Flash: Back from the dead again?

Flash: Back from the dead again?

Summary: Microsoft changes its IE Flash policies, there are ructions in HTML5, and Adobe is readying a new release of its Flash development tools. Is it time for the return of the plug-in?

TOPICS: Web development

Although Microsoft has been proselytising the 'plugin-free Web' for the last couple of years, it doesn't think Flash is dead yet, either.

That's why Internet Explorer 10 on Windows RT ended up including Flash built into the browser (and updated along with the rest of Windows, to avoid the security problems as hackers turn their attention away from the better-secured Windows operating system and onto common applications like Flash and Acrobat).

Initially, Flash was locked down on Windows RT and in the 'modern' version of IE 10 even on Windows 8, so that it would only run if sites were on a Microsoft approved whitelist.

Microsoft is also pushing the touchable web, so sites that use Flash behaviours that need a mouse hovering in the right place to trigger them were blocked.

Blocking Flash was a way to protect battery life, but recent improvements to the Flash player - like Stage3D hardware acceleration (along with better coding on many websites using Flash) - led to Microsoft switching from a whitelist to a blacklist. And the blacklist has a mere handful of sites on as well; you can see it at the very bottom of the list.

05-04-2013 11-58-22
IE 10 now blocks very few Flash sites, even on ARM devices.

Why is there still a blacklist at all? A Microsoft spokesperson told us: "Inclusion on the Compatibility View list occurs when we have reports from users or when we find through our own testing that an experience is severely degraded or non-functional.  

"When the experience is fixed, the site owner can contact Microsoft for removal from the Compatibility View list."

I also wondered why the blacklist blocks Flash on sites that need other ActiveX plug-ins (which don't work on Windows RT); would that just make an already bad experience just a little bit worse for the user?

The problem is that on those sites, Flash only works if, say, Java, is also available - so even if Flash was turned on, it wouldn't work. The browser can't detect on its own that Flash needs Java, so it would load Flash even though it wouldn't work.

Realistically, Flash isn't going away for a while.

Yes, there are other Web video options, although continuing disagreements mean HTML5 video is still split between WebM and the popular H.264.

And the recent bitter philosophical arguments within the W3C about adding Encrypted Media Extensions to HTML5 for playing back encrypted content — even though this is intended not as a new DRM system but a standards-based way to interact with DRM systems — mean there isn't going to be a way to do everything you can do in Flash without a plugin any time soon. So Adobe should have a market for its next generation of developer tools.

Much of Adobe's recent public focus has been on its HTML5 development tools. But despite a shift of emphasis Flash hasn't been left behind, and a new generation of Flash design and programming tooling isn't far away.

Over the Easter holiday weekend the company posted a new video on its Flash Professional Team blog, demonstrating a handful of features from the next release of the Flash tooling.

Currently codenamed Hellcat (a change from the sandwich codenames of the last batch of Flash development tools), the new version of Flash Professional is being designed to take advantage of the current generation of computer hardware.

If you've got a high DPI screen, on a Surface Pro or a Retina MacBook (or even a Chromebook Pixel), you'll get a UI that takes advantage of all those pixels – and based on the video, it appears also lets you build Flash apps that work on those new screens. The new UI can also switch between light and dark themes, much like other components of Adobe's Creative Suite.

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Hellcat is the code name for the next release of Flash Professional, expected to be unveiled in May at Adobe's MAX conference.

Developers need tools that are fast and flexible, and the new Flash Professional will be available as a 64-bit application, and as native Cocoa on Mac OS. That means it'll load large files quickly, and Adobe's video demo shows Hellcat launching around 10x faster than Flash Professional CS6. It’s also a lot faster for common interactions, like scrubbing through timelines.

There's a lot still to learn about Hellcat. For one thing Adobe hasn't talked about new features in Flash, or shown anything of the ActionScript code development experience.

With Flash still a common tool for developing casual games, and for complex web user interfaces, it's important for developers to understand the roadmap for the player, as well as for the development tooling. If Flash is to remain relevant, Adobe will need to show a lot more at its upcoming MAX event.

Topic: Web development

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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  • 3 years since Jobs infamous letter...

    ... and flash is still here. We need it for video, for games, for advertising and in some environments for eLearning.

    Is present even in iOS. Some games that have been in the top of iTunes store were made with Flash.
    Rolf Ruiz
    • It's not omnipotent like it once was

      "... and flash is still here. We need it for video, for games, for advertising and in some environments for eLearning."

      In other words, garbage.

      "Is present even in iOS. Some games that have been in the top of iTunes store were made with Flash."

      We'll see how long that lasts.
      • well..

        ... it was bashed by technically everybody for 3 years, and still stands. It even evolved a lot during 2012.

        The next release of the flash player will allow you to use a gamepad in your desktop; and Air 3.7 which is already in public beta and will be released soon supports OUYA controller (Android).

        Actionscript is really fun to program and there are a lot of efforts around Flash Platform by the community. By example: Kangaroo, Apache Flex and just yesterday Zynga guys released Playscript which is AS3 on steroids.

        What people seems to do not understand is that AS3 (Flash soul) is not restricted just to SWF files. It can be deployed almost everywhere. It is just another language, stronger than JS but not as complex as C++ or Java.

        It is just another option and it is good to have options.
        Rolf Ruiz
        • Oh boy, another Adobe shill

          Say, do they pay more than the M$ ones do?

          • CaviarGreen

            The pot calling the kettle black mean anything to you?
          • My pot's CaviarGreen, moosey

            And don't you ever forget it.

          • How does "it is good to have options" make him a fanboy?

            And Jobs had his hissyfit solely because Flash games are free whereas the iOS versions cost money.

            Many games (Monopoly, etc) use needless video clips or animations that drain the battery. Others like Polyhedra were visually busy and drained the battery as well.

            But how do you compete with free? By eliminating competition. Since Flash was free, that would threat his bottom line. It's not easy to see the macroeconomic paradigm and see how those that live in it do things...
          • @HypoToadie

            If you really believe that crap then I have a bridge to sell you.

            Here's a clue for you: On mobile devices, Flash sucks Donkey Kong. K?

            People no longer have the patience for two hours of battery use between being tethered to a charger all the time. Either Flash comes up with an energy efficient secure plug-in or they should clear out of the mobile business.

            So quit trying to apply what half-assed works on desktops with what works on mobile devices. You only sound like a cluebat dinosaur.
          • Haters Gonna Hate

            Obviously...You don't understand Actionscript and the market. The market thinks Flash is worth to exist and to alive, so it is still alive. Even you hate it or not.
        • That's the Point

          They were talking about it then, running on the mobile hardware of then.

          Jobs didn't say it was doomed, just that it was sub-optimal for his platform. Nowadays, it would be the most exploited technology, except java holds that crown.

          So, it's seems to have been improved and there will be new professional tools. Still seems to me that HTML5 will be the first choice for any one who doesn't want to pay for the best Flash development environment. Nonetheless, if you need Flash and can work out delivery issues as mobile increases in web consumption importance, then, right on, it's a good news day.
          • Most exploited technology?

            Then how is it that it has fewer vulnerabilities than Firefox, Chrome, and iTunes for the year 2012?
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Since his platform used slower hardware at a higher cost,

            it's not surprising.

            Flash isn't perfect, and as a developer I have my own stories to tell that don't flatter it, but Jobs' spin and lies were very straightforward.

            But he was told by an engineer of the iphone 4's antenna problem and all he did was yap at users saying they held the phone wrong. (look those up). I've tried to stay away from Apple as a result. Maybe the new guy will do better, but he's too busy making claims about the Mac Pro for 2013 while offshoring engineering jobs and using more lobbyists to patent stuff that's been out for years (e.g. the capacitive non-press button that's been on phones, dvd players, and other items for YEARS... you cannot patent existing commonplace items that someone else created, surely??)
        • well.. yeah, but not quite

          you said "It is just another language, stronger than JS but not as complex as C++ or Java"

          the problem is with complexity: low level operations and the managing of those operations require a massive brain for complicated programs, therefore the ++ was invented for the C, to add a layer of abstraction while keeping the low level calls on place. Java on the other hand ads another one on top of it. it is called a virtual machine (JVM). exactly like AS3 running on AVM2.
          Akos Szeredai
      • hmm

        judging from the market share trends of the last decade and the current situation AVM2 is the only capable enough tech to spread across (technically JVM could do that too, but corporate arrogance always plays a role). and it is safe to say it will support emerging hardware/OS and definitely comfort the dying ones.

        iOS (Apple, for that matter) did bit off a huge chunk but it will always be far from spreading over 95% world wide which is kinda required for making cross platform software obsolete.

        iOS is by far the best thing that could have happened to AVM2 (Actionscript Virtual Machine 2.0)
        Akos Szeredai
    • That's

      because there's nothing wrong with flash, just crappy flash coders.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • With semantics like that

        ...it's no wonder you flunked high school.
        • They don't allow flunked students

          into college.

          But the semantics is more to point out that a key thing that... any method of coding will look bad with people using it poorly.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • Who says you're in college

            Anybody can say anything about themselves, fanbui. When you grow up, let's hope you get a clue.
      • 80/20

        True, Jobs' antics did get Adobe to more proactively improve the player's "robustness", but bad coding can be found on any platform. Windows certainly has no monopoly, and if good code existed we'd never see patches, service packs, OS X 10.8.3 to fix all the crap wrong in 10.8.0-10.8.2, etc...
    • Flash's death is imminent

      The only reason flash is needed is for old browsers that don't support HTML5. It is otherwise obsolete and will eventually cease to exist. Oracle Support, and others, killed the Flash version of their site. Video, apps, etc can all be done in HTML5 and server side script. In a modern browser video (the first item in your "need" list) can be done with a tag, as well as timeline programming. The only reason sites like YouTube still use Flash (by default) is because not enough people are using modern browsers yet. It's only a matter of time before it's gone. It's now a redundant language.