Thoughts on Flash…

Thoughts on FlashOK, here’s a geeky rant. I’ve heard and read the same unfounded rumours, hearsay and conjecture about Flash so many times it’s starting to sound like urban myths. Let’s put this on the record for once and for all. So, here goes… (deep breath)…

Flash is as secure as any other web technology

In his open letter in April 2010, Steve Jobs wrote, “Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. ” In Symantec’s annual security reports, security risks from Flash are a long way below other web technologies like Active-X, Java, Adobe Reader and Quicktime. Yes, you read that right, Adobe Flash Player is more secure than Apple’s Quicktime and Mr. Jobs remarks were misleading to say the least. Check the 2009 Symantec report out for yourself. The latest reports are available here.

Flash doesn’t use any more memory than any other web technology

Memory hog? Why not run your own comparison to find out. Here’s a direct link to the high resolution version of a video from TED Talks:

If you click on this, it should play directly in your browser either as native video playback or with a browser plugin such as Apple’s Quicktime. When it starts playing, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to start Windows Task Manager and select the Performance tab (Check your documentation for how to do this with a Mac). You’ll see some live graphs of CPU and memory usage. Make a note of their averages. Alternatively, if your browser supports HTML5 video tags and H.264 (IE and Safari), you can check directly:

Now try watching the exact same video in Flash and watch your CPU and memory performance. Results will vary depending on your operating system, hardware and browser:

For independent benchmark tests of HTML5 vs. Flash video performance, check out these two articles:

Flash is as stable as any other web technology

In an emotional outburst at a public meeting in February 2010, Steve Jobs claimed that, “Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash.” In response, Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s CEO, gave an interview with Alan Murray for the Wall Street Journal.

Flash will run on Unix-like OS’ (Linux, OpenBSD, iOS, OS X)

Flash happily runs on over 95% of computers and devices connected to the internet, probably including your set-top box. That’s a conservative estimate based on median values of operating system market share – Adobe claims 99%. In fact, Adobe had Flash Player for iOS on iTunes and ready to roll before Apple’s announcement to block it. The only reason that Flash isn’t allowed on iPhone or iPad is because of Apple’s business strategies. The ability to access Flash rich internet applications (RIAs) would reduce iTunes’ app store profits because developers and content distributors would be able to avoid paying Apple’s 30% commission on everything that passes through them. Apple are currently facing anti-trust investigations on both sides of the Atlantic because of this. Brian Chen wrote an astute opinion article for Wired Magazine in November 2008.

Flash and Actionscript are open source, not proprietary

For those who are open source, open format advocates, I salute you and keep up the good work, you make the web a better place for everyone. I develop and distribute open source projects (Actionscript and PHP) myself. Flash and Actionscript are open source. Adobe distribute a free SDK and anyone can create Flash extensions for modular IDEs or even create their own Flash IDEs. Flash Builder/Flex is built on Eclipse. Anyone can build a Flash runtime into their browser. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Firefox choose not to and instead rely on Adobe to maintain and distribute the plugin. Here’s an article from Adobe’s founders on their open web philosophy.

Update: There’s also a free and open source Flash and Flex IDE available called FlashDevelop. The Flex SDK has been made a priority open source software project by the Apache Software Foundation, now called Apache Flex.

Flash works on touchscreens without any modification

If you still have any doubts, here’s an old demo video of unmodified Flash apps on a touch screen made by Lee Brimelow when this rumour first circulated in May 2010. There are more videos and articles on Flash and using all the latest features of  touchscreens and motion detectors on his blog.

HTML5 isn’t going to kill Flash

They get along fine. There’s no ill-will between them. They’re complimentary web technologies and it’s up to developers to make well-informed decisions about which is more appropriate for a particular instance. In my opinion, there are many things that HTML5 should do instead of Flash, where Flash has been “filling in” while HTML technology caught up. Flash and HTML5, while there is some overlap, essentially do different things. One pundit commented that using HTML5 to replace Flash is like taking a time-machine that takes you back to the year 2000 (I wish I could find the source of that quote!).

Flash works with, not against Javascript

Again, Flash and Javascript are complimentary technologies. SCORM packages require a Javscript API wrapper to communicate with the LMS on the server, and FlowPlayer and JW Player, the most commonly used media players on the web, both have extensive Javascript APIs. Flash and Javascript are harmonious and at one with each other.

Flash doesn’t leave your toilet seat up

It’s respectful, considerate and understands how that can make some people feel.

Flash doesn’t sleep with your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/partner

Adobe Flash, that is. I can’t speak for any 3rd parties who call themselves “Flash”.

Flash hasn’t got cooties

Although a lot of girls use Flash eCards to spread them, which is much worse than any virus.

And finally…

Please don’t rely on Apple or Apple fans for information or news about Flash. It’s a bit like relying on Fox News (News International) for news about the Democratic party in the US. The following is an entertaining TED Talk about why it’s important to challenge improperly presented arguments or evidence: Ben Goldacre: Battling Bad Science. Ben Goldacre also writes a regular blog for the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

There, I’ve said it.


Steve Jobs has just died (5/10/2011) aged 56. He was a great man, a great innovator and will be greatly missed.

[update 2012-09-13]

Now the dust has settled somewhat and everyone has had a chance to offer up their take on the situation, here’s a snapshot of the community’s view:

Apple controversy

In April 2010, Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc. published an open letter explaining why Apple wouldn’t allow Flash on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, citing the following technical reasons:

Openness:  Jobs wrote “Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary”. Some portions of the Flash Player and its related SDKs are open-source, including the Adobe Flex SDK which compiles SWF files from source code, the Tamarin JIT Virtual Machine for ActionScript 3, and the recent Open Screen Project which removes licensing fees and opens data protocols for Flash. The Flash community is also supported by open-source projects, such as FlashDevelop (IDE), MTASC (Compiler) and Gnash; Gnash is an alternative Flash Player, however it is not fully compatible with the proprietary Adobe Flash Player.

Access:  Jobs claimed that a large percentage of the video on the internet is supported on iOS, and writes “almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264”. H.264 is a proprietary specification and encumbered by patents, which makes it a closed standard. Many popular video sharing websites such as YouTube have also published video content in an HTML5 compatible format, enabling videos to playback in mobile web browsers even without Flash Player.

Security:  Jobs wrote “Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009”. Adobe responded by pointing out that “the Symantec Global Internet Threat Report for 2009 found that Flash Player had the second lowest number of vulnerabilities of all Internet technologies listed (which included both web plug-ins and browsers).”

Performance:  Jobs wrote “Flash has not performed well on mobile devices”. Adobe optimized current versions of Flash Player and Flash Lite to use hardware acceleration for video and graphics playback on many devices, including desktop computers. Performance is similar to HTML5 video playback. Also, Flash Player has been used on multiple mobile devices as a primary user interface renderer.

There has been speculation that Steve Jobs rejected Flash for business reasons, rather than the technical reasons he mentions in his letter.

“Allowing Flash, which is a development platform of its own, would just be too dangerous for Apple, a company that enjoys exerting total dominance over its hardware and the software that runs on it. Flash has evolved from being a mere animation player into a multimedia platform capable of running applications of its own. That means Flash would open a new door for application developers to get their software onto the iPhone: Just code them in Flash and put them on a web page. In so doing, Flash would divert business from the App Store, as well as enable publishers to distribute music, videos and movies that could compete with the iTunes Store.”

—”Why Apple Won’t Allow Adobe Flash on iPhone,” Wired Magazine, (2008)

“This is not about technology. The criticisms from Apple about Flash can also be applied to many other systems that Apple has not directly opposed. Therefore Apple’s stance appears driven by their business need to protect the iPhone platform against the threat of a cross-platform competitor.”

—Ray Valdes, V.P. of Gartner Research – “Why Adobe Flash on mobile isn’t dead” (2010) [link unavailable]

“[Apple is] very, very keen to keep control of the end-to-end experience and therefore having a separate runtime in the form of Adobe is a problem, One could argue it could be detrimental to Apple’s business model because there’s a lot of Adobe games, or games that are delivered in Flash, which are free and therefore that would detract from people downloading [paid gaming content] from the App Store.”

—Ben Wood, Director at CCS Insight [link unavailable]

In 2011, Flash Player had emerged as the de facto standard for online video publishing on the desktop, with adaptive bitrate video streaming, DRM, and fullscreen support. On mobile devices however, after Apple refused to allow the Flash Player within the inbuilt iOS web browser, Adobe changed strategy enabling Flash content to be delivered as native mobile applications using the Adobe Integrated Runtime.


See also

Jonathan Gay, one of the original developers of Flash, gave an interview with the BBC’s Jonathan Frewin about Flash media and the Apple vs. Adobe debacle. In it he stated,

“Apple is building their tightly controlled application platform to push the mobile internet world to a model like traditional mobile phone and cable TV businesses, where there is a gatekeeper who controls the platform and gets a fee from all the transactions on the platform. This would drive a very profitable business for Apple… “

“Flash grew from the PC and Web era where players are free, run on lots of devices, and there are no gatekeepers controlling what developers could do with the platform. As a consumer, I’d much rather see the PC and web model move to mobile phones than the closed mobile phone world taking over rich applications on the mobile internet…”