Adobe Flash: I'm not dead yet!

Adobe Flash: I'm not dead yet!

Summary: We can wish Adobe Flash were dead all we want, but there's still no universal replacement for it. And, there won't be one anytime soon.

Like it or hate it, we're all going to be using Adobe Flash for years to come.

Yes, we all hate Flash. Even Adobe's not that crazy about Flash anymore. Too bad. There's still no replacement for it.

HTML5 video you say? What about it? There's nothing magical about it. 

HTML5's video tag doesn't define which the file format, such as MPEG4 or WebM, or video or audio codec, such as H.264 or VP8, that are permitted. The only thing HTML5 does is let Web developers set up case statements so that they can supply a choice of various combinations of containers and codecs in the hope that your device can support one of them.

In other words, HTML5 video is just a rug that covers the dirt of multiple video formats. It doesn't replace Flash at all. In fact, you can still use Flash within it. We're a long way from being Flash free.

You see, HTML5 doesn't define any video container or format. You can use such containers (aka file formats) and codecs as Ogg files with the Theora video codec and Vorbis audio codec; MPEG4 files with the H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec; and Google's WebM containers with VP8 video codec and Vorbis audio codec for HTML5. And, yes you can also MPEG 4 with Flash. The end result: Flash lives on.

Sure, Adobe is moving away from Flash, and I too once thought that meant that HTML5 was going to magically do away with Flash. I was wrong. All HTML5 video really does is sweep the question of which video containers and codecs under the the rug. Today, Web designers must support not just Flash, but several video formats to be sure that their visitors can watch their videos.

What remains the real default video format of choice? I'll give you a hint. It's five letters long and it's name starts with an “F.” I mean come on try to find a major Web site from a company not named Apple that doesn't use Flash. I'll wait for you. <crickets>

Even Google, which has its own dog in the video format wars—-WebM—-still uses Flash for most YouTube videos. Heck, even on devices like the Nexus 7, which use Flash-free Android 4.1, Flash lies hidden away inside the Google Play video player.

Remember Microsoft's Silverlight? It was going to replace Flash. Microsoft is now backing away from Silverlight. What does Microsoft recommend instead? Good question. I notice, however, that the biggest security issue Windows 8 has had to face so far was its failure to address a Flash vulnerability in Internet Explorer 10 quickly.

True, Flash was, and now never will be, an official standard. Had Adobe tried to open Flash and make it a real industry standard, say via the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), we might all be using Flash now on everything from our PCs to our smartphones to our tablets and we wouldn't be debating about the future of Internet video. As it is, Flash remains the guilty video secret we'll all keep using.

Related Stories:

Topics: Web development, Tablets, Smartphones, Networking, Microsoft, iPad, iPhone, Google, Browser, Apple, Android

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Yes, but no.

    You're right for a part, the html5 video tag does not explicitly provide a video and audio codec per se, however the most common browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome) all have a set of codecs built in along with the support for that tag. The most widespread one currently being webM and h.264 tagging up right behind (due to licensing issues on firefox's side).
    Flash can die. And it should, it's the cancer of browsers as of right now, have you ever tried benchmarking the difference between a browser that runs flash and one that doesn't? it's amazing.
    And you think flash isn't getting replaced? Try turning off flash and visiting youtube; The default fallback already is HTML5.

    So Yes, Flash is going to die, and for the better, really.
    • WebM is only supported in full by Chrome

      WebM is NOT supported by IE and the support in Firefox is still pre-beta.

      Also WebM is NOT a codec. It is nothing but a container ... copied from Matroska (MKV) and uses the V8 codec which has as many if not more legal issues than h264. When On2 Tech developed V8, it did as part of a collaboration ... a collaboration that included other people's IP and Google is still trying to clear out ... including an alleged existence of up to 12 patents that cover tech used by On2 Tech when it create V8.
      • Flash video is also a container

        Flash video is not a codec, though you'd think it was reading SJVN's article. Could it be he doesn't know what a FLV file is?
        The Star King
      • Chrome is closed source kinda

        Too mad WebM was added by google and not is in the original open source base yet (Chromium).
        Jens Kirk
        • spell it right

          mad is bad*
          Jens Kirk
    • I was wondering...

      iPhone and iPad don't support Flash and plenty of video sites work fine. The new Android JellyBean doesn't either and I assumed much web video works fine or I would have heard more fuss.
      When I jailbroke iPhone to add Flash video, tried it on Atrix and Xoom I found it worked well maybe half the time, video being ok interactive being the worst.
      On the laptop, some Flash sites burn through battery and kick in the fan.
      I'm fine seeing Flash go away. If HTML5 and h.264 work with iOS and Android, I am just reasoning they can work fine on most computers and laptops.
      • iOS 6 Safari vs Chrome - one wants Flash on

        But the other doesn't complain. On certain images of sources on, Chrome says I need Flash and Ancestry says to try other viewing options, none of which make any difference. The same pages in Safari display fine. What gives? Does Safari support Flash in iOS 6 or is Ancestry delivering a different format just for Safari and not for Chrome?
      • Flash on Jellybean

        You can still install Flash on the latest version of Android, it's just not available in the store and not supported by the default browser (Chrome). However, you can side load it easy enough, without having to be too much of a geek (as long as you can follow simple instructions; obviously, that leaves out a large percent of the population :) ) and it is supported by some 3rd party browsers, such as SkyFire. I still have to switch browsers if I want to say, watch an Amazon Instant Video on my Nexus 7. It's kind of a pain in the butt to have to do that because I always forget when I first load it. But yeah, it's not completely dead yet.
        • Just to be technically accurate

          Chrome is not the default browser. An unnamed browser is still the default browser (it's just called "browser").

          Firefox just added support for Flash as well.
          beau parisi
  • You missed the point entirely. Again.

    As usual, dear SJVN, you missed the point entirely. And that is: there are already more devices connected to the internet that can play back H.264 HTML5 video than those that can play back Flash. This includes - but is not limited - to practically all desktop PCs, all iOS devices, all Android devices; whereas Flash can only played back on the majority of desktop PCs and earlier Android devices that have not been wiped lately (because Flash can't be installed on them, at least not without side-loading and compatibility issues), and is not available on iOS devices at all. The latter alone are 400.000.000 devices on which Flash is NOT, but H.264 HTML5 video IS supported - just like on all PCs and Android devices.

    That's the exact reason why Flash is dying, and will be completely dead very soon. Because even though the HTML5 standard does not formally define a standard video codec, there's already a de facto standard codec, which is supported by practically 100% of all HTML5-capable devices.
    • SJVN cou;dn't see the point even if someone stuck him in the eye with it.

      All he cares about is pleasing his troll followers.
    • Yep appeared to go over his head

      H.264 is supported natively in all the modern browsers with HTML 5. I still have my web applications fall back to Flash if HTML 5 is not supported, but it's becoming less needed as browsers improve. What SJVN hasn't commented on is the major use of Flash which is programming for websites and games, which can generally be replaced by HTML 5 and Javascript.

      If I want my applications to run on all platforms then I'll use HTML 5, so it'll even work on smartphones and tablets, something Flash is having trouble with as it doesn't exist on all platforms.

      Flash is like a new Linux desktop, not wanted or needed ;-)
      • Flash is like a new Linux desktop, not wanted or needed ;-)

        So a new Linux desktop is used by over 90% of all Internet desktop users?
        • Do you have any data on your

          roundabout claim that Flash is used by 90% of all internet desktop users? Tell me if that is the case then why are the most popular add ons/plug ins on browsers all Flash blockers?

          I'll grant the dig against Linux desptops was a bit uncalled for.
          • I do


            According to the Steam Hardware/Software survey, Adobe Flash is the most installed application on the computers of users participating in the survey, aside from Steam itself, with 96% of Steam users having it installed.

          • Do you have any data on your roundabout claim

            Take a look at wikipedia,

            I have flash installed, and I also have flash block installed because of things like flash ads and autorun videos etc...
            Besides you even said yourself "why are the most popular add ons/plug ins on browsers all Flash blockers?" they wouldn't need flash blockers if they didn't have flash installed.
          • you realize...

            The vast majority don't know, don't care what Flash is.

            It's installed on their machine because largely because they want to see sites in their full glory and not some chopped down gimped static site.

            The other half is specifically because of ads -- they don't want to see it and this is the fastest way to stop them.

            That said, you also realize that autorun videos won't necessarily be Flash only, and because "Flash is now dying" -- you'll no longer be able to disable ads by disabling Flash, right? They'll all be in HTML5 -- and because the site can detect if an element loaded or is hidden very easily, you won't be able to turn it off anymore.
            beau parisi
          • LOL

        • only if "use" means "see adverts"

          Most adverts are rendered in Flash, though if you switch off Flash they will fall back to (animated) GIFs. This is the only time when Flash is commonly used on big websites, it is not used much for other content (the content users actually want to see!). Even ZDNet only seems to use Flash for ads (such as on this page).

          Perhaps SJVN does not consider ZDNet a "major website"?
          The Star King
          • only if "use" means "see adverts"

            No I mean installed on ones computer, there are still plenty of websites where you will need flash in order to watch videos.