Why Flash Should Just Die Quietly

By Harry E J Gordon

Like the last guest at a party, it’s time for Adobe’s Flash Player to stagger home, never to be heard from again.

Flash is a thorn in the side of website owners and visitors alike, even if they don’t know it yet. It’s inaccessible, inefficient, insecure and expensive to develop.

For a medium which is constantly changing, the Internet is pretty sentimental – cultural fads may come and go but the web hates to let go of its old tech. If you’re a web developer or you’ve ever commissioned a website, you’ll probably know that Internet Explorer 6 is one fine example of this. IE 6 is now 9 years old and starting to look a little long in the tooth. The problem is, IE6 doesn’t display websites the same as other more recent browsers and thus breaks everything it touches. Sadly though, the browser comes with Windows XP which is still prevalent.

Adobe Flash Player is a very different kettle of fish – originally it propagated on the basis that there were no alternative technologies that could achieve the same rich media experience. By the time alternative solutions became available (AJAX, jQuery, HTML5), Flash had penetrated every corner of the web and was dug in deep. Like a 20th century America just discovering plastic, we started making everything in Flash. In relatively short order, Flash became the uncontested poster child for advertising banners, free browser based games and web based music players. The more fervent Flash acolytes even started building whole websites out of the stuff.

Today however, Flash is under-fire from a number of foes. Most notable of Flash’s new opponents is Apple who since 2007 have refused to allow Flash support on the iPhone or the iPad. Technologies have emerged to replace it in all but the most specialist domains. The bell tolls for Adobe’s Flash Player.

The question is, why should you care about what happens to Flash? Well, lets suppose you’ve commissioned a website – most of the site is to be built using HTML but some of the key components will be built using Flash. Specifically, the main navigation will be built in Flash, to provide better drop down menus, as will the gallery page, to provide better animations between images.

First of all, developing in Flash is generally more expensive. This isn’t just because Flash development generally takes longer, it’s because many developers charge a premium for what is considered a specialist service.

Once you’ve paid for your overpriced website, you may find that your site isn’t indexed correctly on Google – only your home page has been indexed. This would be because the Flash based menu system, attractive though it may be, isn’t search engine friendly.

Google isn’t the only one who can’t see your website – any users who can’t access Flash (iPhone and iPad users, disabled users relying on a screen reader, users with very old computers) will also have trouble browsing your site, and won’t be able to access your shiny new Flash based gallery.

Faced with these cold hard facts, most developers who specialise in Flash will quickly tell you that you can simply offer different content to specific visitors. So one group see an all HTML version of the page, while everyone else gets the Flash version. The question you have to ask yourself is: why should you pay to develop two versions of a site, when one could have been sufficient?

These issues aside, Flash is woefully inefficient – you may quickly find that your new Flash based gallery performs quite slowly on most desktop computers. By comparison, a jQuery based gallery would perform admirably on most systems, including iPhones and iPads, at the cost of a few less bells and whistles.

When all is said and done, Flash is inaccessible, inefficient, unreliable, expensive to develop and soon to be old news. Once Flash finally bites the dust, many website owners will find themselves making an expensive transition from custom Flash solutions to standards-based HTML solutions.

Save yourselves the trouble and build for the future – build in HTML now.

Harry Gordon’s primary areas of expertise are online security, web technologies and graphic design. Harry runs a small but high-powered web development studio, Owlbear, based in the city of Edinburgh. Owlbear provides stylish, secure and easy to manage websites to customers around the world.

You can find Owlbear at owlbear.co.uk or email Harry personally at: harry@owlbear.co.uk

Harry graduated from The University of Edinburgh with First Class honours in Software Engineering.

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4 Comments

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  2. Eugene says:

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  3. Jafar says:

    “disabled users relying on a screen reader, will also have trouble browsing your site, and won’t be able to access your shiny new Flash based gallery.”

    Blind people cant see pictures anyway you insensitive twat.

  4. Alex says:

    First of all, I can’t believe how ignorant Harry E J Gordon is about what Flash is and what it’s capabilities are.
    It’s like trying to debate someone who’s telling me the world is flat. Where do I begin? Well, I beg to differ with him on accessibility. Flash provides a rich set of accessibility capabilities which Harry fails to mention. Noting that in and of itself should be enough to discredit Harry who is probably looking at Flash version 1.0..LOL. Flash is very search engine capable. Please read the following two articles
    http://blog.v7n.com/2008/07/01/search-engine-friendly-flash/ and
    http://active.tutsplus.com/articles/general/building-search-engine-friendly-flash-sites-basix/
    I’m sorry but Harry is very out of touch in what Flash can do today. It’s like someone arguing against computers because they use vacuum tubes. Harry is living in the past. Adobe Flash is not going to sit around while the world passes by. It’s leading the way.
    Harry has probably not even heard of Adobe Flex (Free open source) which allows regular programmers to develop UI in Flash. It allows developers to create a UI much faster, more structured, and more Object Oriented than you could with HTML5, XML, and Javascript. Harry get up to speed! You are only looking at the dust left by Flash as it continues to move forward. It is way ahead of the game and will continue to be for a long time to come.
    HTML5 is not the web savior. It is just another participant and another tool.
    It will not kill Flash anymore than Silverlight. Adobe Flash will continue to lead the way in providing new ways of providing impressive content to the web.

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