Next month, Chrome will no longer support the Adobe Flash player. They’ll join Firefox and Safari in the long-drawn-out death of a technology that was once a centerpiece of the World Wide Web.
For many, the end of Flash fosters the same sense of relief that the end of, say, IE6 does. There is much rejoicing for a technology most remembered for annoying pop-up ads, self-congratulatory intro sequences, and security flaws. I, however, will remember things quite differently.
Flash blossomed in a time when rich, interactive experiences were not yet imaginable on the web. It helped accelerate the potential of the internet as a full-fledged, visual medium faster than any other technology I can think of. Like many first-movers in the industry, though, it didn’t remain the leader for long. Just like how Yahoo! lost out to Google. Or, how Friendster bowed to Myspace. Or, how Myspace bowed to Facebook. But, that shouldn’t mitigate the impact the technology had on our industry.
Flash applications weren’t always about visual excess. By the early 2000s, designers were using Flash as a medium for data and information display. Here’s Marcos Weskamp’s Newsmap (link may not work in September), a news aggregator that was several years ahead of its time. It has, after all, a very Microsoft Metro-y design feel to it:
Beyond design, I can thank Flash and its supporting language, ActionScript, for keeping me interested in programming.
I began using Macromedia Flash 3 building my own fair share of “skip intro” intros and microsites in my college dorm room in the late 1990s. I was playing around with this new software while taking introductory courses in C++ and Lisp. While I could wrap my brain around the syntax of Lisp, I struggled on some of the finer details of C++ and object-oriented programming.
The development environment for Flash consisted of the canvas—where you did your work—and the timeline—where you placed and managed the interactions of elements on your canvas). The timeline was the visual aid I needed to begin to understand how objects worked together.
You could move MovieClips on and off of your canvas. You could stuff some rudimentary Actionscript inside of these MovieClips as well. The combination of the timeline, canvas, and Actionscript code introduced me to a hybrid functional/object-oriented kind of programming. Strangely, it felt right.
Later versions of Flash (and the introduction of Flex) let you move all the timeline-driven stuff into code. Object constructors, event listeners, and the MVC pattern all made more sense to me in the context of a Flash-based application.
I wrote my first blog post for We Are Mammoth almost ten years ago today. It was about starting our two-man shop around the love of a technology.
This blog will be a place where we can ramble on about our own overzealous ideas on taking Flash from that coy little animation tool it once was to a real application development environment.
Well, like most plans, we didn’t follow them to a tee. We got somewhere far different (and likely far better) instead.
In some long-distance races, a runner called the rabbit sets an early and honest pace for the other runners to follow. Eventually, the rabbit peels away from the track and the other runners continue. Flash was our rabbit in the race. It took more than its fair share of potshots. But, its presence led the way to a healthy balance between interactivity, standardization, and usability. And, personally, it kept me interested in staying in the race.
Flash, I bid you a fond farewell.