Reflections on Flash & Preservation

TL;DR — Ruffle > Adobe Flash Player


Adobe Flash player is officially dead and Ruffle is here to preserve flash content, there is a long way to go but it’s a good start.

It took a while to get here, with this year now over, but there isn’t any “20/20 hindsight1” that the Adobe Flash player is now left behind for good. We knew the day was coming and it is finally here.

The Bad

It’s been about over 10 years since the apple man penned “Thoughts on Flash”. Since then the flash player has been on the downfall and it’s no surprise why for those who have used it.

You’ll get different reactions depending on who you talk to on the flash player:

  • For web developers2, it’s ire, resentment and good riddance for not having to deal with the treadmill of security issues that the flash player plagued with every update.

(alongside some confusion with the flash authoring software if it’s brought up).

  • For consumers, it’s another thing they had to install to access games & content, sometimes it slows the page down too (don’t forget those flash ads)

  • For content creators, (animators & game devs) a mixture of the two, an easier way to bring content to the web on all browsers.

Many will have different experiences with it, but the above three is what I see all the time. In the end the first group won, causing Adobe to kill the flash player all together.

The Good

Entire communities built on Flash helped speed up its adoption. I remember times going onto MiniClip, Kongregate and especially Newgrounds for animations.

Newgrounds continues to remain independent, experimenting and showcasing content that has made the careers of many content creators throughout the years.

In an age where we keep talking about buzzwords like “The Algorithm” and “Machine Learning” on practically anything (ugh), NG’s feed continues to showcase creations by the community and not corporations. (I highly recommend supporting them)

The first group (web devs) talk about the “open web” a lot, a web not controlled by corporations and governments and is free from censorship.

Despite it’s community being built around a proprietary plugin, Newgrounds fits in this space of the open web and now adopts HTML5 video, audio players all powered by the web. One could even argue freeing itself from the dependency of Flash.

The Future

As far as I know, there hasn’t been any intent by Adobe to preserve what was created with Adobe Flash, even with calls to open source the flash player.

So what usually comes next is emulation. When Ruffle (A Flash player emulator) was announced by Mike Welsh, creator of Swivel, this renewed hope for Flash preservation and has a better future than the alternatives3.

Difference is with Ruffle is that there are no extra plugins to install, only a modern browser (a better experience than Flash) and uses Rust and WebAssembly to play Flash content in a secure environment on the desktop and in the browser.

Initially funded by Newgrounds and now has many other sponsors4, Ruffle may not be finished completely with emulating everything the flash player has to offer, but at least it’s already in use in Newgrounds to play games / animations in SWF format and more recently, the Internet Archive.

You can try it for yourself at in your browser.

The End (of Flash)

Now that the Flash Player is now discontinued at least we have something built with open technologies that replaces it securely.

Happy New Year!

Thoughts on preserving iOS apps

Thinking ahead a bit here,

iOS is one of the biggest platforms for mobile devices with the App Store harbouring thousands of apps. Both of them are most definitely not open.

First, I’ve not seen a single emulator that runs real iOS applications (other than Apple’s own limited simulator). Second, the apple man once said that HTML5 was the future for applications on the iPhone, but instead Apple opted for the App Store approach.

If both of these were to come to an end someday, how do we preserve and run apps for iOS? Will there be an Internet Archive for apps, especially iOS apps and games of old?

It would be nice to see how some old apps/games looked and worked back then on iOS like Infinity Blade or Vine. But it’s near impossible because these apps aren’t available on the App Store and not easily downloadable. Even if they are, they only run on Apple hardware5.

Right now, I’m looking to something like Corellium (iOS Emulation service) to see if they would do something for iOS like what Ruffle is doing for Flash.

It’s early days (even if their service is not open), but there could be some hope for iOS app preservation in the future.

  1. I will also leave this pun behind this year too. 

  2. If you are both a web and game developer on flash, sorry. 

  3. Many Flash emulators like Mozilla’s Shumway and GNU Gnash and Lightspark. 

  4. NYTimes, Armor Games, CPMStar, Crazy Games, Deep Night, Cool Math Games and many other supporters. 

  5. Luckily for some games and apps they are (hopefully) cross platform, but it’s a different story if they are iOS only. 

© 2020 Wesley Hill