What the end of Flash means for computer users

The end of Flash has been widely trailed, but it could leave PC users in particular at something of a disadvantage

Saturday, 23 January, 2021

In the 1990s, there was no escape from Adobe Flash.

This iconic software platform powered everything from digital animations to video content, and became heavily relied upon thanks to the small digital footprint of its files.

At a time when every kilobyte of information had to be laboriously downloaded, Flash’s efficient graphics processing allowed websites to display animations and interactive elements.

Yet earlier this month, Adobe stopped supporting the Flash Player which powered this once-ubiquitous software, urging any remaining users to uninstall Flash from their devices.

So what does the end of Flash mean for you?

Captain Flash-art

Flash was a marvel of compression in an age before page loading times influenced search engine rankings – indeed, even before search engines existed in their current guise.

It was possible to condense a three-minute animation with audio and moving images into a couple of megabytes – far smaller than a single photo taken on a modern camera smartphone.

In an age of static webpages, Comic Sans fonts and clunky table layouts, Flash content added a much-needed splash of style to otherwise humdrum websites.

It was widely adopted for page links and landing pages, as well as powering innumerable cartoons and interactive games.

It even underpinned YouTube, which relied on Adobe Flash Player in its early years to compress video content.

Flash was loved by companies like Nike, Nokia and Disney, who all created Flash-based websites in the Noughties.

Unfortunately, it was loathed by senior Apple executives. When the first iPhone came out, Apple refused to support it – a stance they controversially maintained thereafter.

Despite performing effectively on desktop PCs, Flash wasn’t great on mobile devices, which would soon come to display the majority of the world’s internet traffic.

There were recurring issues around Flash’s impact on mobile battery life, while security concerns also deterred manufacturers and consumers from using Flash on mobile phones.

In the last 14 years of its life, Adobe had to issue almost 300 updates and fixes as vulnerabilities emerged, some of which were used for ransomware and device hacking.

Gone in a Flash

The end of Flash was sudden, despite being preceded by events such as Google and Apple blocking it in their Chrome and Safari web browsers.

Some of the Flash Professional software package’s functions have been carried over into Adobe Animate, and many of its functions can be easily replicated in HTML5.

This offers a more dependable and secure platform for animations – themselves falling from favour online as page loading times become ever more important in SEO terms.

Indeed, the unprecedented degree of collaboration in creating a universal HTML5 standard contributed to the software-dependent Flash platform’s demise.

Happily, it’s still possible to play Flash content using emulators and preservation projects like BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, or the Ruffle Flash emulator.

These services have the added advantage of closing the security holes left by Adobe’s deprecation of the Flash Player, which is now fair game for criminals.

With no attempts to plug security holes as they emerge, you should uninstall Flash from any devices more than a couple of years old, to prevent hackers exploiting known vulnerabilities.

Much of Flash’s historic content has already been transferred into open web standard formats, but individual files may remain on domestic devices – especially older PCs.

To find them, enter *.swf into the Search bar on any PCs you own, and delete any files that appear.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!