Monday, October 7, 2013

Change is inevitable and many of the things we count on today will not exist in the future.

This seems to be especially true in the cyber world, where new technologies are continually being developed to replace old or outdated software.

One older technology that has been refusing to 'go gently into that good night' is Adobe's Flash animation.

Flash has been the animation standard for many, many years and can be found on nearly every computer in existence. (Some research suggests it has been downloaded onto 98% of computers).

According to one article, Flash technology is the main reason sites like YouTube and Hulu have exploded in popularity over the past few years. And the main reason we have fast, reliable access to online videos at all.

But now, after years of fighting to save Flash, Adobe has abandoned plans to continue developing new versions of Flash for mobile devices.

It's difficult to understand why such a popular product has fallen out of favour, but it seems maybe Flash was its own worst enemy. The very fact that Flash was everywhere and used in so many different ways - some of which it was never originally intended for - ultimately led to its demise.

Flash animation is a great way to add movement and life to web pages. It is also used to facilitate streaming of videos on line. Moving characters, changing colours, rotating text, your imagination is really the only limit.

It was so successful that someone had the brilliant idea to build an entire website using Flash animation. The idea caught on and soon Flash websites were everywhere.

One major downside of a Flash-based website is that the search engines can't read the content, which leave Flash websites in the dust when it comes to search engine rankings. That problem has actually been addressed to a certain extent in recent years and the search engines have found ways to read the more of the content on Flash websites, but non-Flash websites are still better for search engine optimization.

Another issue with Flash websites is that they are not easy to edit. It's vital to keep the content on your website current and fresh for both the search engines and for visitors to your website. Outdated content is a sure way to bring your website down in the search engine rankings. With Flash animation sites, very few end-users are capable of editing their own web pages, which means they must pay a programmer every time the website needs to be changed, costing them time and money.

Splash down

Splash pages were a so-so idea that really took a turn for the worse with the addition of Flash animation. A splash page, also known as a splash screen, is a website intro page, rather like the cover of a book. Unlike books, however, websites don't need a cover page! Well, OK, there are certain cases where an intro page has some benefit, such as choosing which language version of a website you want to navigate to.

For the most part, however, these intro pages are either a chance for the website administrators to advertise products or for web designers to show off. The addition of Flash animation took splash pages to a whole new level of annoying as users were often forced to sit through some fantastical animated graphics loop - usually accompanied by an unwanted elevator Muzak audio track - while searching frantically for the 'skip intro' button.

Splash pages aren't so bad if directions for navigating through them are clear and precise.

But if almost everyone who stumbles on a splash page immediately starts looking for the exit, what is the point of having a splash page?

Other common complaints about Flash animation include the following: it slows down page loading and can actually bring older computers to a virtual stand still, especially in combination with dial up Internet service; Flash sucks power and creates security and privacy issues on mobile devices; basic keyboard functions like copy and paste don't work properly on Flash animation sites.

Apple bites back

With all of that, Flash was doing just fine, thank you, until it came up against the power of Apple.

Flash animation is usable on both Mac and Microsoft computers, but it is definitely NOT an Apple product.

That was made abundantly clear a few years ago when Apple made the decision to bar Flash applications from the iPhone. In fact, the Flash animation prohibition became a part of the iPhone user agreement.

Apparently the problem, at least as far as Apple is concerned, is that Flash is not just animation software, it is an application development platform. In other words, by downloading Flash onto the iPhone, users could potentially find a way to download apps, music, videos and games without going through Apple or the iTunes store. This would, of course, cost Apple money. More importantly, it would subvert Apple's absolute control over their users, in terms of their choice of apps, software and programming.

New direction

Adobe put up a valiant fight in support of Flash and even relished the victory of securing a place for Flash on Android and Blackberry mobile devices.

But in the end, Adobe decided they will no longer continue to develop new versions of Flash for mobile devices, opting instead to embrace HTML5 for the future. In fact, Adobe Edge, an HTML5 and CSS3 animation and design software - in other words, an eventual replacement for Flash - has already been in previews since August 2011.

However, to paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, "this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning..." for Flash.

Flash is still widely used to facilitate online video streaming and it still exists on the vast majority of computers around the world so there is no danger of it disappearing into the ether anytime soon.


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