the years by filling in some of the gaps left by standards such as HTML, but it was always, ultimately, a technology that belonged to Adobe, and that Adobe controlled the future of.

In 2008, Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe issued a warning about the dangers presented by Flash and Silverlight, Microsoft's Flash equivalent. He noted that although Adobe and Microsoft had been willing to give Flash and Silverlight away for free, "maybe they have an agenda". "They're not here for the glory; they're here for the money," ZDNet reported Nitot as saying.

And, now it looks like Silverlight may be giving up the ghost as well.

Yes, both these bits of news represent a pain in the arse for many developers, but from the point of view of openness there is not a lot to regret in either case.

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