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Modern Web Experience: Gone In A Flash

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Adobe Flash has been around the block and back. In Internet years, it's ancient. The first official version was released in 1996 by Macromedia, who was later acquired by Adobe. It was a concept ahead of its time. As the Internet found its collective feet throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Flash provided a rich interactive experience that was second to none. With the technology programmers could create games, build interactive websites, stream audio/video, create unique animations, and much more. Although competitors such as Microsoft dabbled in this market, none could find the traction and support that Flash achieved. It seemed that Adobe would remain a dominant player for many years to come, but two things changed that. They were the browser wars and Apple. One prominent area of the browser wars was showing leadership in the industry by incorporating the latest ideas and concepts. This included support for the HTML5 open standard which incorporates most of the functionality within Flash. A little after that, Apple moved mobile computing into the 21st century by introducing the iPhone and iPad. With a new form factor came a new unsupported operating system. Adobe forgot that Apple is a stubborn company that does not like to be controlled. A few years later, in an infamous public letter to the world, Steve Jobs proclaimed Flash to be obsolete. This was a big win for developers, and here's why...

Version Support
For years Flash was a young, immature product. The continuous enhancements made to the product were a blessing and a curse. The features were great but required users to upgrade because it was a browser plugin. This also created extra work for programmers to verify which plugin the user had and if the code was compatible. Without the ability to auto update, users struggled to understand the concept of installing new versions. This is similar to the problem that Java applications run into.

Jack Of All Trades
With Flash moving in a variety of directions, it began to serve a widening audience of developers. This success unfortunately created a lack of focus in any one area; therefore, the product did not excel in any one area. Streamlining design, animation, and functionality was left to developers. This results in buggy, inconsistent design with commonly choppy animation.

ActionScript
Early versions of ActionScript were similar to JavaScript. It was an interruptive language that was not compiled. The code would run line by line each time it is requested. With ActionScript 3 Flash started compiling, but it was not generically backward compatible. Additionally, ActionScript was originally designed for animation. It struggled for years to become a viable programming solution as developers created hacks to work around these issues.

Search Engine / SEO
Due to the nature of Flash, it is not inherently search engine or SEO friendly. Search engine bots typically load sites and read through the content contained within the HTML. With Flash being a plugin, bots did not find any text. Although companies such as Google have upgraded their bots in recent years to be smarter, it is still very difficult to categorize content found within a flash file.

CPU Intensive and Crashes
Depending on the type of work, especially complex animations, Flash is very CPU intensive. This can be a very frustrating experience for end users as it locks up the browser and sometimes the entire computer. This is similar to Adobe Reader (coincidence?). It's also very crash prone. This is why most browsers are moving to sandbox the plugin so it does not crash the browser.

Consistent Experience
As Flash grew in popularity, websites began to split their customer experience by offering Flash and non-Flash versions. This was a very confusing concept for new customers who knew little about the company/website. Additionally, the visual differences between the HTML and Flash sites were quite apparent. Visitors paid a large cognitive price if they chose to jump between versions. This problem was magnified when Apple's iPhone arrived and forced users to use the HTML version (if one even existed).

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Published at DZone with permission of Zac Gery, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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