For more than a decade, if you saw slickly animated graphics, games, or videos on the web, they were likely powered by Flash. But recently, security issues, battery life concerns, and new software standards have made Flash unpopular with many developers and users.
Adobe, which created Flash, took a major step in distancing itself from the Flash brand on Monday by announcing plans to rename the latest version of its web animation software from Adobe Flash Professional to Adobe Animate CC. Adobe’s justification for changing the name is that over one third of content created in Flash Professional isn’t in Flash format, but instead uses HTML5, an open standard that has many of the same capabilities as Flash and is widely seen as its successor. The company says that the new name more “accurately represents its position as the premier animation tool for the web and beyond.”
“The name change is reflective of the fact that we rebuilt this tool to be platform agnostic,” Paul Gubbay, vice president at Adobe, told Fortune. “The name Flash Professional associates it with one slice of technology, and it’s not the one people are focused on now when they’re thinking about building new animations for the web.”
“Flash Pro users can work the way they’ve always worked and now they can target all these HTML5 platforms, and if they want to do Flash content, they can do that as well,” Gubbay said.
Animate remains Adobe’s official tool for creating Flash content, and its next version will continue to support Flash as a “first-class citizen.” But the shift in nomenclature points to the fact that HTML5 is increasingly the platform of choice for animations on the web. YouTube and Twitch, an Amazon-owned website that streams gaming video, previously used Flash to power their video players, for example, but both now use HTML5-based players.
Adobe Animate’s rebranding likely won’t have an major effect on Flash Player, the software users run in their browsers to play Flash animations that has recently gotten a bad reputation for having serious security holes. In a separate blog post, Adobe defended Flash Player, and said it was working with Facebook, to improve the security of Flash-based games. Facebook uses Flash for games on its platform as well as for certain parts of its desktop interface such as photo uploading.
Adobe also added that it plans to release an HTML5 video player for desktop browsers, and the company concluded the post by saying “looking ahead, we encourage content creators to build with new web standards.”
It’s hard to overstate how much of a pariah Adobe Flash has become in web development circles. In July, the Wall Street Journal said that the tech world was preparing an obituary for the software because it had become a security risk and a “drag on online process.” Wired’s take was only slightly more direct: “Flash. Must. Die.”
The downfall of Flash started when Apple decided not to support it on iPhones starting with its first model in 2007. Steve Jobs famously defended that decision in an open letter in 2010 that focused on openness, interface issues and mobile battery life:
Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.
Adobe decided to stop developing Flash Player for Android devices in 2012. Simply put, Flash does not have a meaningful presence on mobile devices. And websites are starting to leave it behind. According to W3Techs, a research firm focused on web technology, Flash was used in 28% of websites when Jobs wrote his letter. Today, it’s only used in 9.7% of websites.
But perhaps the strongest argument against Flash is centered around security and privacy. Several serious vulnerabilities in Flash Player have been discovered and patched in the past year. Flash remains a critical technology for web ads and certain games, but its benefits must be weighed against the possibility it introduces serious security holes into websites. Google’s Chrome browser now “pauses” Flash ads by default, preventing them from running unless the user specifically clicks on the ad.
Adobe (ADBE) working with Facebook (FB) is notable because Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos publicly slammed Flash on Twitter over security issues earlier this year. “It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day,” he tweeted, advising Adobe to push an update with instructions to disable its own software.
“Even if 18 months from now, one set date is the only way to disentangle the dependencies and upgrade the whole ecosystem at once,” Stamos added.
Although Adobe’s decision to rebrand its professionally-oriented web animation suite is a far cry from the end-of-life date Stamos advocated, it’s clear that Adobe is beginning to see the end of the road for Flash, and is positioning itself as a leader in HTML5 development.
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