TMCnet Feature
October 19, 2021

Indie Developers Struggle to Keep Adobe Flash Alive

Back in January of this year, Adobe (News - Alert) discontinued support for Flash player, which had already been replaced in many market sectors by HTML5 technologies. Outside of certain international markets as well as online gaming, few of the clearnet's major sites were still using Flash, so this created relatively little buzz compared to the sun-setting of many other comparable technologies. Flash Player, however, is still available in China due to the healthy amount of use it continues to see on the Mandarin-language web, and some have sought to use this loophole to keep it alive.

Clean Flash project developers were using a third-party version of the player from Zhong Cheng Network, who was authorized on behalf of Adobe to distribute Flash in Chinese-language markets. However, their attempts to make the software more safe in the face of its discontinuation have now been met with legal challenges as Adobe used a DMCA request to cancel the project.

This has left some web developers unsure of how to proceed considering that they still rely on the technology for whatever reason.

Why Some Designers are Replacing Flash

In most cases, people had a long amount of lead time when it came to warnings about the future demise of Flash technology. Some were starting to switch over as early as 2012, when HTML5 technology became widespread several years after its introduction. Independent game developers from Singapore have now raised $8.6 million to help bring video game designers up to speed if they were still using Flash or other Web 2.0 technologies as late as early this year. Upgrading their technology should prove to be far more cost-effective than attempting to develop an outright alternative to Flash.

Those who only used Flash objects to create rich content on their sites are instead looking for the best website builder software that doesn't rely on this dated standard. Once again, this is more affordable than trying to simply skirt the end of life for the venerable web technology. It's also far more safe, considering that Flash had a certain reputation for security problems even during its life time.

Steve Jobs (News - Alert) famously banned Adobe Flash technology on the iPhone in one of the rare few public engineering decisions he ever made. That sent ripples through the computer industry that still impact users today. As a result, developers who primarily worked with iOS and OS X sought to retire Flash objects long before the rest of the industry did.

On the other hand, there are those who are continuing to work hard to ensure that Flash technology has a new life. Some of the most vehement of these are archivists, who might have found a way around Adobe's landmark DMCA claim.

Developing an Open-source Alternative to Flash

Rather than focusing on new development, the FOSS community is increasingly concerned with preserving Internet history. As many classic sites go down every day, they're taking years' worth of Flash games with them. Many of these objects could be stored on a place like the Internet Archive, but there would be no way to safely activate them due to the fact that the safety concerns that spooked Jobs and company a decade ago are even far more concerning today.

That's where Ruffle comes in, which is an emulator for Flash that allows objects to run in a relatively sandboxed environment. It attracted the attention of noted archivist Jason Scott, who opted for its use at the Archive, while others have suggested that it could be used to continue to preserve operating sites in markets where Flash is still rather common.

This second use case might still be unwise, but there's no reason why archival technologists shouldn't flock to it.

Saving a Dying Internet Culture

Flash animations and games were a big part of many current netizen's youth, and quite a few titles deployed as Flash objects couldn't reasonably exist in any other format. Digital card game developers have tried to replicate the experience, but so far it can be very difficult to do so with modern development tools. By making sure to save as many safe Flash objects as possible, these archivists can provide future gamers with a look into the past.

Meanwhile, web developers are unlikely to know what they were ever missing.

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