I installed a fresh copy of Windows 8.1, and haven't needed Flash yet

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I installed a fresh copy of Windows 8.1, and haven't needed Flash yet

I recently did a little tinkering with my home PC, installing a new hard drive and with it a fresh copy of Windows 8.1. Of course, any fresh install of an operating system means tracking down each and every one of those little add ons and programs that you just can't do without. Being a Mozilla enthusiast, I was happy to re-install Firefox and Thunderbird, but the small annoyances like Java and Flash are the nearly mandatory bits that every user reluctantly installs.

Flash and Java have shared a tent in the same camp for nearly a decade - items that you need to install, but don't want to. They frequently require updates and, as if to add insult to injury, shutting down browsers and applications to do so. For a long time, housing these utilities was a creator's point of pride. As other standards evolved, Flash and Java stagnated, and degenerated into a necessary evil you required if you had any hope of streaming video or viewing a website with complex animations.

Thankfully, HTML5 arrived on the scene to relieve Flash and put it in a position to finally retire, a direction that it's been slowly moving in. With YouTube now serving HTML5 video by default, the rise of mobile usage, and the adaption of other modern web standards, Flash is no longer a necessity for every user.

For most users the visual difference between Flash and HTML5 isn't too obvious. YouTube's newer HTML5 iteration functions exactly like the Flash it replaced. Modern websites that feature high levels of animation and interaction can appear the same regardless of what technology is running the show. With the change being invisible, why the switch? Why is the web sprinting away from Flash?

A bit of history

Before HTML5, if you wanted a website to feature complex animations or stream video, Flash was the only option. In truth, it was the standard that transformed the web into the visual playground it is today. However, the capabilities of Flash have always come with compromises. It can be an unstable, bloated memory hog that's prone to crashing in remarkable ways. As both users and developers, we endured, but Flash refusing to play nice with mobile was the straw that broke the camel's back.

In 2010, Steve Jobs penned an open letter explaining why Flash support on iOS is non-existent. While available on Android systems, flash support is spotty at best. HTML5 technology was already maturing at the time, and has grown more common and feature rich in the years following. With mobile traffic taking the reins from desktop, Flash took a major hit by losing nearly all market share on what had widely become the most popular platform. It was a death sentence.

The rise of HTML5

The switch from Flash to HTML5, despite being an event years in the making, will be largely invisible to the everyman user. The switch offers a number of important advantages, including accessibility and impairment improvements (Flash can't accommodate these unfortunate circumstances), and better SEO results. For these modern utlities reading Flash is a lot like navigating a maze that screen readers for the blind can't navigate, and search engine's can't crawl for SEO rankings. With content and SEO leading the charge on modern web value, choosing Flash was a decision that got harder and harder to make.

Mobile has to come first when you're building a site in 2015. Your users are on their phones, and Flash objects are a set size and orientation. If you've read any of our blogs on Responsive Design you'll know that set sizes limit a site's ability to reshape and resize itself for each and every mobile screen. HTLM5 brings resizing animations and interactive elements - it's a developer's dream. Oh, and it's way faster.

It's been nearly two weeks since I reinstalled Windows, and so far I've been able to avoid installing Flash. That's a major personal victory, but it wasn't so long ago that I regarded Flash with respect and admiration. It took the web and reshaped an information archive into an interactive experience. It's not what it once was, but it's still worth remembering where we came from. Let's hope time is a little kinder to HTML5.