Leaving Flash behind

September 1, 2010

Even before the Apple vs. Adobe bunfight erupted, we were beginning to assess every rich media requirement on every one of our projects to see if it could be done without Flash. If it could be done in code, then we would avoid Flash. That is now standard practice.

Flash, as the default choice for delivery of rich media, has had its day. For us at least.

Adobe has had plenty of time to look for alternative directions for its product, but have preferred to continue the ‘all-things-to-all-men’ marketing approach. “It’s a video deployment platform! It’s an animation tool! It’s a fully-fledged development platform! It’s… give us a while to think of something else!”.

For me, and for many others, the leap to AS3 was too much. In trying to appeal to developers, Flash lost part of its core user base: those designers who had managed to develop rich media experiences in AS2. Adobe eventually realised this, and spent a lot of time trying to convince us that AS3 was the way to go.

I’ll hold my hands up: for years, I threw myself into conquering Flash, so sure that it would yield a fantastic future. But let’s be brutally honest: Flash was never quite the universal, cross-browser, cross-OS platform that Adobe would have had us believe. It never really worked quite in that way.

One of my abiding memories of working on advanced Flash projects was that moment when you suddenly felt very alone. You had promised the client some feature or other, completely convinced that of course Flash would be capable of it. And then you would try and implement something relatively straightforward. Then you would get stuck. Then you would hit the Live Docs, the Flash forums, and everything would go silent. You would find yourself pursuing the issue in some obscure forum, the web equivalent of a country road with grass growing in the middle. You would get that sinking feeling somewhere in the pit of your stomach, and realise that you may actually be asking something of Flash that it was never able to deliver. I had that feeling too many times, and I never want to go there again.

Adobe and its bloggers may post all they like and try to retro-evangelise that we were never meant to develop certain work on their highly legitimate platform. The fact is that for years we were asked to buy in to the idea of Flash as a site development tool. Hundreds of dire ‘Macromedia Site of the Day’ examples – usually the more complex, the better – will testify to what Flash’s masters were trying to promote. Adobe never seriously tried to change the agenda, except when early warning signs started to show, and video delivery became Flash’s saviour.

The simple fact is that the medium has had its time. At 12 years, it has had a good innings. The truth is we are finding other ways of doing what Flash used to show off about. In the early days of this migration, it even irked me. “Why is all this stuff suddenly cool to do in code, when Flash has been able to do it for years” I would whine. Then the penny dropped.

I am no anti-Flasher now. I’m a realist. So long Flash. Sorry Adobe. It’s not you, it’s me.

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    Designing the Middle is the personal blog of Rick Monro, a UX designer & consultant in Belfast, Northern Ireland

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