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Thoughts on Flash

by: Rich Hauck

Last month, Adobe finally put the nail in the coffin and declared an end-of-life for Flash Player.

I wasn’t sad to see it go, but I was sad to see folks applaud the death of it. Sure, I don’t think the vulnerabilities or performance issues were really brought to light until after Steve Jobs’s famous Thoughts on Flash got Adobe hustling, but as a designer and instructor, I had an appreciation for the software that few probably did.

When I first started using Macromedia Flash, it set itself apart from the incumbent interactive software, Macromedia Director, in that it was targeted for the web, and its use of vector graphics yielded a smaller file size. It also offered consistent browser rendering and a single outputted SWF file where all of its contents could be embedded.

Besides the analogy of a timeline and symbols in the WYSIWYG, What really piqued my interest as a designer was the ability to write code to create organic patterns and designs. My first real exposure to this was in the book “Flash Math Creativity”. Suddenly I was interested in sine waves and recursion when I hadn’t ever been interested in math, before.

Later in my career, I began working with object oriented programming in ActionScript. I stopped using the timeline and started writing all of my classes exclusively in TextMate. For animation, I used Greensock or MosesSupposes FuseKit. I also attended the Adobe Flash NYC User Group and built a comraderie with other designers and developers. I even tried Flex (enough to never use it, again).

Teaching Flash

In the classroom, Flash served as a gateway drug to programming and motion. My students were passionate about creating animations, properly integrating sound, and discovering how to do things with code. Granted, I was the first to advocate eliminating Flash from our curriculum while other schools still taught it, yet while it was a part of my class there was a certain magic that it had with students–one that hasn’t been rekindled, since.

These days, I teach CSS animation and introductory JavaScript, but the lack of a WYSIWYG stage and timeline, the inability to simply place elements where you want them, and the need to edit everything in code–it’s just not the same. The magic has been lost, and I’ve yet to come across another software with equal industry relevance to inspire students to code (and I’ve looked at Adobe Animate CC and Google Web Designer).

Open-sourcing Flash

Recently, I’ve read about a petition to open source Flash, as well as played with WickEditor (definitely check it out, it’s incredible for what it is). I didn’t think Flash could be open sourced with its MP4 license integration, but regardless, I’m not sure it’s something the world needs. While I do wish there’d be an easy way to view some of my past art projects and old jobs, Flash was built in a time before responsive web design, before SVG on the web, and before HTML animation had adequate browser support. The other issue with successors to this platform is the output format. SVG? Canvas? It seems like animating in non-canvas DOM elements is the popular way to go these days, though Flash’s potential successors seemingly have bloated code that relies on JQuery for animation.

I do believe that with the fallout of Flash that web design got a lot more static. Websites relied upon basic parallax and (gasp!) homepage carousels for animation. It’s only now with broad browser support that motion in websites is starting to re-emerge.

Don’t mourn it

I don’t miss the polyfills of SiFR for custom fonts, nor do I miss having to make a redundant HTML content with SWFObject. Heck, no one misses those silly preloaders, either! If anything, I should be grateful that the death of Flash steered me towards open source tools and how they prove to be stronger to the community.

What I miss (and I realize I’m part of the minority) is the community this software created and the gateway for design students learning to code. These days, I may have students fire up a text editor with a live server to make edits, and while that’s accurate for the modern industry, it’s clearly a lot more intimidating for young designers.

I hope something comes along someday to fill that gap.


Categories:ActionScript Flash HTML5
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About Rich Hauck

Rich Hauck

I'm a creative technologist at Hauck Interactive, Inc. and an adjunct instructor at HACC. I live in Harrisburg, Pa. with my wife and two boys. I enjoy good coffee, Trappist beers, Orioles baseball, and good design.


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