The Stack Archive

Adobe kills the ‘Flash’ name after twenty years

Tue 1 Dec 2015

The 2016 iteration of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription software scheme will see the end of the ‘Flash’ branding, and an even greater emphasis on the HTML5, non-binary output which now represents a third of all output from the popular web animation program.

In an announcement and video, Adobe reveal that the Flash product will be called Adobe Animate CC from January’s update of the Creative Cloud suite. There’s no explicit mention of what the browser plug-in will be called, but presumably it will mirror the change of name.

It’s a fairly momentous amendment for a technology which pioneered rich text media and video in the age before broadband, but which in the last ten or fifteen years has become practically synonymous with online security vulnerabilities and exploits. The Flash browser plugin has always been binary, hard-coded software, whose security shortcomings were to prove a goldmine for hackers and cybercriminals, and whose protocols were difficult for pentesters to traverse and report on because of the proprietary nature of the code.

Consequently the Flash plugin has been the object of resistance in online environments and codebases for nearly ten years. The critical juncture was Steve Jobs declaration in 2010 that the Flash plug-in would never be supported in Apple’s iOS operating system, citing its closed source nature, battery-draining propensity, the lack of indexibility of Flash content, and the rapid emergence of HTML5 and more ‘open’ standards which could more effectively and safely replace the web’s dependence on Flash.

Google’s Chrome browser eventually responded to the avalanche of often-belated Flash plugin security updates by implementing its own custom Flash player, thereby allowing Flash content to continue to run in what is currently the web’s premier browser, and excepting Flash content from Chrome’s mothballing of NPAPI plugins. Likewise Mozilla has agreed to continue Flash plugin support despite its plans to make NPAPI obsolete.

In January of this year YouTube progressed its experimental HTML5 video support into the default format for video, and from September Amazon began to refuse Flash-based ads in its own consumer networks.

Adobe could never keep ahead of hackers’ efforts to escalate privileges beyond the Flash sandbox. Practically every fortnight there seemed to be a new announcement of the need for consumers to update the plugin, and the exploit in question has always seemed to be critical: complete control of the affected system – never ‘minor instability’, ‘performance issues’, or ‘annoying bugs’.

In any case, Flash itself is not dead, just the name. Any new version of the plugin will continue to run Flash content in 2016, as far as we know, and Adobe promise that the Flash binary format and its alternative Air platform will still be ‘first-class citizens’. However the fact that they need to say it, combined with Adobe’s lauding of the non-Flash features of Animate CC, is quite telling. The announcement declares:

Today, over a third of all content created in Flash Professional today uses HTML5, reaching over one billion devices worldwide. It has also been recognized as an HTML5 ad solution that complies with the latest Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standards, and is widely used in the cartoon industry by powerhouse studios like Nickelodeon and Titmouse Inc.

The fact that Flash has been exempted from the kill-lists of Chrome and Firefox indicates that the zero-day rollercoaster isn’t over yet, but that the end of the binary Flash PR disaster might be drawing nearer.

The release will make redundant the transitional HTML5 animation program Adobe Edge Animate CC 2015. The new Animate will have support for HTML5 Canvas, WebGL, Flash (SWF), AIR, and video, along with custom platforms like SVG via extensions.

The upgrade will also port ever more features over from the far more flexible Adobe stablemate, vector creation program Illustrator, including the much-belated addition of live strokes (which will also be animatable), 360 degree canvas rotation, vector art brushes and Adobe stock palettes. It will also support output of 4K video with custom resolutions, and export to Dreamweaver, Adobe Muse and InDesign.


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