Flash is a win for Adobe, not Users

Here’s a revealing quote from a Flash evangelist about exactly who benefits from Flash. Hint: it’s not the users.

Companies will not stop using Flash because it is extremely profitable, especially in the advertising space.

I’m glad someone finally admitted it. Flash is not primarily about users — it’s been about giving companies commercial opportunities they never had with the Web, i.e., better ways to grab the user’s attention. (And by that I mean ads. For every good game that uses Flash, there are probably 50 distracting ads that use it.) In fact, Flash is positively user-hostile and un-weblike in giving users control over the browsing experience: crashes, general slowness, nightmarish security, super-cookies that can’t be easily managed via a browser’s privacy controls, … the list goes on.

On the other hand, John Nack points out that Flash made video ubiquitous on the web. They do deserve a hat-tip for that, but now that Youtube, Vimeo, BBC and several other sites have standardized around H.264, the de facto future of web video appears to be H.264 (despite some very well-reasoned arguments against from Mozilla). All it’d take is for a H.264 licensor (Google, say) to distribute a lightweight binary plugin for H.264 support for browsers like Mozilla and pre-Win7 IE, which don’t support H.264. Bingo, you no longer require Flash to play video on modern sites.

Of course, Flash is far more than just video. It’s very capable and Nack is correct when he says the Web moves far more slowly than the Flash team. But browser capabilities are going up not down — which means justifying using Flash will become more, not less, difficult over time. Ultimately, what I wrote 6 years ago (in a slightly different context) remains true:

Upgrading the browser results in a far superior user experience than hacking together kludges adding layers on the server that execute on the client via plugins.