Adobe Flash Player website on a computer

Support for Adobe Flash officially ended on December 31, 2020, effectively killing off the platform. The now-discontinued web plugin will be remembered for its golden era of animated internet memes and the endless security problems that eventually led to its demise.

Let’s take a look back at Flash, what’s next, and how to enjoy the old content in 2021 and beyond.

Flash is Going Away Forever

Flash is no longer available to download since December 31, 2020, and Adobe starts blocking Flash content from running altogether on January 12, 2021. The company recommends that you uninstall Flash entirely as a matter of security. There will be no more updates to Flash, nor will you be able to download old versions directly from Adobe.

This also means that versions of Flash bundled with browsers like Google Chrome will be retired. The change is unlikely to affect your daily browsing habits since the vast majority of websites have stopped using Flash in favor of modern browser technologies.

You should avoid installing any older versions of Flash Player on security grounds. If you still want to access Flash content, there are options, but none of them are officially supported by Adobe.

The History of Adobe Flash (1996-2020)

In 1996, a company called Macromedia acquired a vector-based web animation tool called FutureSplash, originally released by FutureWave Software in 1993. The technology was already in use by companies like Microsoft and Disney Online to display animated content in a web browser.

Macromedia rebranded the tool as Macromedia Flash 1.0 and released it alongside a counterpart browser plugin called Macromedia Flash Player. By the mid-2000s, Flash had taken off in a big way, spurred on by the popularity of browser games, animations, and interactive tools that relied on it.

Flash was able to rise to prominence thanks to the simplicity of installing a small plugin that was compatible with most browsers. Since Flash used vector-based graphics, file sizes for the resulting animations were tiny. This was important at a time when many people were using dial-up internet with slow download speeds.

RELATED: What's the Difference Between Pixels and Vectors?

Vector graphics are essentially text-based instructions. They scale infinitely since they have no defined size, unlike raster graphics which have much larger file sizes and will pixellate when stretched. Flash enabled creators, marketers, and anyone with an eye for new media to create games, animations, banner adverts, interactive menus. It was even used to make entire websites that looked great for the time, were fast to load, and responsive to use.

Macromedia Flash 5 packaging

Macromedia added more bells and whistles to Flash over time. In 2000, Flash 5 was released with ActionScript, a rudimentary scripting language that closely mimics JavaScript. In 2005, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe Systems (the same company that turned down an offer to buy FutureSplash in 1995). Adobe took Flash under its wing and developed many more features in the years to come.

Flash gave life to some of the internet’s most beloved websites, cartoons, games, and more. Websites like Newgrounds sprung up as a hub for all things Flash. Comedy web series like Homestar Runner, stickman animations like Xiao Xiao, and rudimentary yet addictive games like Pandemic all flourished on the platform.

But Flash also played a huge part in the adoption of streaming video. The FLV container made it possible to display video in virtually any web browser provided you had Flash player installed. At one point in time, Flash was even required to use websites like YouTube, Vimeo, Google Video, and more. The earliest on-demand video services like Hulu and BBC iPlayer all required Flash in the early 2000s.

But web standards don’t stay still forever. While Flash was instrumental in making the web a more vibrant place in the early days, cracks soon started to show. Before long, it was clear that the internet would soon outgrow the need for Flash and browser plugins altogether.

The Problems with Flash

Flash powered a large portion of the web at the height of its popularity, which put a lot of responsibility on Adobe. Since flash was a web plugin, it was maintained and updated by a single entity. As Flash grew in popularity, it increasingly became a target for hackers.

It didn’t take long for Flash to join other browser plugins like ActiveX and Java in being labeled a security risk. Try as it could, Adobe couldn’t fix Flash, so in 2017, the company decided to cease development and kill Flash entirely by the end of 2020. Adobe didn’t take any chances either: Flash content is barred from running in the final version.

Flash was able to grow because it filled a gap. Rich web content that involved animations, video, sound, and interactivity wasn’t possible using browsers that barely complied with early web standards. It took the rise of browsers like Mozilla Firefox to place greater emphasis on new web technologies that would eventually be able to replace Flash.

In 2007 Apple released the iPhone and made the historic decision to not support Flash on the platform. At the time, Flash was still very popular, so this move had a disruptive effect on the web, but the writing was on the wall. Flash was no longer necessary when browser technologies and dedicated native mobile apps would do the job instead.

Apple’s decision and the subsequent popularity of the iPhone helped bring about the decline of Flash as developers sought to make the web accessible to all devices in an increasingly mobile world.

By 2012, Flash was widely regarded as a security risk. This prompted Google’s decision to bundle Flash with Chrome to create a sandbox. This effectively put flash content in its own safe space, isolating it from the rest of the system.

As time went on, internet speeds and browser standards advanced to a stage where Flash was no longer required.

Life After Flash

By 2020, the web had already adjusted to a new normal that didn’t rely on proprietary browser technologies. For the tech-savvy, this had been the case for years. Websites such as How-To Geek have urged you to delete plugins like Flash as far back as 2015. This was possible thanks to the rise of browser technologies that effectively render Flash obsolete.

Websites designed entirely in Flash have been replaced with—wait for it— websites. The HTML of today is responsive and scales with your screen size and device capabilities. Flash would scale in a linear sense, like any vector graphics tool, but it was nowhere near as sophisticated as what is capable with today’s browsers.

In 2009, the <video> tag made its appearance as part of the HTML5 rollout. These allowed websites like YouTube to serve video to any modern browser that complied with the HTML5 standard. Faster internet speeds also allowed for higher quality video.

Uninstall Adobe Flash on Windows

HTML5’s canvas element allows browsers to draw and animate graphics using JavaScript. These tools can be used to create games, highly interactive websites, and animations. Throw in WebGL and you can now draw 3D shapes and models to be displayed in a browser too.

Developers have used modern web technologies to create sophisticated software that runs in a browser, from services like Netflix to emulators like DOSBox. The use of JavaScript and CSS has both simplified web design and made it possible to bring elaborate and responsive designs to life. Where Flash had ActionScript, the modern web has JavaScript.

Even vector graphics—one of the original reasons for the success of Flash—have a modern equivalent in the SVG (scalable vector graphics) format. The use of SVG files makes it possible to create websites and apps that look pixel-perfect on a smartphone or a large TV.

Accessing Flash Content in 2021 and Beyond

Since so much online nostalgia is trapped in a Flash container, there are a few projects that will allow you to continue to enjoy Flash content even after Adobe has pulled the plug.

The first of these is BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, a web game preservation project that supports Flash, Shockwave, Java, Unity Web Player, Silverlight, ActiveX, and HTML5. It’s available in two flavors: a 500MB “Infinity” player that downloads games on the fly, and a giant 500GB+ archive that works offline.

BlueMaxima Flashpoint Running on macOS

There’s also a project called Ruffle, which attempts to emulate Flash. It can be run as a standalone application on most major operating systems or as a browser app through the use of the WebAssembly programming language. It’s primarily aimed at website owners who can install it server-side and have their Flash content “just work” natively.

RELATED: How to Play Old Flash Games in 2020, and Beyond

The End of a Flash Era

Adobe Flash’s retirement is a bittersweet moment for many. While the browser plugin was responsible for a huge number of security problems in its later life, it was also used to create some of the most memorable moments on the internet. Fortunately, thanks to projects like BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint and Ruffle, a lot of content has been preserved.

Flash was a fairly accessible creative suite for budding animators and web game developers. If you’re feeling creative but lack the technical skills of a programmer, you can try and create your own 3D games on a PS4 or PS5 with Dreams.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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