Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Flash: a legacy technology in both senses.

I knew this calendar date was significant somehow.

Some time ago, Adobe announced they'd end support for Flash, and today is the day. That means they won't be issuing further security updates and recommend users remove it from their systems. Flash's final hours.

In 2010, some seemed stunned to learn the newly-announced iPad, a device Steve Jobs had emphatically framed as a better device for browsing the web than a smartphone or a notebook, wouldn't support Flash. Steve articulated his thoughts in one of his few open letters, memorably called "Thoughts On Flash". His case in short was that native web technologies would soon provide similar functionality that all devices could implement according to open standards and with better performance.

He didn't even have to mention some of the pain points: "downloading Flash installer" had become a household verb phrase. A security issue meant wariness about patches, and a bug could crash your browser. A period method of delivering malware was to disguise your malicious product as a Flash installer, relying on users' muscle memory to download and run it without thinking.

In any case, Jobs knew what he was talking about: Apple had long since involved itself in developing open web standards, and its now-ubiquitous WebKit engine was well into adolescence. Today, creating interactive animations on the web using HTML standards is relatively fun, easy, and natively and reliably supported in browsers everywhere.

But in the early 2000s, that was closer to unheard of. Perhaps you could do something tricky with JavaScript, but web pages were still largely text and images; anything richer, even embedding a typical video file, meant a fair amount of explicit browser support or installing a third-party plug-in.

"Flash," near-synonymous with Macromedia before Adobe took it over, was a proprietary platform for rich, animatable, interactive stuff. Its coolness made its third-party-ness worth overlooking, and it became popular enough that it seemed reasonable to expect most would have it installed – or if they didn't, that they should. Occasionally, you'd find Flash was "required" because an entire site was created in it, using a single HTML page only as a wrapper.

A staple of the time was Homestar Runner (there's the link to the page is still live at as I type this – does it load for you?), the riffy cartoon family so enduring and beloved that I think they may still live off their merchandise sales. In addition to countless, fully-voiced animated sketches with easter eggs and interactive end cards, the site featured a complete spoof of an old Sierra game dubbed Peasant's Quest, and a three-part send-up of old text adventures called Thy Dungeonman. They weren't edge-pushing 3-D extravaganzas, but they were good, full games. I think they've mentioned they may convert things to HTML5 (some time ago), but Homestar has seemed so wedded to Flash that they've felt more like a single life, and I'm going to miss all of it.

That's what Flash was before the native web could ever have been it. It may have inspired Apple and other standards groups to get their act together and work toward the better web-based "future" in which we find ourselves, and that's a legacy not to be sneezed at.