From Flash Pro to Animate

Adobe Flash Pro

Last December, after Flash Professional CC was retired in favour of Animate CC, some tech publications proclaimed “Flash Is Dead, Long Live Adobe”, or “The Final Nail in the Flash Coffin”. The truth is more complex and nuanced. In fact, Animate CC is just the new name for one of the products in the Creative Cloud suite of products.

That said, it is a well-known fact that Flash has fallen out of favour with the emergence of new technologies and, to be honest, due to bad decisions on Adobe’s part.

A Long History

Flash technology was born in 1995 in San Diego, California, when FutureWave enhanced its SmartSketch vector-based drawing software by adding frame-by-frame animation features and re-released it as FutureSplash Animator. The new software, available for Mac and PC, was a hit. In 1996, it was acquired by Macromedia, which, at the time, was well known for Director, its interactive CD-ROM development tool.

FutureSplash was rebranded as Macromedia Flash. Flash was a two-part system: a graphics and animation editor, and a free player known as Macromedia Flash Player, which quickly became available as a free browser plug-in. Subsequent versions added programming capabilities with HyperTalk-based language (Apple HyperCard’s scripting language).

Thanks to its browser plug-in status, Flash abetted countless crimes against Webanity over the last twenty years: sites resembling CD-ROM ports with esoteric, user-unfriendly ergonomics that broke all accessibility rules; “splash” pages that had us scrambling for the merciful “Skip Intro” button; unsolicited audio components; and invasive ads, just to name a few. But Flash also helped with uploading of videos on Web pages, besting QuickTime, Real, and Windows Media solutions, as well as developing an entire system of on-line games (Armor Games, for example, in 2005).

Macromedia was acquired by Adobe in 2005 and Macromedia Flash was rebranded as Adobe Flash in 2007 with the release of the CS3 software suite. Flash inherited Adobe After Effects’ features, offering new 3D capabilities. Adobe also released Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), a runtime engine for distributed autonomous applications that are developed with Adobe Flash Pro and can run outside a web browser.

End of the “Player”

The first sign of trouble for Flash on the Web appeared a dozen years ago when power users started deactivating the plug-in and using extensions to activate animations only on demand in order to spare themselves the worst of the ads and to save bandwidth (the “ClickToFlash” feature has since become standard in some browsers).

But its fate was sealed with the development of the “<video>” tag, which broke the monopoly of Flash, as well as Steve Jobs’ 2010 decision to not include the reader in new mobile devices (iPad and iPhone).

Under assault on all sides, including and especially on the security front, Flash is losing ground to Web standardisation solutions (HTML5 Canvas). In early 2015, after extensive tests, YouTube switched its default video player to HTML5, sending shockwaves through the industry. Now, navigators such as Safari on Mac OS no longer offer the Flash plug-in for their standard installation.

If anything is dying, it’s the Web extension, which has morphed into a vector for malware, though not for the animation application. Adobe decided to rebrand its application in order to distance it from an obsolete technology. Though Flash animations on the Web are a thing of the past, the animation solution is still alive and kicking under the name Animate, with no connection to any particular platform. In any case, Flash had become one format among many for sharing animations, Adobe having made considerable efforts with exporting HTML5 and WebGL. And Animate still makes it possible to create autonomous applications with AIR, which is still an important market, especially for mobile applications.

In the end, the field that has the most to lose from the death of the Flash reader is probably gaming, with the standard solutions, and especially their browser implementation, still lagging behind what could be done with Flash.