A Fond — Yes, I Said Fond — Farewell to Flash

This article was originally posted on my personal blog, Occtopia.

I’m sure everyone saw the news on their Twitter and Facebook feeds this week: Adobe will be retiring Flash in 2020.

This means that Adobe will no longer patch the Flash plugin, or develop the platform further. In other words: Flash will meet its end-of-life by the end of the decade and is effectively a dead format.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 5 years, this should come as no surprise. We’ve seen gaping security holes in the plugin every. single. year. It’s been derided by open standards aficionados and in 2010, Steve Jobs even wrote a letter completely disavowing it for use in iOS. Indeed, Flash had seen better days.

Was It All Really Bad?

I’ve seen article after article over the last couple years come down hard on Flash. However, I personally can’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia and fondness for it. To me, Flash was more than a security incident waiting to happen or a resource hog.

As a designer and developer, Flash was a big part why I do what I do now.

Let’s look at a few of the things Flash did for us…and for me (and I’m sure other emerging designers in the 2000s).

Video for the Masses

The most obvious amazing…awesome…truly fantastic thing to come out of the adoption of Flash was its use as a video format. Before there was HTML5 video there was Flash video. It did a decent job compressing, encoding, and streaming video, and the plugin was found in virtually every browser.

With broadband connections becoming ubiquitous, people began to watch news and entertainment online, and flocked to this new thing that used Flash Video. The kids were calling this thing “YouTube.” Suffice to say, if you remember the words “RealPlayer” or “Buffering” you know how awesome Flash video was at the time. Web video was now a reality, and more importantly: a viable media channel.

Gateway Drug to the Interactive

While I experimented with HTML in high school in the late 90s, the interactive space was still very intimidating. “How am I supposed position this heading on top of this image, 2 inches to the right? Oh wait…we’re using pixels. And what the hell are these things…tables? <td>…<tr>…ehh?”

College didn’t help either. Like a lot of “web designers” who began work in the mid 2000’s, I received my education primarily in traditional print design and theory. Over four years I had three classes that barely scratched the surface of web development, while everything else was dedicated to publication design, design theory (as it pertained to print), and using Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark, and later InDesign. That was it. For a time code and markup seemed mystifying and esoteric. HTML was a bizarre, boxy thing that didn’t let me put my elements where I wanted…

…but then there was Flash.

Flash gave me the ability to create layouts and interactivity that I couldn’t initially grasp (or weren’t possible) with HTML and the fledgeling CSS spec. My design looked the same in every browser. There was little that even IE6 (?!) could do the muck up my work.

As I got more comfortable with Flash, I started to wonder about the pages that housed it. That led to more learning, more late nights, and eventually a career away from print. I even designed my first digital portfolio that landed me my first web development job with Flash.

First Taste of OOP

Flash wasn’t just Flash…it was also Flash ActionScript. What started out as simple set of action-based commands evolved into an object-oriented, ECMAScript-compliant language that allows for advanced interactivity, incorporation with external data sources, and a myriad of other things.

For designers like myself in college around it’s introduction and maturity, this was the first exposure to any object-oriented, front-end scripting language we would get. Many of us would plunk down our dollars buying books to learn how to add script-based interactivity to our animations, with a language that looked strangely like another we’d encounter during our careers.

Fun

There was an insane amount of creativity centering around Flash in the late 90s and early 2000s. Were you in high school or college at that time? If so, maybe you remember watching videos endlessly on NewGrounds.com or HomestarRunner.com. Who can forget playing Aether, or Super Meat Boy?

Flash was the conduit for this creativity and provided endless hours of entertainment. But more than that, as a designer I would look at these amazing creations to emulate or (maybe someday) even exceed.

Say what you will…

…but I for one will miss Flash. It was there when we needed it. It filled in many of the gaps in our interactive experiences at a time when current standards either couldn’t or didn’t exist. Despite its obsolescence, I’ll always have fond memories of being 17 and sitting up on a summer night at 3 am trying to get my motion tweens just right…

Thanks for that.

Macromedia Flash MX
How I will remember you