Adobe today announced that Flash, the once-ubiquitous plugin that allowed you to play your first Justin Bieber video on YouTube and Dolphin Olympics 2 on Kongregate, will be phased out by the end of 2020. At that point, Adobe will stop updating and distributing Flash. Until then, Adobe will still partner with the likes of Apple, Mozilla, Microsoft and Google to offer security updates for Flash in their browsers and support new versions of them, but beyond that, Adobe will not offer any new Flash features.
Adobe also notes that it plans to be more aggressive about ending support for Flash “in certain
geographies where unlicensed and outdated versions of Flash Player are being distributed.”
To some degree, today’s announcement doesn’t come as a major surprise. Given its wide distribution, Flash (and especially outdated versions of it) quickly became one of the main targets for hackers, and Flash offered them plenty of avenues for trying to get into their target’s machines. The fact that Apple never supported it on mobile (and Steve Job’s famous 2010 letter about that) only sped up Flash’s demise, especially as modern browsers and HTML5 allowed browser vendors to replicate Flash’s functionality without the need for third-party plugins. To be fair, Adobe probably wanted Flash do go away as much as everybody else and, by 2015, the company said as much. Since then, it has started to phase out Flash support from its applications and worked on providing its users with alternatives.
Similarly, browser vendors have also started deprecating Flash support over the last few years. Google made Flash a “click-to-play” plugin, for example, that users must explicitly enable if they really want to use it. The same holds true for all other major browser vendors.
At this point, there’s very little that Flash can do that HTML5 can’t handle. As Adobe noted during a press call ahead of today’s announcement, the number of companies that rely on Flash has steadily decreased over the last few years. Still, a number of holdouts remain, especially in the education and gaming space. Facebook says that it will help game developers on its platform migrate to open web standards.
As the company’s VP of product development Govind Balakrishnan also noted, Adobe remains proud of the legacy of Flash — and for all of its flaws, it’s worth remembering that it played a pivotal role in bringing video and gaming to the web, for example. Microsoft once tried to compete with it when it launched Silverlight back in 2007, but at that point Flash was already so ubiquitous that even Microsoft had no chance to displace it (though it’s still kicking around somewhere in the Windows ecosystem).
“We’re very proud of the legacy of Flash and everything it helped pioneer,” Balakrishnan noted. “During the 20+ years it has been around, it has played a key role in advancing interactivity and creative content on the web. Few technologies have had such a profound and positive impact in the internet era. But Adobe has always been about reinvention and creativity. And we’re excited to help lead the next era of digital content creation.”