Back in the late 90s, Macromedia’s Flash Player helped bring sound, video and animations to the mainstream web, but today, Flash is probably one of the most hated browser plug-ins. It’s still heavily used, however, and while most mobile browsers don’t support it anymore, it remains a staple on the desktop.
Mozilla started working on this project in early 2012 and, as it noted when it last talked about this project in detail in November 2012, the main goals for Shumway are to “offer a run-time processor for SWF and other rich-media formats on platforms for which runtime implementations are not available.” It also wants to push the open web forward by improving ways to display rich media format in the browser without the need for proprietary solutions.
Until now, Shumway was only available as a browser extension. It’s still not activated by default in the latest Firefox Nightly builds (version 27), but you can go to about:config and activate it (you still need to have the Flash Player installed, though).
Even without installing the latest Firefox Nightly, you can take a look at its capabilities thanks to Mozilla’s online Shumway Inspector. While Shumway won’t run all that many commercially available Flash applications yet, demos like this racing game or this basic 2D physics engine demo show the technology’s potential. Whether it will be able to fully replicate all of Flash’s capabilities remains to be seen, however.
For Mozilla, this is the second major project that replaces an Adobe technology. With PDF.js, the organization already replaced Adobe Reader as the default technology for rendering PDF files in the browser.
It’s also worth noting that other projects have tried similar approaches in the past. Google’s Swiffy, for example, launched as an SWF to HTML5 converter in 2011, and while we haven’t heard all that much about it since, it looks like that project is still going strong.
Adobe itself has also been stepping away from Flash, too, and virtually all of its recent projects for web developers have been about supporting web standards and creating HTML5-based sites.